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

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Kado accepted the blade, each hand covered in a silk cloth, and set it down on a cloth atop the counter. He reached into his obi and withdrew a metal mallet with a pin tucked into the top of the head. It was a common tool used to remove the pin from swords, but generally only sword polishers and smiths bothered to actually carry them. While keeping the cloth between his hands and the blade, he disassembled it swiftly and with practiced ease, setting each piece down carefully on the cloth-covered counter until only the naked blade remained in his silk cloaked hands.

"Hrumph." the ronin muttered as he inspected the craftsmanship and while disassembling it, and finally the maker's mark.

"I have seen this mark before. It belongs to a ronin weaponsmith. He is known among the ronin for being one of the few that will sell to them, and hopeful ashigaru as well. And if a new ronin visits him, he will re-wrap their swords, free of charge, sparing them the reminder of their shame." Kado said simply as he effortlessly reassembled the sword.

"His name is Yasarugi, and he can be found in Tokoro, a small town in the mountains, off of Beiden Pass Road, in the lands of Bear Clan. If you seek to question him, then be aware that many ronin and ashigaru owe him, and that he is beloved by many more." Kado said, offering some forewarning.

The ronin looked at Kaze's mon for a moment and then back to the jar of sake thoughtfully.

"Neither 'Well In The Stream' nor 'Flower In Winter' sake are made locally. I am not sure of the exact source, but both can be found Ikoma's Eye, the urban area around Kyuden Ikoma (Sacred Watch Palace)." the ronin offered as he looked at the bottle.

"Or so I have heard." he added, looking once more at Kaze's mon as he handed the sword back to Kaze.

Kaze nods, accepting the blade back once more and humming in thought. Yasarugi in Tokoro. At least they now had a name to look into. His popularity with Ronin was potentially troublesome. They would have to treat that particular meeting with care. While well within their rights to question him, alienating people while doing so, even Ronin and Ashigaru, was undesirable.

"Troublesome, but thank you for the warning in advance. Earning the ire of so many is something I would hope to avoid. With luck, it won't come to that. And thank you for the information about the Sake as well."

He had passed through Kyuden Ikoma on his way here. It had been where he had met Kageko in the first place. So there was reason to return there, at least, and not have it appear unusual. He would have to bring it up with the Magistrates once they all reconvened. He steps back slightly, offering the Ronin another bow.

"You've given me much to think on. I shall not impose on your time any further than I already have. Please enjoy the Sake, and accept my thanks once again."

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Kobei perks up a bit more at the irrelevance of cost, and listens to the Crane, nodding and looking past her at Yuzo and Kageko for a moment at the mention of "we".

"Ahh. You like you favor a more dry sake." he said, nodding.

"Those are both extremely dry though." he added as he thought for a moment.

"I might suggest 'Raindrop From The Maple Leaf' or 'Better Fortune' sake? They are not nearly as dry. Raindrop From The Maple Leaf goes well with fish, but can stand alone as well, and Better Fortune sake is as light as a summer rain." he offered, displaying what seemed to be a reasonably extensive knowledge of sake brands.

Zoyu's lips tightened for a moment and she lightly shook her head.

"No. Thank you, Komei-san. We seek the two brands I stated and where they are produced." She reminded the Mantis.

Kobei shrugged, which caught a glance from Jotomon that caused the Mantis to straighten up, correcting his posture.

"Of course! You like what you like. I was merely making a suggestion." he said, brushing it off.

"The Crane enjoy a sweet sake, but the Lion Clan tends to prefer a very dry sake. Both of those are extremely dry and both are available near Kyuden Ikoma and much of the northwestern Lion lands. 'Well In The Stream' is produced in just outside of the Kyuden Ikoma, and 'Flower In Winter' is produced by a brewery in The City of the Rich Frog. If you desire them both, then they would not take too long to obtain. The City of the Rich Frog is just up the River of Gold, right before the lands of the Unicorn, and Kyuden Ikoma is to the south of The City of the Rich Frog, just past the fork in the river where the Three Sides River starts." the bald Mantis explained.

 

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Zoyu did indeed prefer the sweeter sorts of sake, but Kobei had been most helpful, just as Yuzo had suggested. She had gotten what they needed, but the Mantis deserved something for his efforts and knowledge. Zoyu bowed her head towards him and smiled softly as she smoothed out her kimono and haori.

"Thank you, Kobei-san, that is exactly what I wished to know," Zoyu said. "I will not keep you any longer from your lessons, but if possible, I would be interested in procuring a pair of casks of each." She pursed her lips in consideration. "Depending on certain circumstances and when you may depart, might it be possible if I and a number of my companions accompany you? That is all for now, unless, Yuzo, you have anything to add?"

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"Accompany me?" Kobei asked and slide his hand along his bald head as if he were pushing back hair.

"I suppose it is possible, but my boat is quite small,, just large enough for a small quantity of premium wares, and I man it alone. It was not designed for passengers, much less several. It would not be a comfortable trip, and the added weight would slow the rate of travel, as my boat is usually mostly empty when I head upriver. I could fetch the sake and return much more swiftly on my own." the Mantis replied.

Yuzo shook his head at Zoyu.

"I think you have about covered it, Zoyu-san." he said with a nod.

"Didn't Rin mention she was brought her on a Tortoise ship? Might that be more accommodating for us if we wish to travel upriver?" Kageko asked.

 

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"That is an excellent suggestion, Kageko-san," Zoyu agreed, giving the slight Soden-Senzo a smile before nodding at the merchant. "I had forgotten another recourse we could pursue and I wouldn't not want our company to slow your travel and make it more difficult and uncomfortable besides. Please forget my idle thought, Kobei-san. When you return, please deliver the sake to the Inn of the Apple Blossom and everything will be settled appropriately."

