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IC: L5R: Blood and Jade - A Trail Of Darkness

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Ikoma's Eye
 

Kyuden Ikoma, (Ikoma Palace) or "Sacred Watch Palace" as it was commonly known sits on the shores of the Three Sides River. Directly across the river sits the Mountain of the Seven Thunders at the very foot of the mighty Seikitsu Mountains (Spine of the World Mountains) that divide the Empire in two.At one point Kyuden Ikoma served as the outpost on the furthest edge of the Empire, hence the name Sacred Watch Palace. With the return of the Ki-Rin, now Unicorn Clan, that changed slightly, but the name still remains.

The palace was a place in name only, much in the same way as Kyuden Hida was a "palace". It did not possess the opulence of most palaces in the empire, and in fact, was a simple and spartan castle designed with practical military defense in mind, housing a sizable garrison of Lion bushi. Due to the simple fact that the Ikoma are the most diplomatic and politically savvy family of the Lion Clan, Kyuden Ikoma also served largely as the major point of diplomacy for the Lion Clan, by default.

It was also home to the vast Ikoma Libraries, the greatest library and record of the Empire's history, surpassing even those of the Miya and that of Otosan Uchi. The Ikoma Librarians were well known for maintaining the library as an historically, and more importantly, factually, accurate record of the empire, not allowing the embellishments of events, nor unfounded rumors to make their way into the library.

Kyuden Ikoma was charged with protecting the Venerable Plains, which surrounded Kyuuden Ikoma and Ikoma's Eye, and was known to be some of the most fertile land in the Empire, and thus providing much rice and grain for the Lion Clan. ith the Lion Clan accounted for a full quarter of all the samurai in the empire, it took a great deal to keep them all fed, thus making fertile land a precious thing to the Lion. With the Scorpions across the river, and the Unicorn and Dragon to the north, large, well-armed patrols were a frequent sight to travelers in the area.

The city surrounding Kyden Ikoma, known as Ikoma's Eye. It was built up as a place for visiting diplomats to be housed until their could be seen by the Ikoma. As such, there are no permanently stationed diplomats and there are no estates, large residences and only a few holdings of other Clans within the city (and certainly none possessed by the Crane). To compensate, Ikoma's Eye boasts a large number of tea houses, geisha houses, and theaters as well numerous sake houses and breweries, allowing visiting dignitaries to pass the time while their await their meeting with a degree of entertainment and comfort one rarely finds within the lands of the Lion. As such, Ikoma's Eye also serves as a frequent stop over for those traveling through the Lion lands especially to or from the Unicorn and Dragon provinces. It is a well supplied "last stop" before moving on to the mostly untamed land of those two Clans, and often the first place with all the comforts of the empire for those coming from those areas. 

Also within the city one could find the dojo for the Omoidasu (Historians/Bards) of the Lion Clan, well known for their stories and as being a rare class of samurai permitted to open show their emotions. The Hundred Scars Dojo, the training place of the Ikoma Brawlers who carry on the traditions of Ikoma (prior to his service to Akodo) can also be found within the city. Ikoma's Eye has become something of a destination for Lion samurai to enjoy their rare R&R. All understand the need for samurai belonging to a Clan as strict and disciplined has the Lion to have a time and place to relax (which often involves copious amounts of dry sake for the Matsu), so it is the Ikoma Brawlers that serve in many establishments withing the city (as bounces) keeping things safe and peaceful for all. 

The city boasts very few temples to the Fortunes, and certainly no large ones. And though it may not be obvious at first, the city is utterly devoid of any shrines to Shinsei, for the kami Akodo's contempt for "the little master" was well known and mirrored by the rest of the clan. Virtually the only reference to Shinsei one could find within the Lion lands would be the copy of the Tao of Shinsei sits within every Lion dojo (placed there by order of The First Hantei), even though none of those copies have ever been opened for the entire history of the Empire. Instead, the Lions practice a form of ancestor worship far exceeded that practiced by any clan, with shrines to various venerable ancestors, many of them largely unknown outside of the Lion, dotting the streets.

