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Noir

IC: L5R: Blood and Jade - With A Single Step

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The warehouse was fairly dark inside, something that had not changed since Kaze had left, but the flickering of light could still be seen in the office on the second floor. He led the Magistrates through the aisles formed by staked crates and they could see several bodies of dead Scorpions laying about. Toshi greeted them and led them up the rickety stairs and to the office.

Inside a Scorpion man sat slumped on the ground, he head crudely shaven and his palm bandaged. He looked pale and utterly exhausted, even in his unconscious state. All around the man, in a rough circles were lit candles, most of them nearly burned down. Leaning against the wall was another Scorpion, clearly being guarded by Jorihime with her hand resting on her katana, while Akari stood with a scroll in hand and Kageko stood with some crude scroll rolled up and in her hand as well. As their fellow Magistrates entered, they bowed and greeted them.

"I am glad to see you are all alive and unharmed." Kageko greeted and then motioned to the man on the floor.

"The spell seems to have been broken, so I assume the oni has been slain. We did what we could here, channeling positive chi to weaken and interfere with his spell. With luck, it had some effect and aided you. The magic is gone and he is not dead, so the oni was dealt with before it could defeat him. We have served the Empire well this night." Kageko explained as she glanced over at Safusa curiously.

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"Thank you for your concern, Kageko-san. Indeed, we have slain the Oni, your activities here enabling us to do so without serious injury, I am sure," Zoyu replied calmly, dipping her head towards the Sodan-Senzo, but her mismatched eyes were hard and dark on the captured Scorpions. "Kaze-san told us of the Moon Cultists. With the Maho-Tsukai's name returned to him, he may be executed, his name never spoken of again or lent to an Oni."

The elegant Crane swordswoman gestured gracefully towards Safusa as she continued to peruse the scene. "This one has told us to whom he has sold the tainted Masks the Moon Cultists were attempting to recover. A Crab Merchant, one Yasuki Nobuko. Once we have retrieved and disposed of them, I believe our service to the Empire will be done, for this night at least, and served, well, as you said, Kageko-san.""

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Seeing that Kegeko and the rest had things well in hand, Rin touched Safusa's arm and pointed him toward the door.

"We must not linger, this will not be done until the masks are regained and destroyed. Kegeko-san you have things well in hand here so we shall go and fetch the masks, and who knows if we are lucky we shall find the cultists too."

The last she says rubbing the pommel of her sword.

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Taka stepped forward and looked down at the exhausted Scorpion, failing to hide the disgust on his face.

"They are samurai and deserve a trial, even if the the end result is a foregone conclusion." Okimoto said flatly, though every bit of her body language said she was just waiting for an excuse to execute them here and now. 

"With the possibility of maho, I think it best that Akari and myself escort the prisoners along with Okimoto-san. Toshi-san will be of aid at the prison as well, I am sure. Kageko-san's magic is the most potent tonight, so it is best she accompany the rest of you in the search for the masks and moon cultists. Yuzo's knowledge of the city and it's inhabitants will likely be of more aid in the search for the masks than the escorting of prisoners as well." Taka explained to the others.

A few minutes later the Magistrates and their prisoners where gathered outside the warehouse as they prepared to split up for the night.

"Once the prisoners are secured, we will attempt to locate you. Barring that, we will meet back at the Inn. May the Fortunes favor you." Taka offered as bows were exchanged.

The groups then departed for their destinations; Taka, Akari, Toshi and Jorihime escorting the Scorpions to the prison, while Rin, Kaze, Zoyu, Kageko and Yuzo, along with Safusa head to Yasuki Nobuko's place of business.

 

Spoiler

Another post is incoming. If anybody has anything to say before splitting up, not is the time.

 

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Yasuki Nobuko's place is business in a bit of a walk from the Shosuro warehouse. A common structure in many large cities, the bottom floor is a small shop or warehouse with stone walls, while the top floor, made of wood, serves as her residence. As the magistrates approach, there seems to be little light emanating from the structure.

"There. Tha-that's Yasuki-sama's place." Safusa says, pointing the building from across the street.

"Hmm... There does not seem to be able at home, or at least awake." Yuzo said as he walked to the door.

"Just in case though, be ready." he cautioned and turned to the door.

"With the back of his right hand resting on his sheathed katana, he reached for the string to ring the bell, but paused, his hand instead pointing do the door.

Only with the help of some firelight inside was it even possible to notice, but the door, which would normally be closed and locked at this hour, was opened just a faintest crack, as if it had be slid shut with force and bounced off the door jam, allowing just a faint bit of flickering light to peek through...

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Seeing Yuzo stop and why Rin reached up and touched his shoulder pulling him back.  "Safusa," she whispered and point across the street, "go wait over there out of sight, if anything happens and we do not come out go find the other magistrates and tell them. Okay?"

Not waiting for an answer she give Zoyu a guarded look and unsheathes her borrowed sword and slowly slides the door open as quite as she can just enough for them to pass through.

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Zoyu nodded in response to Rin's guarded look, though her own blade remained in its saya. Sheathed or unsheathed, a stroke of her sword was just as swift. She twisted her shoulders and slipped gracefully through the doorway, her eyes narrowed against the glare of firelight after coming in from the darkened streets.

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Watching Safusa hide himself away across the street, lest he find some other way of getting into trouble in the meantime, Kaze readied his own blade, the length of steel sliding from it's sheath with nary a whisper. Returning his attention to the doorway once the merchant was adequately concealed he had to quell a growl. It looked like someone had beaten them to their destination. The silence of the estate in combination with the door left ajar had his hackles raised and he readied himself for whatever they might find inside. He doubted it would be anything good, given how the rest of the night had been progressing.

On silent feet he follows after the others as they slip into the building.

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Cautiously, the Magistrates entered and took in their surroundings in the firelight. Things seemed to be in order, by and large, but a foul, burnt spell lingered in the air. It was a smell that was still fresh in the magistrates minds due to their battle at the crematorium.

The smell of bunt flesh.

On a small table tea was set for three people, but nobody was to be found, even with a search of the residence upstairs. Yuzo knelt and placed his hand on the kettle.

"It is barely warmer than the room. With a full kettle, that means this has been sitting for an hour or so, I would guess." Yuzo commented as he looked around.

"Yasuki Nobuko did not particularly small quantities, like individual masks. Supposing she had the masks and sold them, it would have been in quantity, therefore she should have some sort of record or receipt in a ledger or the like." the Doji Magistrate suggested as he scanned the room.

"You mean like this, Yuzo-san?" Zoyu said, kicking what was left of a spine of a book sitting at the edge of the fire, the rest of it consumed by flames.

"Yes. Just like that." Yuzo sighed.

"Whoever she met with, appears to have made sure to hide evidence of their meeting." he added.

"If they did, then they did a poor job of it." Kageko said as she pulled out a scroll and knelt down by what was left of the ledger.

"I have a prayer to the kami. Fired From The Forge..." Kageko noted as she began to cast her spell, asking for the aid of the kami.

Over a span of several seconds, right before the Magistrates' eyes, the ledger began to reform until her prayer finished and a pristine ledger sat before her.

"I am not sure any of us can decipher it though." Kageko commented as she thumbed through the book to the final entry. "It looks like the same mercantile shorthand we saw earlier."

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"Make sure there is no one here,"  Rin says flatly, the look of disgust, frustration, and anger showing plainly on her face.

She then heads to the door and calls for Safusa. Once the merchant is inside he points to Kageko. "The book Kegako-san has do not touch it but see if you can read it, please"

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Safusa scurried in walked over the ledger Kageko was holding, looking around the entire time as if expecting some oni to leap out at him. He looked over the book in the faint light, squinting slightly, which only made his face look more like a rat's.

"It is a transaction log. Sales of bulk rice and such. It looks like the last thing she sold was a crate of masks to an Isawa Orimono. I.. I do not recognize the name, but it says here that the masks were delivered and there is an address listed, across the bay in the Fisherman's quarter." Safusa explained.