She glanced at Yuzo and Kageko, patting the enchanted blade found, stolen, and recovered. "Shall we continue on and make our own delivery?"

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"Ahh yes. The Tortoise! I think you may find their craft better suited to your needs." Kobei said with a broad smile, almost one of relief, and a nod.

"Of course, Kakita-san. I shall depart at the earliest possible convenience." the bald Mantis man said with a smile and bow.

"I shall lead the way." Yuzo said.

 

The walk through the city, in the day, with the usual crowd thinned somewhat and while not racing down streets in a near panic, was rather enjoyable. Yuzo knew the city quite well and pointed out some points of interest and businesses along the way to the Noble Quarter.

Doji Fuketsu's estate was not far beyond the gate and when the Magistrates arrived, they found the home abuzz with craftsmen, mostly carpenters, already repairing the damage to the home and cleaning  up the mess from the previous night. The guards instantly recognized Yuzo and he led the other Magistrates inside. Once inside, Yuzo requested an audience with Doji Fuketsu and after a brief wait the Magistrates were led to the back yard, the same spot they had spoken with the hatamoto the night before.

"Fuketsu-sama, we have come to return the blade that was stolen from your home. In the course of our investigation, we recovered the sword, and with the appearance of the Oni, the blade proved instrumental in dispatching it. We must thank you for its aid. It is truly a gift worthy of your family." Zoyu said, addressing the older man as she held out the sheathed katana toward him with her head bowed.

Fuketsu sat and looked at the sword as he thought, the delay causing Zoyu and the other Magistrates to begin to worry until the hatamoto finally spoke.

"Thank you for its return, Zoyu-san." he said as she reached out and accepted the sword.

He unsheathed it, bearing the first few inches of the blade for him to examine as he thought. His gaze shifted from the sword his father, the apparently semi-senile old man smiling brightly and nodding to him.

Fuketsu sighed softly before he continued,

"...but I feel it would be a disservice for a blade such as this to simply rest on a stand, even in a place of honor. If it was as instrumental in the defeat of the Oni as you say, then I feel it would best serve the Empire in the hands of those who protect us from such things, and have already proven their courage in doing so." he said as he re-sheathed the sword.

"I understand that your comrade, Mirumoto-san used the sword. Since she demonstrated such capability with it, then I feel it is she who should wield it and, pass it on to another Jade Magistrate when appropriate. I trust you to deliver the blade, and the thanks of the Crane clan to her and your fellow Magistrates." Fuketsu stated as he held the sword back out to Zoyu with one hand, gripping the saya beside the guard.

"Thank you, Fuketsu-sama. You are more generous, but we were only doing our duty." Zoyu replied.

"It was more than that, The wisdom of the Son of Heaven was only been proven again by your actions. In a single night you defeated an oni, rooted out maho-tsukai, slayed the moon cultists, protected the Temple of Amaterasu and the Sun Globe, saved the city twice..." he said as she looked over to his daughters practicing the koto and samisen in the garden a distance away, under the every-watchful eye of their nanny, "...and saved my own daughters. If I can ever be of any help to you fine Jade Magistrates, then you have but to ask." Fuketsu said with a polite bow.

As the Magistrates thanked the Crane Hatamoto and prepared to leave, Fuketsu called Yuzo aside and spoke to him for a few minutes, as a Doji Magistrate would be expected to do with his superior. Once finished, they returned to the Apple Blossom Inn where they found Rin and Kaze waiting.

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While still a lot quieter than the city had been the previous day, it was beginning to stir more fitfully. Here and there some businesses opening their shutters. Children once more in the street where previously there were none. Most ignored the Crane in their midst, only paying enough attention to not collide with him as he made his way back to the Apple Blossom. It was strange to see how little the peasants had been affected by the previous night, most seeming to have already shrugged off the unusual events and returned to daily life. There was an admiration to be had in that resilience.

Returning to the Inn, he and Rin arrived within minutes of one another, sitting at one of the tables and talking quietly of what they had found as they waited for the others to return. When she does arrive, he is somewhat surprised to see the Hatamoto's sword still by her side. He had thought she sought to return it. The why of it could wait however, they all had information to discuss. He nods to her, sketching a slight bow from where he was seated.

"Welcome back Zoyu-san. Did you have any luck in your search?"

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"The Fortunes were indeed with us, Kaze-san," Zoyu replied with a soft smile. "The merchant Yuzo-san lead me to was most helpful. Both sakes are from the lands of the Lion." Zoyu quickly gave Kaze and the other magistrates the details. She turned to Rin. "If necessary, do you believe the Tortoise would be amendable to transporting us along the river, if we decide to pursue this avenue of investigation?"

Zoyu glided toward Rin, presenting the sheathed kami-favoured katana towards her. "There is more. For all that we have done for Ryoko Owari and his family, Fuketsu-sama has entrusted the enchanted katana to the care Jade Magistrates and would be honored if you would wield it until you see fit that another Jade Magistrate is worthy to wield it."

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"Humph," Rin sighs and reaches up to take the sword. "I will honor the wishes of Fuketsu-sama.

As to taking the Steady, if that is what we wish to do and everything doe seem to point to this end. I will send word and inquire if it would be possible to take passage." She look around the table to ascertain everyone's agreement

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Kaze nodded.

"Kado was most forthcoming as well. He had a passing familiarity with the Sake I brought him, though only enough to be able to tell me that it was available in Ikoma's Eye. As for the Blades, the makers mark belongs to a Ronin bladesmith called Yasuragi, in a small Village called Tokoro, off the Beiden pass. In lands belonging to the Bear clan. He's apparently quite popular among Ronin and Ashigaru both. Will even re-wrap a Ronin's blades for him."