Probably the oddest thing about Ikoma's Eye is that it was not an "official" city, lacking any sort of formal government. The city slowly developed around the castle as a way to house and entertain those visiting the Ikoma on business and grew from there, having never been formalized with any sort of Governor. The city had always kind of just ran itself with a small force of doshin (appointed peasant police) and the occasional patrol of Lion bushi. By and large though, the city seemed to function just fine though. Given its function and general lack of trade beyond sake, grain and rice that took place nearer the river, there was little to no crime. Public disturbances, often from drinking too much, were the most common disruption to the calm of the city, but even they were often swiftly handled by the doshin and Ikoma Brawlers with speed and care. All in all the city had a rather relaxed, jovial atmosphere, which one would find odd for a city of the Lion, but the focus of the city made it so. Good theaters, inns, sake, and geisha kept the majority of the people in near perpetual good spirits.

 

Ikoma's Eye
Inside The Golden Pony Inn

At The Golden Pony inn the young Magistrates found lodging for themselves, as well as care for their horses. The Golden Pony was a larger than average inn, though from from the largest in the city. It was well adorned, for an inn within the Lion lands,  There were, of course, finer inn to be found in Ikoma's Eye, but they lacked enough empty rooms to house all of the Magistrates together. Since it was decided that it would be best to remain together, the Golden Pony was the best option able to accommodate them all.

Like most inn in Rokugan, the ground floor was a large dining area with several private dining rooms along the sides, kitchen, and housed the baths and quarters for the staff, with the rooms located on the upper two floors accessible by stairs on opposite sides of the building. The proprietors were two brothers. Abun and Taru, and  and their families. They were not samurai, but were skilled in the arts of hospitality since their family had run the inn for many generations. The brothers often cooked and did some of the more demanding labor, with their wives greeting patrons and taking orders. Their teenage children did most of the menial tasks of the in and the youngest could sometimes be seen playing in or around the inn.

Though not an actual sake house, the Golden Pony did have a better than average selection of sake, with that Abun was rather knowledgeable about the varieties. The magistrates, a bit tired and weary from their voyage, and having secured lodging in the establishment, were enjoying and meal of fresh fish, noodles in a fish brother, and rice as Abun stepped forth.

"Would you like any sake to accompany your meal?" Abun inquired.

Abun then leaned in closeer, and speaking just slightly more softly, as if to share the secret with only the Magistrates added,

"We have a modest selection of sake. We even keep a small supply of some of the harder to find varieties on hand just for special occasions and fine dignitaries."

He then straightened up again and resumed speaking in his normal volume and tone.

"Might I humbly suggest some sweet crane sake to enjoy with your meal?" he offered.

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"No, do you have this sake," Rin gesture to the Scorpion sister who had the empty bottle indicating that she should show it to the inn keeper, "If this is a brand you keep, bring us each a bottle and one for yourself so that  you may join us."

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Kaze sat back, giving a sigh of appreciation at the meal laid in front of them. Something about being back on Lion land. It was nice. Especially after the events of the last while. Even if Ikoma's Eye was a bit more ostentatious than he was used to for Lion lands. Kageko looked a bit more relaxed as well, though he supposed that she would have been trained in the area, so this was a bit of a homecoming for her. Smiling at an offhand comment from Kageko, he quiets as the proprietor speaks. The offer of Crane sake was unsurprising, given the makeup of their table. He is in the process of shaking his head when Rin beats him to it.

11 hours ago, Mirumoto Rin said:

"No, do you have this sake," Rin gesture to the Scorpion sister who had the empty bottle indicating that she should show it to the inn keeper, "If this is a brand you keep, bring us each a bottle and one for yourself so that  you may join us."

"Let's not overly alarm the man, Rin-san. I'm sure he has other guests to be seeing to and we would not want to keep him from his own duties." He turns a bright smile to Abun. "A few questions answered would sate our curiosity. We're new in the area and would like to learn more of where we will be staying for the next while. As far as alcohol goes, though, she has the right of it. I at least would appreciate some Well in the Stream, if you have it. Recently came across it and have developed an interest in it. Hard to find a good dry Sake outside of Lion lands."

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Smiling demurely behind her translucent veil, Kamiko produced the empty bottle and presented it for Abun's inspection.

"It truly was a most excellent taste, and so difficult to find," she explains softly. "Though I do not wish to trouble you, do you happen to have any?"