Yuzo looked at the address and though for just a moment and nodded.

"It would have to be on the bay, just north of the Bridge of Drunken Lovers, by a warf, I think." Yuzo said with a nod.

"It is too far to run, but it's a good jog." he added adjusting his daisho in his obi, preparing.

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"Safusa, thank you now return to Teardrop Island and do what you can to help the Okasan and your lady, they are without a roof over their heads tonight because of you. I will come and speak to you when this is over. Do not disappoint me."

She sheaths the sword and nods to her companions.

"Your pleasure Yuzo-san, if you would lead the way."

 

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Just past the Hour of the Ox, celebrants crowd through the streets of the Merchant Quarter to such a degree that the Magistrates must shove past them. Once at the edge of the crowd, the Magistrates regroup and begin to jog through the city with Yuzo in the lead, occasionally taking detours to avoid large crowds. 

Finally the Magistrates cross over the Bridge of Drunken Lovers and into the Fisherman's Quarter. Even at night the faint smell of fish lingers in the air. The Fisherman's Quarter is virtually devoid of celebrants, as the Parade of the Dead is about to begin. People are gathering on the other side of the river, and this area is relatively empty save for a few weary celebrants on their way home. The last few stragglers race across the Bridge of Drunker Lovers. Bright sparkling fireworks arch in trail above the Magistrates, dimmed now as the city prepares for the Grand Parade at the end of the Festival. 

Following Yuzo, a rather innocent-looking home comes into view. A two story home built on the edge of the bay, the entire structure is utterly unremarkable. The fain glow of candles can be seen, illuminating the interior of the home as the faint music of a biwa drifts from the structure.

"That's it. Odd for a samurai to have a home in this Quarter though. Unless one were trying not to be noticed, I suppose." Yuzo mused.

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"The entire night of the festival has been odd and distressful," Zoyu amended with a wistful glance back towards the Bridge of Drunken Lovers and the celebrants on the other side. She nodded and gestured for the others to move off a bit so they could see the sides of the residence not backing up to the bay as she strode straight for the door. "Let this be the end of it. If they have been attempting to be unobtrusive, they have failed miserably."

The svelte Crane knocked with peremptory vigor on the front door, then stepped to the side, lest a hostile inhabitant attempt something untoward from behind cover. It had been that type of night.

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Though hard too see due to the surrounding structures and shape of the river, a large balcony can be seen on the back of the home, overlooking the river.

Nobody answers Zoyu's knock at the door as the notes of the biwa being played inside drift on the wind.

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Rin again draws her sword and steps up to the side to slide the door open. Ass it slides open she steps in quickly and again to the side drawing her short sword in her now free hand.

She looks around assessing the situation and listening for sounds that may betray a trap!

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The interior of the home is spartan and very simply furnished as one would expect a peasant's home to be.

Immediately the nose is assaulted by the smell of burnt flesh from a devastated corpse laying on the floor in what is left of a dull blue and grey kimono of the Crab. The body is female, her chest burned and blasted by some external fire, leaving only dark smudges and charred flesh behind. In the middle of the floor, beside the corpse, is a large, empty crate. On the floor around the crate there appears to be some traces of dirt and possibly blood.

A further search of bottom floor reveals nothing much of note and nobody present.

The soft tones of the biwa, accompanied by general sounds of casual celebration, drift from the back of the house and up the stairs, in the direction of the balcony overlooking the river. Cautiously the Magistrates proceed up the stairs toward the back of the home, ready for any possible trap, thought nothing comes.

As they reach the top of the stairs the sounds of the talking and music grow louder until they get a glimpse out the opened doors to the balcony where the celebration is taking place. A young woman, apparently unarmed, sits on a stool, playing the biwa with her eyes closed while another older woman with a tanto tucked in her obi and four men, armed with swords, drink sake and celebrate, their attention on the parade across the river.

"Soon all of our hard work will pay off. And look, the Imperial Barge. An unexpected bonus. Lord Moon's blessings shine upon us this night." the older woman says gleefully, barely containing a laugh.

The men nod and raise their cups, toasting. They down the sake and one reaches for the bottle and shakes it.

"Bah. We're out of sake. I'll go get the other bottles." one of the men says as he turns and spots the Magistrates.

He stands there, motionless as if he is not comprehending what he is seeing, for a moment and then drops his cup and reaches for his sword. 

"Magistrates!" he yells.

 

Spoiler

Please check the Combat Thread for more info.

 

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Rin sweeps in striking the man who shouted the warning as he drew his sword, feeling her blade bite she cries a loud war cry! Slicing through him, she brings her blade down to pierce the one lunging forth, ready to grapple her, sending him crumpling to the ground next to the other, coughing out blood.  

As she spins past both, dropping to a low crouch, she yanks the sword out and slashes up past the warrior defending the old woman to slice the witch. Her katana finds the woman, cutting a trail of deep crimson across her body in a near mortal wound. The woman's resolve holds though, as she keeps summoning dark energy, using her spilling blood to focus it, coming ever closer to bringing her foul spell to completion. 

The Crane flowed into the room in the Dragon's wake, long white hair with a streak of sable swirling about her, her face smooth and serene as a porcelain mask, her mismatched eyes cold and bright, revealing nothing. Her gaze seemed to be pinned on the Moon Witch, but the duelist was aware of all that was around her. 

Two men went down under Rin's flurry, both alive for the moment, as their life's blood spread across the floor in crimson pools. Another man's hand twitched towards his blade and the faintest of smiles curved Zoyu's lips. Too slow, her blade gleaming like starlight found his neck before he had bared an inch of steel. 

Like a puppet with the strings cut, the man dropped to his knees before Zoyu, his hand falling away from her sheathed sword as his head tumbled off of his shoulders and his lifeless body fell to the floor. 

Following on the heels of the two magistrates, there was a split second as Kaze took in the room in its entirety before he moved, ready drawn steel practically humming in promise. Spinning around Rin's rising cut, he dropped to one knee, the flash of his sword darting up in a sweeping strike, bypassing Rin and sweeping under the cultists outstretched arm. 

The choking gurgle of the witch brought a smirk of satisfaction as the crimson of her hearts blood steadily dripped down the blade of his katana from where it pierced clear through her chest. He withdrew the sword with a jerk and the now lifeless corpse thudded to the floor, her Maho interrupted before it could truly form. He returned to his feet in one smooth motion, ready for his next target. 

Yuzo's blade slipped from its saya in a high arc as he stepped forward and brought it back down across the chest of the woman's makeshift bodyguard in a single, fluid motion, sending the man to his knees where he wobbled, the color draining from his face as he began to slow expire. 

As steel fleshed and blood spilled around her, the young woman sitting on the stool continued to play her biwa, her eyes closed and oblivious to what was happening around her. It made for a strange, surreal scene, as the Magistrates sliced through their foes to such a soft, pleasant soundtrack of the biwa.  

On his knees with blood gushing from his chest and the bodies of his compatriots all around him, the last man looked up with a crooked smile as the group of magistrates encircled him on the balcony. 

“There’s nothing you can do!” the man howled and spit blood at Yuzo's feet, causing him to deftly avoid it.  

“It’s over! Over! We’ve won and there is nothing you can do about it! Ryoko Owari will be forever severed from the Sun Goddess, curse her name, and eternal darkness will reign! We will destroy the Temple, shatter the Dragon Globe, and invoke the first year of the reign of Lord Moon!” the Moon Cultist, shrieked in glee and anger. 

“Even now, O-sama, with the awakened the bodies of the dead, march upon the Temple of the Sun! Enjoy the darkness, Magistrates, for this glorious night will never end!” he cackled as blood spilled from his mouth and he fell forward in a lifeless heap. 

"That’s insane." Yuzo said with a frown.  

"Even if they could raise enough bodies with the masks, one could not march an army of zombies through the city without raising the alarm.” he said as another firework exploded in the sky above.

The firework startled the magistrates, who were all still slightly on edge from the fight, causing them to look out across the river at the lanterns of the Parade of the Dead moving into the heart of Ryoko Owari, toward the Temple of the Sun Goddess.