About Kado's history, he remained silent. It had little bearing on the rest of their journey, and more to the point, it was not his place to mention it.

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"Greetings, my fellow Magistrates." came a vaguely familiar, male voice from the doorway, though Zoyu recognized it swiftly.

The magistrates turned and saw a young man, a roughly their age, wearing armor in Scorpion colors and holding his helm in his hand. He had black hair and wore a delicate veil across his handsome, though somewhat stern face. He was clearly a bushi, judging by the way he carried himself and the katana with a scorpion's tail grip. His face was new to Kaze, but to Rin he looked familiar,  Zoyu recognized him right away, even with the dark hair. 

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"I do apologize, for I would have made every effort to be back and welcome you to Ryoko Owari myself, had I known you were planning to attend the festival." he said with a bow.

"As it is, I only heard of you when I arrived this morning to stories of zombies, oni, moon cultists, bandits, spirits and kenku. It seems you had an eventful time. Truly, the City of Stories does not disappoint." he said as he stood near the Magistrates table.

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Zoyu nodded her agreement with Rin, then her brows rose at the sight of a face she hadn't thought to see again, a man she had not even thought of since the Topaz Championship.

"If it does not disappoint, it is still a trial," Zoyu replied, schooling her features to a polite greeting as she dipped her head to her former classmate. "There is no need for apology, Ujimitsu-san. I had not considered remaking your acquaintance here in Ryoko Owari. It is an unexpected turn of events. I trust your a doing well, since...?"

Zoyu made a graceful gesture, indicating his attire> Her tone and manner was civil and gracious, but not warm. She had known him since they were both children and while Kakita Satsuma-sama could be a harsh man, Ujimitsu's outburst had been a deep breach of etiquette and she still could not reconcile his decision to switch clans, especially to the Scorpion.

"Would you like some tea?" Zoyu offered, indicating the pot, poised to serve if he accepted.

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Rin stares at the Scorpion as if he is an apparition then abruptly stands

" Please take my place if you wish to join, Ujimitsu-san, I must apologize but your arrival has reminded me of a Duty elsewhere."

She bow to Zoyu and her companions. "I will see to the travel arrangements and ask your pardons for my... sudden departure. I will send word."

With that and another curt bow to the Scorpion she departs the Inn and heads toward the river and her destiny.

Spoiler

Rin is looking for the royal barge and an audience with the prince

 

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Ujimitsu gives Rin a polite bow as she rises and offers her seat.

"You are too kind, Mirumoto-san, but please, do not leave on my account. I have no wish to impose." he said as Rin rose from the table and explained her departure from it.

Ujimitsu nodded. 

"It is unfortunate that you must leave so soon." he said with a momentary frown on his face.

"If I may be of assistance in arranging travel, I would be happy to be of assistance, Mirumoto-san." he offered with another bow as Rin departed.

Ujimitsu removed his swords and placed them in the alcove by the door, along with his helm and then returned to the table and took Rin's empty seat. He nodded to Zoyu and placed his cup nearer to the teapot.

"Since The Lord and Lady Bayushi saved me from my own shame?" he said openly, and unafraid with a nod.

"Quite well, actually. I attended the Topaz Championship with the goal of winning and using that favor to assist my parents. Had I not underestimated Akodo-san, I feel I was likely to have reached the final round. Unfortunately I did underestimate him and I was... unprepared... for the loss, as it was not an possibility I had allowed myself to even consider." he recalled, his face going faintly sad for a moment.

"But I have come to understand something since that day. 'Sometimes and blessing is a curse and a curse is a blessing' as the saying goes. And this has, indeed, been a blessing. I desired to assist my parents to much, to be a good a dutiful son, that even though I may have lost that match and took the loss... poorly... I still did not fail them. The Lord and Lady Bayushi could see me dedication, and so after Lord Doji's actions, which were fully warranted given my shame, they took me into their family and then generously made sure that my parents and their family were taken care off. So in the end, by trying to be a dutiful son and achieve my goal, I did, just not in the way I had intended." he explained with a faint smile.

"I am a Scorpion, and Bayushi, now, and the clan has welcomed and values me." he said as he lifted a hand and lightly brushed his veil.

"There has been a period of adjustment," he said, looking down at the red and black of his armor, "that is to be expected, of course, but knowing that my parents and their family are taken care of has lifted a weight from my shoulders and cleared my mind." 

"And that brings me to you, Zoyu-san. My parents had risked a great deal to ensure my entry to the Dueling academy and the Tsuma dojo, where I might learn from Toshimoko-sensei himself. He favored you though, and with your victory at the Topaz Championship, anybody can see why. As a boy who was there, hoping to learn from the great Toshimoko-sensei and win the Topaz Championship, I can admit that I resented you for that." he said as he rose and walked around the table to kneel near Zoyu.

"It was the stress of a young boy and his misplaced frustration. You did nothing wrong and certainly did not deserve the way I treated you for some many years. Please accept my deepest apologies." he said sincerely as he bowed and pressed his forehead to the floor in the most respectful bow possible.

"I hope that one day, we may indeed be friends as we should have been all of those years." he added.

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Perhaps the change in Clan was beneficial to Ujitmitsu, though Zoyu didn't think the Scorpion would be as forgiving to outbursts in their name. Still, a harsh method of humbling seemed to have served him well and he offered apologies to her as he should have that would have been crass to demand. She hoped the Scorpion did not make Ujitmitsu regret his decision some day.