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Traveling through Lion lands, Zoyu had carried herself straight and proud, head elevated to a haughty angle, still melancholy to have left Tsukiko so soon. The animosity between the Lion and Crane was well known, and even more so between the Lion and the scions of Kakita, such as her beloved Toshimoko-sensei. She had pride to match any Matsu.

She shook her head in amused wryness as Rin bluntly invited the innkeeper to join them at their table - Rin was always readily treating peasants as practically equals. But Zoyu kept her silence. As able to dissemble as any Crane, and better than most, Zoyu found it near impossible to voice an untruth and besides, the others were already leading Abun to questions they wished answers to - no need for the fellow to face the full attention of four magistrates.

Though she preferred sweet sake to dry, Zoyu affected interest in the dry Well in the Stream variety as much as they others.

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Rin frowned at the interruption, but said nothing instead she leans toward Zoyu. "You seem to have a better handle on this. I will go and see if i can find my usual source of information." she said as she tapped the dragon tattoo on the shaved side of her scalp. With one fluid motion she stood sketched a meager bow toward her companions and spun and walked away from the table.

She gathered her daisho and the long sword and stepped out into the sunlight. Daisho in obi and longsword across her back with her half shaved tattooed head Rin made quite a sight and it was hard for any one to not glance at the imposing samurai. She watch the throng and in short order found what she sought, a group of children running and playing underfoot as they were wont to do. Shrugging her shoulders she marched up to the children and singled out the one who looked oldest a girl with big brown eyes about 10 or so. "You come here." Rin called

Several of the children ran away but the girl stood her ground. then approached the samurai and bowed.

"Your brave and mannered unlike some of your friends. I need your help. I am looking for a place that does tattoos," she laid a finger on her dragon tattoo, "do you know of such a place?"

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The little girl nodded.

"I have seen painting on the skin like that. But really pretty ones, like they were alive and moving."

"Where?" Rin asked, somewhat surprised.

"This way." she said, pointing down a street.

"Show me." Rin said simply and followed after the girl as she led the samurai away from the inn.

"The man with the skin paintings, he was bald and unhappy. His hands where tied above his head and he had a rope in his mouth." the girl explained as she guided Rin.

"Did you tell the doshin or city guard?" Rin asked.

The girl shook her head. 

"There's aren't any." the girl said, reminding Rin that there was no city guard or the like, as Ikoma's Eye was not actually an official city with no actual police force. The Tortoise had said that the Ikoma Brawlers were bouncers at the sake houses and such, but there was no actual city guard, leaving the city, which was mostly inns and entertainment for dignitaries waiting to speak with the Lion, to essentially govern itself.

"We tried to tell a Lion patrol, but the last time we checked, the man was still there." the girl further explained.

Down several streets and around some corners into the artisan district she led Rin and to a nondescript building; a small pottery works that, judging by the size, looked like it a handful of artisans might operate out of, with a small, attached warehouse. To a side alley the girl directed Rin and pointed at a small knot hole in the wood en exterior of the building.

Rin crouched and looked through the hole, holding her hand between her head and the wall to let her peer into the darker interior. There were a few stacks of crates and a few small carts which were being quickly loaded by two laborers as a third, slightly portly, irritated man watched and seemed to be trying to rush them men in their loading of the carts (though was not helping himself). She could not make out what he was saying, other than a word here or there like "Hurry" and "Magistrates"

As she surveyed the rest of the warehouse she could see against a post a man, clearly an Ise Zumi monk, was sitting on the ground with his hands bound above his head and to the pole. He was gagged with a large rope that looked rather moist and sitting on a small stool near him was a woman with a small scroll satchel. She looked tired, fighting off the grip of sleep, but occasionally failing now and then for a moment or two before catching herself.

Then Rin heard another word that she caught her attention line nothing else had. "Okkio".

 

 

Back at The Golden Pony Inn

"Well In The Stream? Yes, we have it." Abun asked and nodded.

"And you are in luck then! It is not difficult to find here. The distillery is only a few blocks away in fact." he informed happily.

"Shall I fetch you some?" he asked with a smile and a small nod.

 

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Kamiko nodded as she took the bottle back.

"It would bring my companions and I great happiness to sample it. We may even seek to give it's creators our direct thanks for their efforts."

"I wonder which distillery would one go to, to offer such thanks?"