"Damnit." Yuzo sighed. 

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Rin follows Yuzo's gaze then her sword flashes out.

Blood drips from the blade onto the strings of the Biwa.

Rin lifts the sword the tip under the chin of the young woman lifting her head up.

Rin utters one word, "Stop."

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At the touch of steel to her chin, the young woman's eyes snap open. In surprise at the carnage around her and the magistrates standing before her, she lets out a startled scream and falls from her stool to the floor and lifts her biwa, holding it between her at the magistrates, somehow trying to hide behind it as she sobs and trembles, begging for her life with a somewhat odd tone to her voice.

"She's deaf." Kageko chimed in, moving to the young woman.

"Likely she could hear at one time, but has since lost her hearing, you can tell by her degrading pronunciation." she surmised as she crouched down by the woman.

Kageko grasped one trembling hand, sliding up her sleeve to check the woman's wrist, and then the other.

"She doesn't bear the mark of the moon cult either." the little lion added.

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"They must not reach the temple." Rin looks around then steps onto the balcony

"Great ancestor, we need your help and the help of the ancestors of all who are in this city. We must stop the procession if a person is masked the mask must be thrown off. I beseech you my ancestor Mirumoto help us."

She spins back "Whatever you can do Kageko-san do it now. We must get to the temple before the crowd. Yuzo-san what is the fastest way?"

 

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"More or less the way we came." Yuzo replied with a sigh.

"The Parade of the Dead will be heading south, down Mountain Goblin's Rest Road, past the Temple of Daikoku. We will have to go back across the Bridge of Drunken Lovers and then take Jade Street to South Perimeter Road, along the wall of the Noble Quarter, then Monk's Edge Avenue to the Street of Righteousness and the Temple of the Sun Goddess. It is a good run and will take some time." he explained with a frown. 

"My magic is stronger tonight, but I am still far from a powerful Sodan-Senzo. I can call forth some aid though. Maybe I can get us across the swiftly river, if that would help." Kageko said as she thought about what aid she may be able to call forth this special night.

"Could you get us to that dock there?" Yuzo asked, pointing to the southernmost dock across the river. From there, Ruby Street goes almost directly to the Temple. It would be much faster." Yuzo asked quickly, his eyes bright with enthusiasm.

"Hai." Kageko replied with a nod and then glanced at the terrified girl trying to hide behind her biwa. 

"What about the girl?" she asked.

"What about her?" Yuzo asked.

"She is either totally innocent in this and had no clue what was happening, or she is a clever moon cultist and an incredibly gifted actor. The former seems more likely though. So either we let her go because we cannot detain her at the moment, possibly releasing a moon cultist, or we execute her summarily, possibly killing an innocent. I will sleep at night with the unlikely possibility that we may have let a single moon cultist go so we could save the city, rather than risk killing a possible innocent just because we do not have the time to deal with her. Do you all agree?" Yuzo asked.

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It was a dilemma and Zoyu's patience was growing very thin after all the tribulations with Oni and Maho-Tsukai and Moon Cultists, though her expression remained calm and unperturbed. Perhaps someone else would have been able to find some way of discerning the truth on such limited time, but if she was gifted with words, she had no talent for using them to spin fables and ruses to trick the girl in any lies. She eyed the girl with her disconcerting mismatched eyes, looking for any signs of duplicity in her manner.

"Go!" the Crane said sharply in agreement, exaggerating the movement of her lips for the deaf girl's benefit and gesturing with a hand. "Let us be done with this then."

Spoiler

If Zoyu did see anything she considered as false or deceptive in the girl, she'll cut the girl's head off as she passes by without warning. Not sure what to roll or which Advantages may or may not apply. Feel free to roll for me - out of Void, so that is not an issue on my part.

 

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On 6/1/2017 at 1:30 PM, Noir said:

The firework startled the magistrates, who were all still slightly on edge from the fight, causing them to look out across the river at the lanterns of the Parade of the Dead moving into the heart of Ryoko Owari, toward the Temple of the Sun Goddess.

"Damnit." Yuzo sighed. 

Gazing out at the Parade, Kaze let out a quiet curse. That..... was not good.

"Well, that explains exactly what the masks were for. Though to have so many already prepared and distributed.... how many corpses have we walked past this evening while chasing that thrice-cursed Oni?"

On 6/1/2017 at 2:45 PM, Noir said:

"She's deaf." Kageko chimed in, moving to the young woman.

"Likely she could hear at one time, but has since lost her hearing, you can tell by her degrading pronunciation." she surmised as she crouched down by the woman.

He sighs and with a flick to divest it of excess blood, sheaths the blade once more. He had been slightly worried. usually those who react to violence so calmly were those that were both adept in it's distribution and somewhat crazy. It was a relief that she was just unaware of what was going on around her. All of her focus was probably on the vibrations of the strings.

18 hours ago, Noir said:

"She is either totally innocent in this and had no clue what was happening, or she is a clever moon cultist and an incredibly gifted actor. The former seems more likely though. So either we let her go because we cannot detain her at the moment, possibly releasing a moon cultist, or we execute her summarily, possibly killing an innocent. I will sleep at night with the unlikely possibility that we may have let a single moon cultist go so we could save the city, rather than risk killing a possible innocent just because we do not have the time to deal with her. Do you all agree?" Yuzo asked.

"For what it's worth, I agree with Yuzo. Murdering her on idle suspicion, while within the remit of the magistrates, would leave a bitter taste. But either way, we must be swift. We must reach the temple."

He slowly steps forward to the trembling woman, still paralysed with terror. As the other Bushi quickly discuss their options, he hunkers down gently, while idly throwing over his shoulder

"Stow your blades Mirumoto-san. She is just a civilian and is likely not used to being in this situation. I doubt she is unwilling to obey, and more incapable at the moment."

He turns back to her, noting the way she was now fixated on him, eyes wide in terror and quaking like a leaf, he raises his hands in a gesture of peace, almost crooning, regardless of her inability to hear him. Posture, expression and intent all fed into how one could be taken. Insincerity would be recognised for what it was, so he calmed his breathing, carefully keeping his hands away from the hilt of his Katana.

He speaks to her in low tones, she may not be able to hear, but she seemed to understand at least some of what he was saying, quickly unwinding. He flashes her a quick smile as she relaxes, which she returns tremulously.

"Thank you. I need you to go home, and remain there till the sun rises. We need to go. Do you understand me?" She frowns in concentration, before nodding hesitantly, parroting back "Go home" to him. He breathes a sigh of relief. Even if she understood noting else, that would be enough. He takes one of her hands, helping her to stand once again, and keeping her attention on him rather than the grim scene of the butchered Moon Cultists.

"We can go now. She will return home." he turns to fully face the Magistrates, offering them a quick bow. "Thank you for offering me your indulgence in aiding her, pressed for time as we are."

Spoiler

Rolling Awareness + Sincerity to calm down and talk to Biwa-chan.

5D10 => (9 +7 +1 +10 +4) = 31
1D10 => (4) = 4

Keeping 4 dice for a total of: 34
 

 

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The young woman, still trembling slightly, bowed again and again as she backed away, off of the balcony and into the hall, and then disappeared down the staircase as swiftly as her feet could carry her.

Back on the balcony, Yuzo sheathed his katana as Kageko began to focus.

"This.. I've never implored for such aid from the ancestors, so bare with me please." Kageko asked.

The little Lion began to speak her prayer and channel mystic energies, causing her eyes to glow with a blue light, the same light spilling from her mouth as she spoke her prayer. The magistrates could each feel their feet lift off of the balcony as beneath each of them them a huge lion, seemingly made of glowing, blue/white flame shimmered into existence on the balcony. The flames did not burn though, nor even radiate heat, but the lions of fire had a clear physcial presence as they all leapt off of the balcony and began to run across the sky in an arc each step leaving a flaming pawprint in the sky for several seconds before slowly fading away.