"Your apologies most appreciated and greatly accepted, Ujitmitsu-san," Zoyu replied graciously with a demure smile. "Under the eyes of Fate and the Fortunes, all things are possible. Please, sit and be at ease." Her mismatched eyes twinkled as she took a sip of tea. "When you heard word of us in Ryoko Owari, did you come to reconnect with old acquaintances and make overdue apologies, or is there additional reason you sought us out? Lord and Lady Bayushi have taken a particular interest in the Jade Magistrates, with their establishment and their providence, it seems to me."

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Their guest was an interesting study. Many clan members dressed themselves up in iconography and their clan colours, but this man seemed to be taking it to a bit of an extreme. Though one would never be able to mistake him as anything other than a Scorpion. Flicking a glance down to his Mon, he had to pause a half second. A Bayushi, clearly, but it was really odd seeing the mark of the Kakita duelling academy there.  Although.... he watched as as Rin got up to leave and Zoyu continued talking. The others certainly seemed familiar with him. He had only ever heard of what occured during the championship second hand, but he did vaguely recall hearing about a Crane that had been removed from the clan and found a new home among the Scorpion. This was he, perhaps? What was a Bitter Lies duelist, though? It was not a school he was familiar with.

The apology came as a bit of a surprise, but he had to give the man credit. Zoyu's words on the other hand..... she said she accepted the apology, for certain, and her tone indicated she was joking, but he hoped that it was enough to offset the almost literal slap to to face she had given the man. Whatever the truth of her words, and he accepted that it was unlikely that he would seek them out apropo of nothing, once the apology was given and accepted, there was little reason to continue wielding it like a blade. "Long overdue apologies" indeed.

"Forgive my interruption, Bayushi-san. I am Kakita Kaze, currently deputy Jade  magistrate." He offers the Scorpion a small bow from where he was seated, an apologetic expression on his face. "For all the indelicate manner she has brought it up, Zoyu-san would have the right of it, I imagine. Is there something that we might help you with? I hope you will forgive our bluntness, but yesterday was a very long day, and our work is not yet complete."

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Ujimitsu rose and returned to his seat where he bowed in return to Kaze. 

"It is good to meet you then, Kaze-san. I am Bayushi Ujimitsu, a fellow Jade Magistrate." he said, introducing himself.

"I am here for many reasons, actually. I had not seen any of my fellow class of Jade Magistrates in many months. It is always good to seem familiar faces." he said holding his cup up in a small toast before taking a sip of tea.

"And yes, the Lord & Lady Bayushi have taken a special interest in us. We were the first of the new Jade Magistrates and they are pleased the position has been reinstated. They are confident that we will prove worthy of the faith that the Son of Heaven has placed in us and feel it is their duty to aid us in any way they can, for aiding us, will only strengthen the Jade Magistrates and the office of the Jade Champion, and thereby the Empire itself." he said as he took another sip of teat and sat his cup down.

"Aside from that though, I think I may be able to assist in your investigation with these moon cultists, if that is your next course of action.

Since I have been here I have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of many people. I have learned a lot about this city and it's people, and am, in fact, investigation this Fade and the rumors of him or his men using maho.

But as I was saying, among the people I have met are a brother and sister. He is a skilled courtier and she is a gifted shugenja. I mention this to you, because she has quite a bit of knowledge about the moon cult and maho. They have aided me in the past, and I think they would be of assistance to you as well. 

They have a special interest in seeing the downfall of the moon cult and both were, in fact, not far from the Temple of Amaterasu last night, battling zombies and risking their lives to protect others.

So if you are going to pursue the moon cult, then their skills and knowledge may prove invaluable."

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Zoyu pursed her lips in consideration, then took a sip of tea, savoring it, before dipping her head in assent to Ujimitsu. "It is true that we have just recently learned of the activities of the Moon Cult and know little of them, their practices and goals. It would serve us well to make acquaintance with those who know them better. Many have we encountered in our travels that have aided us with their own particular specialties and knowledge.

Rooting out the Moon Cult is most definitely a concern for us now and if these siblings also have a particular interest in the same, I would find it enlightening to make their acquaintance, if it would not be an imposition, Ujimitsu-san."

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Inn of the Apple Blossom...

Ujimitsu nodded.

"Excellent. I will send for them after you finish your breakfast." he said.

"The moon cult has survived for centuries, despite the attempts to fully root them out and destroy them, but from what I have heard in the months since our appointment, if anybody has ever had a chance of truly doing so, it is you." he complimented the Magistrates at the table.

"From what I have heard you have been the most successful of those of us appointed by the Emperor, and last night only further proves that." he said in a toast.

"I have my own investigation here, and requested Hiju's aid, but I sought you out today hoping to help in any way I could, such has making introductions. I think you will find the twins' aid most helpful. And if there is anything else I may be of assistance with, or introductions that you seek, it would be my honor to assist." Ujimitsu offered.

 

The riverbank...

Rin reached the river and returned to the dock she had found the Prince's barge at last night. The barge was indeed secured there, with banners bearing the imperial chrysanthemum fluttering in the wind flanking the foot of the dock, the entire platform having been appropriated for the time being. Standing beside the banners and blocking entrance to the dock stood two Seppun Miharu, as well as two more on either sides of them, several feet apart as well as several on the dock, half of which faced the water.

Just beyond the Seppun, on the dock, sat an extremely well dressed man in a folding chair with a small writing desk before him. A young man stood beside him, holding an umbrella, shading the man as he wrote.

A small crowd had formed near the dock, mostly peasants with a samurai here or there, all hoping to get a glimpse of the Lord Prince, the future Emperor, something which few in the Empire ever had a chance to do. The crowd was careful though, staying back a ways from the dock and the Seppun guarding it, though it had led to slowing any traffic passing through the area, which caused most just to avoid it.

Rin made her way through the crowd and approached the two Seppun guarding the dock, not even drawing a look from them. She stopped a respectable distance from them, knowing how protective the Seppun are.