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At some Warehouse in Ikoma's Eye

Rin straightened and look up and down the ally she motioned for the child to follow quietly and surveyed the remainder of the perimeter of the warehouse spotting the exits. When satisfied she took the girl a short way away.

Pilling the Jitte from her obi she asked, “Do you know what this is?” The little girl nodded furiously wide eyed. “Good you know where the Golden Pony Inn is?” Again, the girl nodded and this time said, “Hai!”

“Good, ‘ Rin handed the girl the Jitte, “ I want you to take this to the Golden Pony there you will find a Silver haired Kakita woman she is magistrate as am I. Give her this and tell her where I am and if she ask lead her back to this place. Can you do that for me?”

The little girl nodded furiously as she took the jitte, “Hai! Samurai sama, Hai!”  “Good now go hurry.”

Rin watched the girl run off the way they had come, and she stood, sniffed and rolled her shoulders flexing, checked her weapons and then strode to the door into the part of the warehouse where she had seen the bound monk. Gently so as not to make any noise she tried the door. It was locked. Rin stepped back and with a mighty kick smashed the door with her foot near the latched, the door flew opened slammed against the back and hung by one leather hinge the other having broken. Rin stepped into the warehouse and looked at those assembled.

“Now what was it you were saying about Magistrates?”

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The men inside the mostly empty ceramics warehouse all looked toward Rin as she kicked in the door and spoke. The two laborers both took a step or two backwards, away from Rin in fear, their shaky hands each moving toward the knives in their belts. The more rotund man seemed more surprised than scared, with perhaps a dash of outrage mixed in as well. Just as quickly his expression shifted, his eyes showing a bit of pleading with a tinge of fear.

"I- I am afraid I do not know of what you speak, Dragon-sama. Magistrates? We are just simple ceramics merchants. We know nothing of Magistrates." he said, bowing quickly and deeply to draw her attention.

The crashing of the door caused the woman to to jolt awake and snap to her feel, inadvertently kicking back the stool she was sitting in. She took a step towards Rin and to the side, blocking her view of the tattooed monk bound to the post behind her as her hand casually drifted into her scroll satchel.

"If you are looking for magistrates, one of my workers can lead you to the palace, perhaps?" the rotund man suggested.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 


"If you like, I could have my son guide you there." Abun offered and then looked over his shoulder, motioning his daughter over, to whom he said something a little more softly and difficult to hear over the noise of the dining room, causing her to nod, turn and walk away quickly, exiting the inn towards the stables as a small peasant girl came running in, cradling a jitte in her arms. She stood just inside the doorway, looking scanning the diners until her eyes fall on Zoyu.

She quickly walked over to the magistrate's table and knelt down, holding out the jitte.

"P- please excuse me, samurai-samas." she said first, a bit scared, as she addressed the table. She then turned slightly to face Zoyu more directly.

"A tattooed Dragon woman, a magistrate, told me to hurry here and bring this to give you, her fellow magistrates, and tell you that she was at the ceramics artisans, and told me to direct you there, if you wished." she said, lifting her gaze to peek out from under her bangs at Zoyu.

 

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Rin's head tilted not missing the hand dipping into the satchel, she swiftly slid into the room taking a martial stance from which she would be able to launch and attack in any direction, her hands grasped the hilts of her swords, her eyes never leaving the woman.

"Witch, withdraw the hand from the satchel empty, or die, open your mouth you die, anyone moves, you die. I am Mirumoto Rin, Jade magistrate and you are all under arrest. Resist and you die."

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The elegant Crane woman with her long white hair streaked with a striking lock of black, sighed in exasperation and set down her cup of tea before standing up and straightening her clothes with decorous, practised attention. Leave it to Rin to find trouble with the greatest of ease, occasionally, the most inopportune times. She collected her fellow Magistrates with a mismatched gaze before turning her attention to the peasant girl, a mild smile of concern on her lips.

"We would be most pleased if you lead us to our erstwhile colleague, little one," Zoyu said dulcet firmness. "And with some haste. You would be doing the Empire a service."

Whether the service was to prevent Rin from getting into too much trouble - or more likely, to aid her in the trouble she had already gotten in - or too mitigate an error in judgment that could result in who knows how much collateral damage, Zoyu deigned not to explain to the peasant girl.