"Do not be afraid! These are the spirits of my ancestors, the true Kitsu!" Kageko called out. 

Beneath the magistrates, on the various boats and barges in the river, onlookers stared up in amazement at the pride of blue flame lions running across the sky, with people on their back. People stood amazed and awe-stuck, some pointing, some staring and others dropping to their knees in prayer as the flaming lions and magistrates passed above, with fireworks going off in the sky above and around them.

In about a minute the Kitsu reached to top of their arc over the middle of the river and began descending down do the dock Yuzo had pointed out. A scant minute later the Kitsu landed on the dock and crouched, allowing the Magistrates to dismount. With a deep bow and sincere thanks, the Kitsu faded from sight once more, leaving the magistrates standing on the dock, somewhat awe-stricken.

"I-I didn't know the Sodan-Senzo could do THAT!" Yuzo said , somewhat stunned still.

With a shake of his head the Doji Magistrate regained his composure and looked around. 

"There! That is Ruby street. The lanterns at the end are the Temple. The parade is nearly there! The grounds are walled, with a gate, we can make a stand there if we must!" he explained.

"Now come!. As swiftly as your legs can carry you!" he implored as he turned and began to run, waving for the others to follow, the black of the night sky now dark blue and growing brighter by the moment.

 

 

As the magistrates race for the Temple of the Sun, the Parade of the Dead comes into view, the front having begun to enter the gates of the Temple of the Sun Goddess. Huge Dragons with snapping jaws chase screaming, laughing children, and pitiful ghosts wander aimlessly, faces covered under elaborate masks. Zombies move in packs, chasing spectators through the street and carrying brightly colored banners and at the front, a large float carrying several actors of a Scorpion acting troupe, playing out the story of Lady Sun and Lord Moon, reach the gates.

Then you notice him.

To the side, one zombie shuffles, his pace a bit slower than the others. His tattered clothing and porcelain mask cover his grey skin, and one leg slides behind him at an angle as he walks, but the skin doesn’t seem painted, like the others. And the clothing is covered in dirt, but not the predictable smears which are on the costumes of the other men...

Among the crowd, other zombies are spotted by the Magistrates who know what to look for spot more zombies among the crowd, knowing that their unnatural gait is not something good acting. The entire parade is infuriated with them, making them hard, but not impossible to spot along the costumes and chaos of the festivities.

The Temple of the Sun Goddess is an immense structure, with graceful walls carved of white limestone, unique in the city. The Temple grounds are expansive, and the compound is an oasis of space in the cramped city. The back courtyard is large enough to hold several hundred people, and has manicured Zen gardens filled with rocks and raked sand. The Dragon Globe is a tremendous ball of gold, nearly as large as a man with his arms outspread, resting at the top of a 70-foot pillar of white limestone. During the majority of the year, the orb shines over the city with a luminescence glow, but during the Festival of the Dead, it is dark and dull.

As the Magistrates reach the Temple and enter the gates, the courtyard is filled to capacity with celebrants. People are everywhere. Zombies, both real and costumed, lurch through the crowd with a shuffling gait. Celebrants ignite fireworks from the main patio, launching bursts of red and green flame into the air for the cheering throng. The Dragon Globe, at the top of the pedestal, remains dark and silent as it has been throughout the festival, awaiting the ritual at the end of the parade to ignite its brilliant glow, and welcome the dawn.

As the Magistrates push their way through the crowd to the front, near the tremendous white pillar of stone and the great Orb at its summit, the Sun Priestess of Ryoko Owari, comes out and salutes the crowd with raised hands.

“My friends,” she says, “I greet you in the name of Lady Sun. May your ancestors smile in the light of this new day. Join me in prayer as we awaken the Dragon Globe, and let the Dawn return to break the power of the night!”

As she speaks, a spark flickers in the heart of the tremendous Dragon Globe, causing the crowd to erupt into cheers... and a scream or two?

 

Spoiler

You are at the front of the crowd, just a few steps from the Sun Priestess and the pillar with the Dragon Globe atop it. You are not in combat roundsyet, but you have just a few seconds before that will change.

 

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"Kageko, Yuzo, tell the priestess what is happening and to light the globe as fast as possible! Protect her and the globe!

Zoyu Kaze! Follow me!'"

Rin races toward the front of the crowd and bellows. "Kneel and Pray Pray to the Lady Sun and her defeat of darkness Kneel before the Dragon globe"

She grabs the nearest person and shoves them to the ground Shouting "Kneel kneel!" over and over and shoving one person after the other to the ground hoping that the crowd reacts  with ingrained obedience and responds accordingly leaving only the zombies standing.

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With her lithe dancer's grace, Zoyu slipped through to the forefront of the pressing throng, noting any of the true zombies, but not engaging them in her haste. Her eyes also were drawn to the troupe of Scorpion Actors, looking for Tsukiko's tall, slim form. Breaking free, the svelte Crane approached the Sun Priestess on light feet, giving her a deep bow before turning to the side, interposing herself between the Sun Priestess and the Dragon Globe and the encroaching zombies, her hand resting with poised casualness on her obi by the hilt of her blade.

Rin made her appeal, but Zoyu had already reached the priestess.

"It is to my regret and great shame that I must insist you speak your prayers swiftly, Sun Priestess, and awaken the Dragon Globe," Zoyu said in smooth, polite tones, her eyes flicking from the Priestess to the throng, marking any true Zombies she could see, and then back. "Cultists of Lord Moon seek to cover Ryoko Owari in eternal darkness by corrupting the Dragon Globe and even now the awaken dead infest the courtyard and approach."

Seeing what Rin is doing, Zoyu nods, acknowledging the merit of her plan. "Awaken the light as swiftly as you may, Sun Priestess," Zoyu requested as she glided forward to add her trained voice to Rin's in persuading the living to kneel and in so doing, reveal the dead among them. "We will give you the time that is needed."

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Kaze nodded to Rin as Zoyu split off from the group, falling in behind her as he made she dashed for the crowd and started pushing people down to kneel. Some complied, but the majority just stared on with confused expressions. Unable to comprehend the orders being barked at them. He couldn't blame them, he supposed. While they had an ingrained obeisance for to the Samurai, if one approached shouting orders at them, they were as likely to freeze completely as they were to obey as Rin was hoping. 

Casting his gaze around, he couldn't help but conclude that it would take far too long for enough to kneel as to highlight the Zombies. Drawing himself to his full height, he shouts, voice ringing clear across the yard. There was something in that voice, even beyond what the Lion taught to make ones self heard to a large crowd. Something that almost demanded ones attention. If the courtyard had been quiet before, it was practically silent now.

"People of Ryoko Owari! We need your aid! Kneel, offer your prayers to Lady Amaterasu and allow us to go about our work. Do not flinch in the face of the duty that calls upon all of us, the protection of your city. All we do is in order to protect it and you!"

He hoped it would be enough to avoid a panic when they inevitably attacked the zombies. But he'd take it if they could at least close with them before a stampede started to get away. So long as they were already fighting, they wouldn't have to seek the corpses in the throng.

Spoiler

Rolling 5k4 for adressing the people and getting them to work with us

e6de3cab1bed24201d268a1782939b4e.png

For a total of 44.

 

 

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"What?! Moon cultists? Awakened dead? Are you certain?"" the Sun Priestess said to Zoyu with shock on her face.

"We are certain." Yuzo said, bolstering Zoyu's words. "Please, begin your prayers." she added, taking up a position beside Zoyu to protect the Sun Priestess and the Dragon Globe.

Her eyes then shifted to the scan the crowd cautiously.

"I.. I can begin the prayers, but we must wait for the rays of Lady Sun to fully awaken the Globe." the Priestess explained and dropped to her knees, beginning her prayers.

 

Meanwhile, Kageko knelt and began her prayers to the ancestors, pushing the limits of her magical ability once again, causing her eyes to glow. Each of the magistrates felt what could only be described as as a tug, though not a physical one, but more like a spiritual one, as the Little Lion called to their ancestors through their bloodlines for aid....