“I am Mirumoto Rin, a Jade Magistrate, known to the Lord Prince, Hantei Satorii. I come to seeking Audience." she said, causing the man sitting on the dock to look up, set down his brush and rise from the table.

"The Lord Prince is not granting audiences today." one of the Seppun said with authority, without even looking at Rin, his eyes still cast forward, just like the others.

"Mirumoto Rin, you say?" the man asked from behind the two Seppun, causing the to step aside.

"Hai." she replied with a bow.

"I am Miya Satoshi, Imperial Herald. Please come with me." the man said, introducing himself with a bow.

He led Rin down the dock, onto the barge and inside one of the small structures, where she was offered a seat, under the watchful eye of a miharu standing in each corner, while he fetched the Prince. A few minutes the Lord Prince entered.

"Ah, Rin-san. It is good to see you. I hope you are well. May I offered you something the drink? Eat?" he said with a smile.

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Rin was startled when the Prince appeared she was speechless for several seconds before she came to her sense and vacated her seat to kneel before her prince and bow lower than she had ever bowed before.

"My Lord Prince. You honor me." She had not expected the prince to come to her, she had thought that she would be called to him this was most unusual and combined with her fatigue put her off balance.

 

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On the Imperial Barge...

The Prince motioned to take a tatami mat on the floor for Rin as he took a seat himself, withdrawing his sheathed katana from his obi and placing it by his side so that he may do so.

"I had not expected to see you so soon, Rin-san. So what brings you here?" Prince Satorii asked, curious as to what had brought Rin to him this morning.

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"We will keep that in mind, Ujimitsu-san," Zoyu replied, giving him a small smile, vaguely regretting being so sharp with him and suspicious of his motives, if not actually apologetic about it. "And likewise, if there is some way we may be of assistance in your own investigations, I hope you will feel comfortable in asking. If I may inquire, how has Hiju been since the Topaz Championship?"

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On the Imperial Barge...

Breath deep find your center this is the Prince now not the man you love with you heart.

Rin moves to the seat.

“My Lord Prince, our meeting last night was busy and there was no time or opportunity to say things that I have wished to say to you since the Tournament.” She looks at the guards knowing that they will not leave unless he orders them to.

“My Lord Prince, after my appointment and subsequent return home I had time to contemplate.

You see after our appointment I did not wish to be a magistrate. All I wanted was to serve and master my art, to become the best warrior that I Mirumoto Rin could be. Ever since I first set foot upon our mountain I have striven to improve in all ways.

But I know my duty. But there is one thing that my mind and heart brought to the forefront in my time of contemplation.

You, My Lord Prince.

You are the future of Rukogan, of the Clans, of the World.

You are my future, what ever that may be. And I wanted you to know that my swords, my honor, my life are yours"

Rin bows

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At the Inn of the Apple Blossom...

"I really do not know how he is. I have not seen him, or any other Jade Magistrates since I departed Tsuma, aside from Daisuke-san of course. I wrote to Hiju, requesting his aid and have yet to hear back. He is a skilled hunter though, with his family serving as hunting guides to the Hantei and other Imperials, so I hope that he may be able to help me track down Fade. I know that many have tried and fail for many months now with the bounty Governor Hyobu has placed on his head, but none have been successful, not even the Wasp bounty hunters. Fade has proven to be most elusive indeed." Ujimitsu replied

"After I left Tsuma the Lord & Lady Bayushi saw to my admission to the Bayushi school. Shortly after completing my training there I heard of Fade and rumors of maho, so I have been searching for him ever since. I am hoping that as Jade Magistrates, we may have better luck though. Perhaps the blessing of the Emperor may bring favor from the Fortunes. He has been a thorn in the side of this city and its trade for some time now and must be brought to justice. If is, or employs, maho-tsukai, then doubly so." he explained

 

On the Imperial Barge...

The Lord prince listened and nodded from time to time as Rin spoke, but was somewhat taken aback by Rin's admission. Though he was trained in the ways of the court, and etiquette, he was clearly not as practiced at it as his father was. He sat there for a moment, composing himself before he spoke.

"I.. I do not know what to say, Rin-san. I am flattered by your faith in me, though I am not sure what I have done to earn such trust." he said with a hint of surprise lingering in his voice. 

"Indeed, it seems every time we have met you were either besting me in a contest or protecting me." he said more lightheartedly thinking back to the Topaz Championship and even the events of the prior night.

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On the Imperial Barge...

"I can only be myself, and protecting you is my duty and my wish."

She looks uneasily at the guards closes her eyes and breathes to steady her heart. A hundred... no a thousand things go through her mind. The thing she feels she must tell him, the things she wants to tell him and all the things between. In the end it may damn her but it the burden she and she alone must bare.

"I will always strive to serve you My Prince and to protect you. Whatever may come.

I felt the need to say these things to you in person.

I hope I give no offense."

She gazes upon the man, her prince, and know peace.

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16 hours ago, Noir said:

If he is, or employs, maho-tsukai, then doubly so.

"Indeed, just so," Zoyu agreed heatedly, her eyes hardening at the thought of maho-tsukai and those who utilized their foul magics. "Hiju acquitted himself quite well during the tournament and seemed a most excellent hunter and woodsman. I hope his aid will serve you well and I will add my own prayers that Fate and the Fortunes favour you in finishing this Fade and his foul feats."

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On the Imperial Barge...

Prince Satorii noted the way Rin looked at the guards again and considered for a moment as he listened to her speak.

"Offense?" he asked in a small bit of surprise. "Of course not, Rin-san." he answered, soothing her fears..