 

The celebrants stood, for the most part, looking around at each other and at the Magistrates with their booming voices with confused looks. Here and there a few did kneel, out of ingrained obedience more than anything else, but the crowd was mostly milling about in confusion at the strange behaviors and words of the Magistrates.

A scream washed over the crowd, causing many of them to turn to look. One of the celebrants, dressed as a zombie, stood over a man dressed as a ghost, choking him with both hands as woman, also dressed a a ghost, stood and screamed in panic.

Then there another scream.

And another.

And another.

All throughout the crowd the zombies, dozens of them, began attacking, grabbing celebrants, choking them, breaking or ripping limbs and so on, which instant cause a panic. The once stable, somewhat confused crowd that had been milling about was now running in every direction, away from one zombie and unwittingly toward another. People bumped into each other, some falling to the ground to be trampled.

Though the crowd was largely peasants, as would be in any city, there were some samurai among the celebrants as well, and of those that were armed still, many drew their blades and began attacking zombies, though in the panic, and with a likely lack of knowledge, seemed to be just as likely to attack other celebrants in zombie costumes as they were to attack actual zombies, which only added to the panic and chaos of the scene, seemingly causing the earth faintly rumble beneath the feet of the Magistrates.

 

Spoiler

See Combat thread for more info.

 

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Rin dashed into the crowd pushing them down as she went, all the while looking for the witch commanding the zombies.  Spying a clump of the walking dead she whipped her swords out and charged them. 

A spinning whirlwind, her swords flashed left and right, masks shattered two of the dead fell to lie still.

And then she caught the motion out of the corner of her eye, a glint of tumbling steel that flew right at her head... and past it, sending a spray of porcelain bits on Rin's back. She looked over her should in time to see the zombie she had missed, it's arms raised, clearly about to grab her from behind, with a wakizashi buried in it's face, having shattered the mask, terminating the zombie. Rin looked back in the direction of the wakizashi where she spotted Kitsuki Jotomon standing, armed with just her katana. She give Rin and nod and turned her attention back to the crowd, searching for more zombies...

 

With Yuzo and Kaze flanking the Sun Priestess and Kageko to repel any encroaching Zombies, Zoyu glided forward to cut her way towards the float of the Scorpion Acting Troupe, seeking to make her way to the tall, slender figure of Bayushi Tsukiko, even as she aided Rin in preventing the zombies from forming up into a mob to rush the praying women below the Dragon Orb. Her blade flicked out from her saya like a sliver of starlight, sundering the porcelain mask at a touch.

Her lips creased in a faint frown as she saw the other samurai attacking any in the courtyard with the slightest resemblance to zombies in their panic and fear. Raising and modulating her voice to be heard over the din of battle, Zoyu gestured with her katana to emphasize her comments or to point towards any other true Zombies she could see.

"Fellow defenders of the Empire, seek out only the zombies with the most exquisite of porcelain masks, the ones that do not cower before you or cry out, for the dead know no fear. Strike at their masks to break the maho animating them." she called out, but over the noise from the chaotic scene, her voice did not carry far.

And then one scream caught Zoyu's ear, standing out above all others. Her head snapped to look at the float, where now the actress portraying Lady Sun was backing away from an encroaching zombie, likely attacking her for no other reason than the part she played....

 

As the first of the screams echoed about the courtyard, Kaze lets out a sigh and nods to himself. He could feel the fatigue clawing at the edges of his focus. After more than 16 hours of continuous activity, he certainly hoped that this would be one of the, if not the last confrontation of the night. Leaving Yuzo several paces behind at the Sun Priestesses side, he draws his blade, naked steel whispering against the sheathe, the coloured tassels hanging from the pommel dancing in the slight breeze. Settling into his stance, blade horizontal to the floor at shoulder height. A second passes and he lunges forwards, the dull crack of breaking porcelain heralding a meatier sound as his blade pierces clear through the mask and the head behind it.

 Turning to a nearby Samurai, he bellows,

"Destroy the Masks!"

The samurai stared back at Kaze, apparently confused for a moment or just unsure of what he said until he noticed the shattered porcelain around the limp, former zombie laying on the ground.

"Hai!" the samurai said with a nod, turning to search out more zombies...

 

Despite having dispatched several zombies already, there was clearly at least several dozen more. The zombies here choking people to death, dismembering people by simply tearing limb from body, or even clawing at and through people's midsections with their unnatural strength. Some of the zombies were engaged by armed samurai, but it was clear that they did not know how best to defeat the undead horrors, often hacking at them over and over again, even slicing off limbs which slithered and crawled at the samurai, continuing to attack.

Already the zombies had dispatched at least a couple of dozen people, with the other samurai dispatching even more, having mistaken celebrants in zombie costumes for the real thing. And how many people had been trampled was near impossible to judge at this time as people ran in ever direction, colliding with each other often, sometimes falling and scrambling to get back up, occasionally failing to do so fast enough to avoid being trampled under foot.

With the exception of the those engaged by samurai, the majority of the zombies seemed to be focusing on the peasants, injuring and killing as many as possible, occasionally leaving one to lay on the ground, screaming in agony, which only added to the panic and confusion. At this rate, it would be well after dawn before the zombies were dealt with, claiming untold numbers of lives in the process.

Also adding to the panic and general chaos of the scene was the rumbling of the ground beneath their feet. Over the last several seconds it had become more pronounced, making it unlikely that the panicked crowd was the source of it. Reflexively some of the Magistrates looked to the Dragon Globe and the could see small bits of dust beginning shake free near the top, from between the cylindrical blocks that composed the pillar...

 

Bright blue-white light shown from Kageko's eyes and mouth as she spoke her prayer to her own ancestors and those of her fellow magistrates, piercing through the veil of death and time, reaching back through their blood to pull forth aid as she poured every last bit of spiritual energy she could muster into the spell.

Around Kageko appeared a flaming lion, a true Kitsu, that bellowed out a might roar, causing Kageko to do the same. Her already fiery colored hair became literal flame as she roared.

Spoiler

large.Kitsu.jpg.35e86be474b9a6e488d77006

The flaming lion launched itself at a nearby zombie, clawing at it's masked face with both paws, shredding the mask right off of it's face...

 

Rin could feel the ink on her back begin to burn, but not painfully so, almost swear she could feel something large crawling on her back, beneath her kimono. A warmth radiated over her and through her body, as if for just a fraction of a second she seemed to know and understand EVERYTHING.

Though the unearthly clarity faded just as quickly as it had set in, it still left her with a glimpse of true enlightenment and a strange calmness, a clarity in her mind, as if she did not even have to think to act anymore...

 

A blue-white form appeared around Kaze, where he stood, and stepped out from him, to stand beside him. It was a beautiful woman with long, flowing hair. She wore a kimono bearing a scene with cranes and foxes on a beach, and in her obi she carried no swords.

"It is always darkest before the dawn." she said to Kaze with a soft smile, her tone somehow strangely reassuring...

 

"Fine! Just cease your incessant pleading." said a vaguely familiar voice from high over Zoyu's shoulder.

Zoyu turned to look at the source just a firework exploded overhead, illuminating the dark, winged form as flew down and landed beside Zoyu. Dressed in a fine kamishimo of blues and grays stood what could only be a mythical kenku, it's black feathers contrasting nicely with the silks, it's claw-like hands hovering near the daisho tucked into it's obi.

Spoiler

large.Kenku3.jpg.e340d61817bd94fc3ad9d6c

"The brain is slow. The heart is fast. Let it lead you." the Kenku said to Zoyu as the steel flashed from it's obi, shattering 2 more zombies' masks.

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The world fell away. The Dragons blood burns , wasp wings flutter

She heard the cry of the Kenku as he joined Zoyu. But Rin was alone...no not alone her ancestors were there unseen, guiding.

The Dragons Blood burned

Rin felt the ground quake, the movement rolling like waves rolling toward the shore, radiating outward from...  She spun her wakizashi flying from her hand like an arrow and she launched herself after it. No thought, the Dragons blood burning.