"Leave us." she commanded the Seppun, causing one to step forward and address him,

"My Lord Prince,  I do not..." was all the guardsman managed to say before Prince Satorii cut him off.

"You are forever concerned for my safety. I know. And your dedication is commendable. But if I am not safe in her presence, then I would have great fears for the Empire I will inherit." he said to the miharu with a smile.

"Yes, My Lord Prince." the guardsman replied as he bowed.

A few moments later Rin and Prince Satorii were alone in the small room on the barge. 

"Be at ease, Rin-san." he said to her reassuringly.

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He gifts me with trust, Rin thinks, and will this destroy that? All I want now is to ease his burden, but is that my mind or my heart. Do I fear for the Empire or the man.

"My prince, I do not wish to add to your many burdens, but I have found that duty and heart are enmeshed and also conflicted. I did not come here today to speak of my heart, but it is my heart that speaks. Know my wise prince, that I do not ask anything for myself, I only wish to do my duty as my heart tells me.

The Empire is in danger, you My Prince, are in danger. This danger is not of outside origin I believe." Rin shakes her head then breathes deeply she has come this far said this much.

"I have had suspicions since the attack on your person after the tournament. I have no solid tangible proof, no evidence for any court, only what I have learned and all of that is hearsay. To even make such accusations would dishonor me and most likely lead to my execution. But I could not allow you to stand in danger without knowing, without warning. The maho we have faced then and the Jade Magistrates since, as you know corrupts but I believe that that corruption had already taken hold in places that are not suspect.

I have made a vow to myself before my Ancestors, To protect you with every portion of my ability. I will do that if I am allowed.

I will tell you everything I suspect if you ask me to. But if you trust me My Prince, you will not ask. You will take all caution, surround yourself only with those you know in your heart you can trust, and trust no one else, not even those in places of high honor and prestige, not even any who you would naturally trust simple because of who they are or titles they bear.  Let me, Mirumoto Rin, with my heart and soul, my Swords sworn to you, Let me go and end this threat to you, to the empire."

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On the Imperial Barge...

Prince Satorii listened to Rin intently, noting the true sincerity in her voice and body language. As she finished he let out a small sigh a bit of a frown. 

"There are..." the Prince said and stopped, reorganizing his thoughts.

It was clear that an internal debate was raging as the Prince decide what to say. There was so much he wished to say, but was unsure of what effect it might have on the Dragon woman he had formed a bond with, back in Tsuma. She was just a girl than, and he a boy, but now they were adults and samurai with duties to uphold. Duties that weighed heavily on the both of them.

He parted his lips to speak once more, but paused again.

"All of my life I have been groomed to become the next Emperor. My father has taught me many lessons to prepare me. Lessons about ruling the Empire, how to protect it and what it means to sacrifice for it. And just when I think he may have taught me his final lesson, I am once again his pupil. I can only hope to carry forth a measure of his wisdom." he finally said, breaking the awkward silence.

"That you have come here today, speaking to me of what you suspect only shows that my father's wisdom in appointing you all is irrefutable. It never ceases to surprise me, much like you do, Rin-san." he said in a moment of sincerity.

"I am impressed that you have managed to gather these suspicions, but I guess I should not be, given what you have accomplished in so short a time. It did not take long for me to form what I am sure are the same suspicions, but my father was well ahead of me."

"There are... complexities... of rulership, and the Empire." he sighed.

"Back in Tsuma, we both spoke of duty." he said, reminiscing.

"As you know, a samurai has a duty to their lord and through them to the Emperor himself. A noble samurai, such as yourself, would make any sacrifice in the service of their lord.

The Emperor has a duty to the Empire and its people. And sometimes the Emperor must make a sacrifice in service to the Empire, for the good of the Empire.

"I will share with you some things that I trust you to handle with proper care."

"Centuries ago the Emperor at the time was convinced by the Phoenix Clan that the Empire did not need a Jade Champion. They were masters of magic and in service to the Emperor, and then created the Asako Inquisitors to fill something of the void left by the lack of a Jade Champion.

My father, and any Hantei before him for that matter, could have appointed a new Jade Champion at any time, but doing so would carry consequences. It would certainly upset, if not actually infuriate the Phoenix, but just as important as that, if not more so, it would mean reversing a decision made by a previous Emperor, and that would...

You see, the perception of the Hantei is just as important. Ensuring the people have faith in the wisdom and divinity of the Hantei line is part of sitting on the throne. It gives the people peace, and security. To reverse the decision of a previous Emperor tarnishes that, or it can, rather, without good reason that the people can rally behind.

And that is what Lord Kuni and the Scorpions provided, unintentionally. I am sure he that he thought he was 'encouraging' my father to make the 'right' decision, in his eyes, but in truth is gave my father a valid reason to appoint a Jade Champion once again. A reason that nobody could dare question and people would indeed rally behind.

He knew nothing of Lord Kuni's plan. His anger at may endangerment, no matter how controlled it may have been, was the most enraged I have ever seen him. And I certainly did not enjoy being used in such a matter either. But he was able to set his emotions aside and capitalize on the opportunity Lord Kuni presented for the betterment of the Empire.

So my father could see what had happened and had a choice...

He could have Lord Kuni, and likely the Lord and Lady Bayushi executed, and thereby killing one of the greatest enemies of the Shadowlands, and possibly further punish their clans as well, and deal with the repercussions from their clans, with especially with Lord Hida already contemptuous of him.

Or he could allow them to think their plan had succeeded, appoint a new Jade Champion and harness Lord Kuni's drive and hatred of the shadowlands, repair the relationship with the Crab, put a check on the Phoenix' and Emerald Champion's power and strengthen the Empire for generations. 