End over end the blade tumbled through the air with incredible force, the crowd seeming to nearly part for it as it made it's way to it's target, a target Rin had only visualized in the most abstract sense... the puppeteer of the undead... the source of the ripples in the ground... the spellcaster... right into the opened mouth of a huge, multi-person dragon puppet, causing a man to scream out. Instantly several zombies turned and began moving toward the big dragon puppet, forming a semi-circle around it before turning once more, forcing a protective line around it.

A large man throws off the dragon's head and steps out from under it as one hand grasps Rin's wakizashi, pulling it from his shoulder and tossing it to the ground. He reaches up and tears open his shirt, revealing the large, crescent moon tattoo on his chest before drawing his sword and pointing the tip of the blade at Rin, over the shoulders of the zombies, as she swiftly moves through the crowd toward him, while the interior of the puppet still glows, though now Rin is certain it is not from lamplight, but from magical energies...

 

 

Kaze inclined his head to the Ancestor. Something about what she had said was niggling in the back of his head. Like he was forgetting something important.

"Forgive me not showing proper deference, Honored Ancestor, but slow they may be...."

He takes a step back as a Zombie lunges at him, and ripostes cleanly, another mask sheared in two and a corpse falling, strings cut completely.

"...they will punish you if you do not pay adequate attention."

"Oh, they cannot even see me. The kansen animating them are simple, and easily tricked." the woman said with a smile.

He begins to back towards the Sun-Priestess as the crowd continues to thrash in it's panic. There was a very real risk of the Crowd completely enfolding the Priestess and with the other Magistrates having run off, Yuzo was the only one left to keep a proper watch. And one man was easily blindsided. The spirit follows after him, stepping daintily around the fallen Zombies with a faint moue of distaste on her face. Weaving through the crowd with a surprising grace and care. She seemed strangely solid, for all her odd colouration and the ability to see through her somewhat. And still something about what she said was bothering him before it finally hit him.

On 6/10/2017 at 5:07 PM, Noir said:

"I.. I can begin the prayers, but we must wait for the rays of Lady Sun to fully awaken the Globe." the Priestess explained and dropped to her knees, beginning her prayers.

On 6/4/2017 at 0:42 PM, Noir said:

“My friends,” she says, “I greet you in the name of Lady Sun. May your ancestors smile in the light of this new day. Join me in prayer as we awaken the Dragon Globe, and let the Dawn return to break the power

On 9/29/2016 at 2:28 AM, Noir said:

"This item is blessed by the Sun Goddess Amaterasu herself. Not only does it summon her light, but it is said that it has the power to restore a lost soul to Amaterasu's merciful grace."

Of course, they'd need to get it within ten feet of the Orb. Risking a glance up at the orb.... 70 feet. That was one hell of a throw, either way, even standing as close to it as he was. Still. Turning to where Zoyu is running through the crowd he roars at her and hopes it will be enough to carry his voice...

 

 

"My heart has always led me to trouble," the shapely Crane muttered, grinning crookedly as her mismatched eyes took in the sight of the descending Kenku before turning back to lock on the tall figure portraying Lady Sun with avid need. Her heart surged with exasperation and exultation at the appearance the Kenku, a girl's delight at the tales she listened to with wonder warring having faced its irritating and abrasive manner. "And it seems it is no different this night."

She glanced over her shoulder for a moment at the Kenku, her smile growing wider and more assured. "But this one finds herself pleased to see you once more, Tisuri-sama." Zoyu chuckled low with rueful mirth despite standing in the midst of terrible chaos that stood to doom Ryoko Owari. "And yes, to hear your berating cackle. This one does hope she may have the chance to weather your scolding in less desperate circumstances, however. Shall we make them so?"

So saying, Zoyu didn't wait for a response, but followed her heart to reach Tsukiko, to protect her, dancing through the press and chaos of bodies and zombies with fluid grace and adjusting instinctively to the heaving of the ground beneath her feet. She didn't no seek out the zombies now, but slipped by them, her blade flashing out to shatter a mask of one that impeded her way.

As her green eye and blue eye looked about for the best route to reach the assailed float, a part of her looked for the source of the trouble, the center, so as to end the threat to the first person she had ever loved beyond her family in the most direct and efficient means possible. She could see the small group of zombies guarding the large, multi-person dragon puppet now, and spotted the moon cultists so brazenly showing off his tattoo.

Then suddenly something caught Zoyu's attention.

"Zoyu! Throw me the Jade Sun!" Kaze's voice rings out over the din of battle and panic.

'Jade Sun?' Zoyu thought to herself, confused for a moment.

And then she remembered... one the tsangusuri that Doji Fuketsu had gifted them earlier in the evening. The very same ones that were now in the small sack, tucked into her obi. 

Zoyu reached for the sack, but her hand was too slow as the kenku's blade stabbed into the sack and then skillfully yanked it from her obi and up in a high arc with the tip of the blade, sending it sailing through the air toward Kaze.

"You must make a decision and not question it. Her..." the kenku said, pointing at the terrified actress portraying Lady Sun who was backing away from an encroaching zombie, "..or him." the kenku finished, pointing toward the dragon puppet that Rin was charging towards, guarded by several zombies and the brazen moon cultist.

"For the hunter that chases two rabbits will return with neither." the kenku added...

 

 

"But my Lord Prince, you must not endanger yourself.. again... taking such risks." the miharu pleaded.

"I will be Emperor one day. What good is being emperor if I have let my empire fall to ruin, and through my own inaction no less? Innocents are dying, and noble samurai are risking their lives against impossible odds. The Kami Akodo said about Jin (Compassion), "Through intense training the Samurai becomes quick and strong. He is not as other men. He develops a power that must be used for the good of all. He has compassion. He helps his fellow men at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise, he goes out of his way to find one." Your duty is to protect me. Well, my duty is to my Empire and it's people. So if you wish to do your duty, then you will just have to go with me." the young Prince said as he turned and charged the remaining block toward the battle.

A huge roar echoed from down the street, through the gates of the courtyard as the Lord Prince, accompanied by his twenty fully armored honor guard charged into the fray from the other side, letting out furious war cries. Yari stabbed through heads, shattering masks while the Prince demonstrated what he had learned under the tutelage of Toshimoko-sensei, drawing his golden blade to cleave heads from desiccated necks. 

Though the blades and skill of the Seppun and the Prince were a welcome addition, it would still take sometime to fully dispatch the many dozens of zombies, but they did have the unforeseen effect of trapping the zombie-guarded dragon puppet inside the courtyard, apparently cutting off any means of escape as the ground begins to shift more and more underfoot, the strength of the earthquake ever growing, causing the Globe to rattle atop it's perch...

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The courtyard trembles under foot, making it take actual effort to run or even walk as earth begins to ripple and buckle. The white limestone pillar sways more and more, stacked stone seeming to flex like a reed, the Dragon Globe threatening to topple at any moment. 

The crowd had thinned somewhat, mostly due to people running past the globe and filling the other half of the courtyard in their attempts to escape the zombies, but the earthquake had made sure there was no shortage of people on the ground and scrambling back to their feet within reach of the zombies. The zombies shifted though, most continuing to cause chaos and panic, but a half dozen or more turned and moved toward the Dragon Globe, their slow, steady gait permitting them to move mostly unhindered by the trembling ground beneath their feet. Together they might lack the strength to topple the pillar of stone at it's base, it appeared that they had a different target.. the Sun Priestess. Her prayers were just as vital to the lighting of the Globe as the sunlight and it seemed the moon cultists were not taking any chances anymore.

Though a reasonably competent swordsman for a non-bushi, Yuzo was doing his best to bring down the zombies, but precious time was slipping away.

"If you have some plan, Kaze-san, then I suggest you enact it with haste!" Yuzo called out over his shoulder.

 

Not pausing in her charge Rin placed her foot on the chest of the zombie felled by Jotomon, her hand closed on the hilt of the wakizashi sticking out of it's head, the force of her movement tore it free and once again armed with a daisho she attacked.

Her swords flashed at the zombies blocking her from her true targets, the flying steel shattered masks and felled zombies, opening the way to the filthy sorcerers...

 

 

Duty... 

Love... 

It was a conflict that all samurai risked confronting. But like her desired and respected Toshimoko-sensei, for a true servant of the Empire, there was only one real choice, no matter how much it may cost one in making it. Saving one might allow her to save the other, but it was a distant thought, as instinctively her Duty and her Heart decided her course of action.

Zoyu's face was smooth, calm and serene, her voice cool and sure, while her eyes were bright and fathomless. "I have made it, Tisuri-sama," she said, dipping her head towards the Kenku, before sprinting towards Rin and calling over her shoulder. "If you would be so kind, this one would be in your debt if you could see to alleviating the Lady Sun's most imminent distress."

The beautiful Crane did not allow herself to look back, to seek a response in the Kenku's dark eyes or to look upon her dear friend and first love. Thought and action were one, and they were directed towards one goal, the swift and sudden strike that would end the threat. With the long and graceful steps of a gazelle, Zoyu ran after Rin.

And through the breach the Dragon Swordsmistress made in the zombies, Zoyu leaped, her starlight blade sweeping in a singular slash to bring the Moon Cultist down low to open the path for her and Rin to the Maho-Tsukai seeking to humble Lady Sun.

To save Lady Sun...

The Kenku, of it's part, shrugged as Zoyu departed to meet with Rin.

"It's your decision, and we all must bare the weight of our decisions." the kenku said, even though it knew Zoyu could not hear.

With a great flap of it's wings the kenku gave itself a push along the ground, easily catching Zoyu. The kenku spun, turning it's back to the large dragon puppet to contend with the zombies that had now turned and were moving to attack Rin and Zoyu from behind...

 

Undead hands reached out for the terrified Bayushi Tsukiko. She was an actress, not a bushi. When she discovered she was given the honor of portraying Lady Sun in the Parade of the Dead in Ryoko Owari Toshi, she had been ecstatic. Now all she could feel was terror and dread. Out of the corner of her eye she could see motion in the crowd. Not the randomness of the celebrants in a panic, but movement with purpose. It was Zoyu! Dressed in her blue and white of the Crane, with the Topaz Haori over that. She was moving through the crowd, dispatching these foul things and coming to rescue her!

And then the Kenku landed. A Kenku! It said something to Zoyu and Tsukiko's heart sank. Zoyu changed direction, moving away... abandoning her. What did that thing say? Why would Zoyu suddenly leave her? She was no bushi, and yet here she was, face to face with this undead thing as it grasped for her. Silent. Unwavering. Soulless. 

Catch the Shadow. Catch the Shadow. Catch the Shadow.

Bayushi Tsukiko kept repeating it in her head, drawing on the lessons in stage fighting she had and the words of Kakita-sensei. As the zombie reaches for her she feinted, Catching the Shadow as Kakita-sensei called it, causing it to adjust and miss her in the process. A wave of relief washed over the actress, and then dread. She had avoided the zombie's grasp for now, but she was rapidly losing space to retreat and sooner or later it would have her trapped...

 

 

The Satchel sailed cleanly through the air, landing square in his open palm. It was an impressive feat, from so far across the courtyard. He sketches a quick bow to the Kenku, offering his silent thanks to the guide. Abruptly turning and sheathing his sword, he withdraws the Jade Sun from the pouch, tucking the pouch into his own obi for safe keeping. Rolling the jade sphere over his hand, getting a feel for it. It was surprisingly light, all things considered. It felt like it should be much heavier, at least, with how much he was pinning onto it. Looking up at Orb at the top of the pole he couldn't help but realize once again just how far up the thing was. Tossing the orb twice, getting a feel for how it flew, he nodded to himself before being distracted by the slight giggle coming from his ghostly companion.

Raising an eyebrow in her direction, she raises a sleeve to cover her mouth and conceal her apparent amusement.

"Forgive me. You just reminded me of someone. They got that exact same look on their face when they were concentrating on something. But here, let me help you with that." She took both of his hands, enfolding them in her own, ghostly blue overlaying tanned. "I suppose I can aide you just a bit further yet. Just calm yourself. Listen for it. I know that you will be able to hear it, if you just listen" Closing his eyes, he did as she bid, despite his mounting confusion. It was difficult, with the fight raging around him, but long hours of practice helped him reach that zone of calm within his own being.

"Good. Just like that. Now listen for it and when you Know it, speak. I'll be doing the heavy lifting, so don't concern yourself with that. Just move with the flow" there is a beat of silence as he focuses and his lips move, mouthing a single word, too quiet for anyone but his companion to hear. She looks on in fondness before, as he utters the word, closes her own eyes in concentration. In unison, their eyes blaze with Azure light and Kaze bursts into flame, the blazing tongues dancing around him. The Ancestor spirit withdraws in satisfaction. "There. That should help."

He nods to her, pivoting on the spot to once more, that same feeling of calm control echoing through him as he winds back and hurls the orb with all his might, carried by the strength of his arm and a prayer to Amaterasu.

Kaze finished his quick prayer as the small, jade sun coursed up through the air, the color of jade giving way to a pure light as it bathes the area around it in warm rays of sunlight. Up and up and the small sun flies, propelled with every ounce of muscular strength Kaze could muster until finally it nears to top of the column of limestone. The light from the jade sun strikes the golden surface of the Dragon Globe, sending a glint of light across it's mirror polished surface as Yuzo is overwhelmed, falling back to the ground with zombie piling atop him and grabbing the priestess by her hair and the back of her neck, her prayers continuing, possibly the last words she may ever speak.

Suddenly the Globe blazes to life, as if lit by some inner light. A shockwave radiates out from the Globe and through the courtyard, causing hair, kimono and costume to flap, lifting small stones and bits of dirt and blowing the zombies off their feet and back from the Globe a good ten feet. The zombies are blow off of Yuzo and the priestess, knocked from the float and Bayushi Tsukiko and blown past the moon cultists hiding within the dragon puppet as the puppet itself is blow off of them, revealing a man and a woman, both dressed as ghosts, each in the process of casting a spell as the scrolls are blown from then hands. Even the storm cloud overhead are blown away for miles, allowing the first rays of Amateratsu to reach over the horizon.

The lighting of the Globe, representing the dawn of a new and the end of the Bon Festival, bring Kageko's spell to an end, the passing of the shockwave causing the spirits to vanish as the Little Lion collapses to the ground, unconscious and totally spent.

The moon cultists look up at Rin and Zoyu in surprise and both let out a scream as the crescent moon tattoos on their wrists begin to burn them. They both grimace, the woman reaching for a knife as she utters some dark prayer while the man points at the magistrates with a trembling hand as the tattoo burns.

"Get them!" he yelled, which causes every zombie in the courtyard, in unison, to turn to face Rin and Zoyu and rise back to their feet.

"You think you've won? You have no idea how many of us there are... how deep we go into the Empire! Our time WILL come and that BITCH will the pay the price for her treachery!" he snarls, pointing at the rising sun.

Almost in unison their heads tumble to the ground as Rin lifts her blade and Zoyu flicks the blood from her own and re-sheaths it. The zombies begin to stagger and stumble, tripping over the bodies, each other and themselves, falling to the ground where begin to dissolve while by the Dragon Globe, Yuzo gets back to his feet and runs over to the Sun Priestess, helping her to her feet.

All around the courtyard, standing among the bodies of the dead and wounded, the other samurai look around in confusion and amazement. The first rays of the new dawn wash over them... the zombies banished and the moon cultists defeated... As the jade sun falls back into Kaze's outstretched hands, a loud cheer of victory breaks out, echoing through the courtyard and off the walls as people bathe in the warmth and light of Amateratsu and the Dragon Globe.

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With the rays of the Sun warming her face, Zoyu's shoulders slumped with the ache and exhaustion of the long, terrible night. But the ache and exhaustion was as nothing to the trepidation of her heart. She looked down at the executed Moon Cultists dispassionately for a moment, then straightened her shoulders, once more wrapping herself in pride and self-assurance.