So he chose to make a sacrifice, of his own honor, for the good of the Empire. I too, have made this same sacrifice, and it is a burden I knowingly carry for the rest of my life as part of my duty to the Empire.

As I said, you have your duty and I have mine." he sighed.

"At the same time though, my father also made sure to put checks on Lord Kuni. "Never give them exactly what they want" is something he taught me about how to deal with people such as him. So he appointed all of you, nearly two dozen, as Jade Magistrates. You all proved you honor and dedication protecting me the zombie 'ambush' that we all believed was real. And indeed, you are among the finest group of competitors ever at the Topaz Championship, some of the greatest talents in generations. He knew you are noble and honorable and would keep an eye on Lord Kuni and take action if needed, and if not, then you would all do good things as Jade Magistrates.

At the same time, the Lord Bayushi is his advisor, as is tradition, and he made Lady Kachiko his personal aide. Why? So he could keep them close and keep an eye on both of them.There is actually far less then can do from within court than that can outside it. My father is far more wise and perceptive than even they realize. 

So the Emperor knows full well what happened, but letting them believe that he is none the wiser means they will continue to underestimate him if they try any further manipulations in the future.

In time, Lord Kuni will be replaced, as will all of his appointees, and everybody with the knowledge of what actually happened in Tsuma will pass on, leaving a stronger Empire, free from the burden of this lie. 

I am sorry to have burdened with this, Rin-san, but I did not want you to..." his voice trailed off.

"I do not know how to put it..." he sighed.

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On the Imperial Barge...

"No words are necessary my prince," Rin's voice is barely a whisper. "there is no one here to hear what has been said save our Ancestors.

I think they will not judge.

It is my Duty to Serve, It is no burden, It is my Honor.

Thank you  My Prince."

Rin bows, her balance restored, her heart peaceful.

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On the Imperial Barge...

"I..." the Prince said and then paused, considering his words as he had been taught.

"There are places that I disagree with my father though." he said, almost as if still trying to prove himself to the young Dragon.

"He believes the Hantei should be somebody to be obeyed and revered, rule from Otosan Uchi, like a mythic figure. I feel differently. I believe that the Emperor should walk among the people, be seen by them, and most of all, he should not just rule, but lead. Maybe it is due to the lessons from Toshimoko-sensei beyond swordplay, I am not sure." Prince Satorii said with a faint smile for a moment, thinking back to his sensei.

"But even though I am not yet Emperor, I still try to do so. I should not ask a samurai, no matter how honorable and devoted they are, to do anything that I would not do myself. So I have faced an oni with you, and led my miharu into combat at the temple, despite their protests and warnings. I wish to protect my people, not just rule them."

He paused as a thought crossed his mind, his eyes opening wider at the realization of how what he just said could have been taken by Rin.

"It is not that I did not have trust in you or the other Magistrates. Please to not think that." he clarified somewhat quickly. "I just had to ask myself what kind of an Emperor would I be if I just sent others to risk their lives in my name while I fled the city? I know it was the safe thing to do, and that almost anybody in the Empire would even beg to to leave and put distance between me the danger. Nobody in the Empire would think any less of me if I had left, but it was what I would think of myself, and..." Prince Satorii paused again, as if struggling with some decision. "...and what you would think of me, if I did."

The Prince looked down his exquisite kamishimo and then at his hands, lost in thought for a moment. He then rose, stepped down off of the raised dais on which he was seated and knelt once again, this time directly in front of Rin.

"You see, Rin-san, I have been surrounded by the Seppun, Otomo and Miya, guards, courtiers and tutors, all of my life. Always preparing me to be Emperor, and treating me with a reverence that seems ingrained into them. When we met in Tsuma though, it felt like the first time somebody, besides Toshimoko-sensei perhaps, looked past my name and title and saw me.

"You words were not, and never have been, simple platitudes that so many say reflexively to me. You..."

The Prince explained and then sighed, shaking his head with a small frown.

"You speak to me with an honesty that others do not. And I... My words fail me.... I do not know how to say what I mean, other than I only hope to be the man you believe me to be. To be worthy of all that you give me." the young man admitted as he closed his eyes with a sigh.

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Rin looks at Satorii, see the lashes of his eyes the fine veins of his closed lids. She is Mirumoto Rin and she is bold and brash.

"You are that man my prince." She places her hand on top of his gently, a soft caress.

"Your actions Satorii, " his eyes flash open at the intimate use of his name and find her deep brown eyes staring back at him boldly, "your actions speak louder than any command you could voice and all will praise your name at the telling of the tale, and more, I will be in awe, for I know that  the glory and honor were not why you fought but because you are a leader. You are that man, my prince, and I hope that I can be worthy for you."

 

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At the Inn of the Apple Blossom...

"Thank you. And I have no doubt that Hiju-san will be of great assistance if he is available." Ujimitsu said with a polite bow.

"If you will excuse me, I will go inform my friends that you welcome their assistance and that they may find you here." he said before he stood and bowed to each of the magistrates.

"Good day and good luck. And again, if you require any assistance, I would be happy to help." he added before he departed the table, gathered his things and exited the inn.

 

On the Imperial Barge...

Prince Satorii looked down at Rin's hands resting atop his own. Physical contact, especially of a more intimate sort such as this, was taboo, except maybe good natured things between friends. But, if Rin was not at least a friend, then what was she? Rin was a friend, at the very least, perhaps one of only two the Prince had ever really had, even though Toshimoko was he sensei as well.

Like Toshomoko, Rin did not seem to judge him, but simply except him who who is, even if she hold him in high praise. It was a praise he did not want simply for a name though. He wanted to earn it, or at least prove he was worth of it. Around her, he could be himself. Not the Lord Prince, Hantei Satorii, but just Satorii, or at least nearly so. And that was a rare and precious thing for him.