She had made her choice and helped save the city. Now to see if that decision had cost her one of the very few she cared about in Ryoko Owari, the one for whom she cared the most deeply. To see if this Victory would forever taste of ash to her. The sleek Crane turned on her heel, dismissing any further thought of Moon Cultists and Zombies - the threats and boasts of the reach of the Moon Cultists could wait for another time.

Zoyu gave Rin and Tisuri a nod. "It is done, and done well," she said smoothly, but Rin could hear an unaccustomed brittleness in her tone. "If you will excuse me, there is who's disposition I wish to determine."

Zoyu strode across the courtyard towards the Acting Troupe's Float, graceful but severe, ignoring congratulations and thanks, cries and pleading for help, both. Seeing the unmistakable form of Bayushi Tsukiko laying prone upon the float - willowy, yet taller than most men - Zoyu barely restrained herself from dashing to her side with unseemly speed, though her steps hastened notably.

She leapt upon the float and knelt by her side. Eschewing decorum for a moment, Zoyu cupped her cheek, caressed it, to feel her flesh once more and see if it still retained the warmth of life, that the delicate pulse of blood still flowed through elegant neck.

"Ah, Tsukiko, you are the only Lady Sun I truly wished to see with the morning..." Zoyu murmured.

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Rin wondered if this was it she stood over the corpses of the witches and thought of the long night which felt like years.

She said nothing when Zoyu spoke and headed toward the actors float, just watched her stride which spoke louder than the words she had used. She bowed to the Kenku in silent thanks.

She looked around, at the carnage, those who still stood, those who pleaded and cried for help. She saw her Prince across the way surrounded by his guard. She longed to rush there to be with him. But no this was not the time and certainly not the place.

He must be the Prince.

Rin stooped and retrieved her wakizashi from where the cultist had dropped it. She cleaned and sheathed then spying Jotomon, cleaned her wakizashi and made her way thru the crowd toward the warrior.

“Jotomon-san,” Rin bowed offering her the return of her short sword, “Thank you for the use of your sword, both for saving me, and for arming me in the act of ridding ourselves of this unpleasantness.”

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Hey let out a sigh, tucking the small orb back into the satchel with the rest of the gifts they had been bestowed. Seeing Yuzo helping the Sun Priestess up, he offers them a polite bow, addressing the Priestess.

"I'd like to thank you for your aid tonight. Your bravery in the face of our opponents this evening was commendable." He offers her a tired smile "So thank you. And you as well, Yuzo, for all of your help over the course of the evening. Forgive me though, I must see to my comrades."

Offering one more bow which she shakily returns, he nods to Yuzo before turning and making his way to the fallen lion. The flames which had been dancing around him finally extinguish, nearly causing him to stumble. Shaking his head at the weariness, he takes a knee beside the fallen Lion. Holding one hand in front of her face, he breathes a sigh of relief when he feels her breathing

He gently eases her into a more comfortable position, shoulders and head supported by the crook of one arm and upper body resting against one leg. He gently shakes her shoulder, hoping to call her back to wakefulness. Eventually, she stirs and he lets out another breath of relief.

"Welcome back to the waking world, Kitsu-san. You had me worried there for a moment."

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Tsukiko lay there in her full costume as Lady Sun, Amaterasu. Her face and neck a stark, pristine white, her hair black as night, long and straight with her eyebrows exaggerated and lips painted, She wore an ornate, old-style garment, a kind of multi-layered kimono of reds, oranges, yellows and white on the outermost layer, held in pace by a broad obi with a huge, elaborate bow. 

Slowly her eyes blinked up and she looked up to Zoyu, forgetting herself for a moment she hugged the Crane tightly, doing her best to try not to sob as the stress of the morning took it's toll on her.

"What... what happened? Where did you go? You were right there.. and then you left. That thing was coming at me... and... you left. You left me alone.. with that thing." she asked, sobbing.
 
Across the couryard Jotomon held out her hands toward Rin.

"I did only what needed to be done, as do we all, Rin-san. And I am glad to see the lesson at my dojo was of asistance to you." Jotomon replies, accepting the return of her wakizashi and sheathing it in the obi of her ghost costume.

"I am ashamed to admit that I failed to notice the foul things' infiltration of the parade. had it not been for you and your fellow Magistrates' alarm and swift action, I am afraid we would be looking at a very different dawn over Ryoko Owari. You are a credit to your office." Jotomo added with a deep, respectful bow.

At the base of the Dragon Globe, the Priestess looked somewhat surprised at Kaze's thanks.

"For my aid? Were it not for you all, the Dragon Globe would be shatered, the Temple would be in ruin and a dark day would be dawning over Ryoko Owari Toshi, and I would have been powerless to stop it." the Priestess replied, steadying herself with Yuzo's aid.

"You are some of the most noble and courageous samurai I have ever met with peerless skill and access to tremendous magics and even the light of Last Sun herself. No, noble samurai. It is I, the Order of Amaterasu and Ryoko Owari itself that should be thanking you." she said with a deep bow.

"Please honor our Temple by being our guests. We will see to your and your fellow's wounds and needs. It would be our honor." she asked.

Kaze was somewhat taken aback by the offer, but returned her bow, just as deep.

"We did nothing more than was expected of us. Any magistrate in our position would do likewise. But it would be our singular honor to accept your invitation. Our thanks."

With that, Kaze turned his attention to Kageko, moving to her side and checking for life.

"Did we do it? Did we win?" Kageko asked, blinking her eyes open very slowly, the Little Lion utterly exhausted.

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Rin returned Jotomon's bow with a deeper one then excused herself.

She started toward where the Priestess was being helped by Yuzo, but stopped she looked across the way and spied Zoyu with one of the actresses, she guessed at her identity. She gazed back at the Prince and shook her head but started toward him and his ring of guards.

Rin knelt before the Prince and bowed her head to the ground

 

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The Prince bowed slowly and deeply to Rin, before he spoke,

"Rise, Rin-san." Prince Satorii said to the kneeling Dragon.

The Prince looked around at the dead, the wounded, the now lifeless zombies and those moving through the courtyard, led by the priestesses of Amaterasu, lending aid to the wounded. He looked to the Seppun and motioned with a hand, dispatching most of them to assist as well.

"Though lives were list this morning, were it not for your courage and swift action, many more would have shared their fate, the city of Ryoko Owari would be doomed and a new Oni Lord would be rampaging t's way across the Empire." he recounted.

"I, and the inhabitants of Ryoko Owari Toshi, owe you and your fellow Magistrates our thanks." the Lord Prince said with another bow of thanks.

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Zoyu hugged Tsukiko back, her arm firm as she helped her to sit up. She barely restrained herself from wiping away the tear trailing down Tsukiko's cheek though she longed to, to do that and much more. Her own mismatched eyes were bright, though she did not shed any tears.

Tsukiko was two years her senior, and when they had first met, when Zoyu had been but thirteen, Zoyu had thought her worldly and remarkable, and had learned much from her. But Tsukiko was an actress and playwright. Zoyu was a warrior, a swordswoman and duelist, trained to battle. The fight had not assailed her so, though its outcome could have.

"Never believe that I abandoned you in your time of need, Tsukiko," Zoyu assured her in dulcet tones rich with emotion. "Had I run to your side, I would have merely bought you a few breaths of life before Ryoko Owari fell to darkness and ruin and we died side by side." The Crane gestured with sharp grace over her shoulder towards the perpetrators of the event. "By dispatching the Moon Cultists, Amaterasu still shines down upon the city, and you retain the chance to live a life as long as the Fortunes decree."

Zoyu helped Tsukiko to her feet. Standing Tsukiko stood a head taller than Zoyu, who looked up at her, her expression tender and sincere. Her voice was a low, intimate murmur for the Feathered Scorpion's ear alone. "You will always have a place in my heart, dearest Tsukiko, and as such, I know I will never feel alone. I hope and wish it is the same for you."

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