Prince Satorii slipped one of his hands out and place it atop Rin's as he looked back into her eyes for a moment, enjoying the silence and stillness of the moment.

"Thank you, Rin-san. I have my doubts, from time to time, but you... put me at ease." he said softly, looking deep into her eyes with a faint smile.

Then the door slid open a few inches and a male voice could be heard through the opening.

"My Lord Prince, my apologizes for disturbing you, but if we must be leaving if we are to reach home in time." said the unseen man.

Prince Satorii closed his eyes and nodded, even though the man could not see him.

"Very well. Prepare to depart." he replied.

"Hai." the voice said and the door slid closed once again.

"It seems we both have out duties, Rin-san." he sighed.

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On the Imperial Barge...

Withdrawing her hand Rin bows once more but she cannot keep the slight smile from her lips as much as she tries. "Thank you my prince, for giving me your time today and for easing my heart. Until we meet again" 

After she is off the Barge she makes her way to the Steady to make arrangements for the Magistrates and herself.

Once done there she returns to the Apple Blossom.

 

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Several minutes later, Shosuro Miren and his sister Kamiko both stepped into the inn. The male twin divested himself of all weapons and approached the table of Jade Magistrates with keen deference and grace. His kamishimo was of the finest cut and bold red and orange cloth, flattering its owner perfectly and lending a courtly air to Miren even in the midst of an inn; the mask he wore was of fine black filigree inlaid with red stones, some opaque carnelian, and others glittery, flashy rubies. The effect drew attention to his unusual blue eyes, but the offset in colors and swirls of metal made the oddity far more beautiful than off-putting. 

He bowed precisely where and when he should upon approaching the table and said, "Thank you, magistrates, for the honor to work with you to solve this most vexing issue of moon cultists and their unusual cleverness." 

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Kamiko's kamishimo is black in color, with red trim and a crimson obi embroidered with gold patterns twining along it. Her garb is of high quality, though less so than her brother's. Her mask looks similar to Miren's, though the pattern of the filigree is different in subtly complementary ways to that of her brother's, and the gems are diamonds instead of rubies. Her own eyes are also blue, if a darker shade, and of a more normal shape. She deposits a wakizashi and a weathered, well-made leather satchel at the entrance of the inn.

Beyond that, she is of willowy build, slightly shorter than Miren, with long lustrous raven hair and very fair skin. The nails on her pinky fingers have been allowed to grow out, carefully shaped and lacquered with intricate sigils lining them. She keeps them curled out of the way as she approaches and bows respectfully.

"I am Shosuro Kamiko, and this is Shosuro Miren," she says, speaking precisely where Miren leaves off with perfect timing. "We are at your disposal for this task."

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Zoyu appraised the Scorpion siblings with polite frankness as she finished her tea. Their blue eyes, while not uncommon among the Crane, were rare everywhere else in the Empire and quite fetching, and even exotic in some fashion. They were as pale of complexion as she and dressed in very fine and stylish kamishimo, with complimentary masks ubiquitous among the Scorpion. Zoyu couldn't help but notice the man was very handsome, almost pretty, and very polished in his manner.

"We are most pleased to make your acquaintance," Zoyu replied in a low, sweet voice, returning a polite, measured bow. Her mismatched eyes of blue and green were keen with interest, her cerulean kimono trimmed in white and patterned with pink sakura blossoms cut to emphasize her sleek, curvaceous figure and for ease of movement. "This one is Kakita Zoyu, Topaz Champion, and these are Mirumoto Rin, Kakita Kaze, Kitsu Kageko, and Doji Yuzo."

The Crane gestured gracefully as she named her companions. Unlike Ujimitsu, her own long hair, elaborately pinned and braided, was naturally a glossy white, save for a lock that was as glistening and black as that of the siblings. "Ujimitsu-san has spoken highly of you both and we would be grateful for any aid in dispatching these troublesome Moon Cultists. Ujitmitsu-san mentioned that you have had experience dealing with their ilk?"

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Kamiko smiled graciously. She marked the Champion's eyes, where and on whom they lingered. Unusual eyes as well, even for the Crane clan. Given her accomplishments, it might be worth doing some digging about that...but that was tomorrow's task.

"Yes, Zoyu-san. We do. The Cult is very different than what people expect from maho-tsuki. They are insidious; the slow poison that kills just a little each day. I have made a study of their black magic...my brother has worked to limit their influence in court. However, without status and authority it is difficult to make headway against a foe such as this. They hide behind great names."

Her voice was striking, cultured and mellifluous. She spoke more quietly then, "I cannot emphasize strongly enough how much last night's events represent a break from the Moon Cult's normal methods. A brazen full-frontal assault, with undead servants and magic...publicly revealing themselves and their goals has never been their way before. Something has changed in them. It represents a great danger...but also a great opportunity."

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Rin listened looking at neither her friend nor the two Scorpions. She had returned only moments before the arrival of the brother and sister, for their relationship was apparent despite the silly masks they wore, and had only just sat down while Zoyu made a quick explanation for what had transpired in her absence, when they had entered. Now she poured herself a cup of sake and drank emptying the cup then refilling it.

"^" She burps after draining the second cup. "So according to the other one,  the two of you have investigated this cult. Aside form the zombies last night have either of you fought them before?"

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"Not with crossed swords," Miren spoke with confidence and the finely honed cadence of a courtier, "but I have fought their influence in court and as my sister stated, she has made a great study of their methods and magic. Usually they are far more circumspect in their movements than to dispatch zombies to a festival. The tactic seemed too bold for their leadership and too clever for their base adherents. It speaks to a fundamental shift in their manners, one I hope does not become disturbingly commonplace in the days to come." 

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