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Kamiko offered the man she was speaking to a politely apologetic bow and said, "One day perhaps we can resume this most enlightening conversation. You have our gratitude."

She let the other Magistrates rise before standing herself, not wishing to appear to put herself above those who were actually Magistrates.

What had the impetuous Dragon gotten herself into, wondered the Scorpion. Someone so willing to stir the pot could be very valuable in an ally. If properly managed.

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Ceramics Warehouse

Eyes widened as as Rin announced herself to the warehouse. Instantly the others looked to the fat man. He met the shugenja's gaze and gave her a slow, almost imperceptible nod. The shugenja looked to Rin and smiled cutely, slowly removing her hand from the satchel, showing her that it was empty as she took a slow, cautious step back, holding her empty hands at roughly her head height to ensure the Magistrate could see both hands were empty.

The man then met the eyes of the two laborers, inclining his head ever so slightly toward Rin as his gaze intensified. The two men, though trying to be subtle, had clearly lost any subtlety to fear, which made the shaking of their heads in the negative far more obvious than they had intended.

The large man rolled his eyes and then looked to Rin, managing a faint smile.

"Arrest? Of course, Mirumoto-sama. But I assure you, we are just simple ceramics merchants. There must be a mistake somewhere. We are simply packing up the rest of our wares to take to the road." she managed to say, not only with a straight face, but even managing a hint of supplication. 

The man did speak a bit loudly though, which masked the woman speaking softly for a moment before Rin's ear caught it. She held no scroll, but the woman was indeed casting a spell! When Rin's attention shifted to her, she began to speak more loudly, causing elemental energy to swirl around her.

 

Spoiler

Please consult the combat thread to roll initiative!

 

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Golden Pony Inn

"Of course, Shosuro-sama." Abun said in reply to Kamiko, nodding. "Whenever you wish, simply let me know."

"The Empire?" the little girl asked wide-eyed, in awe of the responsibility placed on her shoulders.

"Hai!" she said enthusiastically. "It is not far." she said, eager to lead the Magistrates from the inn.

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As soon as Rin noticed the spell being cast. Rin's ancestor, Mirumoto himself, spoke to her, and though she did not exactly hear him, she knew what he spoke of, sharing with her the secrets of his style, and its connection to the shugenja. Rin could not just see the magic being cast, but could also sense the attention of the elemental kami on her, intuitively understanding how to encourage, or in this case, dissuade them. She did with with a thought as she darted across the distance to the other woman, trusting that the added complication would foul the shugenja's spell.

"Should have listen to me." Rin plainly said as, in a single, fluid motion, she drew her swords and brought the katana down across the shugenja's chest, slicing open her brown kimono as the steel bit deep into her flesh, leaving a narrow, river of crimson diagonally from her shoulder to hip, sending a spray of blood onto the floor. 

The woman screamed and staggered back, but kept her concentration, no focused through a lens of anger and hate. She reflexively clutched her chest with one hand as the other outstretched toward Rin, elemental energy spiraling down it. A small breeze blew inside the warehouse at Rin as the Dragon bushi felt a strong and sudden fatigue wash over her, pulling her toward slumber, despite her prior discouragement of the elemental kami.

Rin focused and pushed through the curtain of slumber that was slowly descending on her, clearing her head as she heard what she assumed to be the two laborers fumbling with a door.

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The shugenja reaches for her knife, pulling it from her belt at a sharp angle, clearly intending to drag it across her own neck as she chanted something. Rin could feel a cold wave wash over her body, her skin crawling as the other woman chanted, joined by the rotund man as he drew he blade across the monk's flesh.

Drawing on the power of her tattoo, the wings of the wasp fluttered as Rin drew her wakizashi and then brought her katana across the belly of the woman causing a wet, disgusting, splash of intestines on the floor as she fell to the ground lifeless, her foul magic halted.

The man lifted his blade up by his head and swung it down on at the helpless, bound monk as Rin spun, bringing her sword back around to the man and across his back, severing the spine as his blade slid across the monk's flesh harmlessly, as if he were trying to cut a crab's hard shell. His eyes went wide and then life drained from them as he was cut in half, managing to stand for just a moment before his top half tumbled over and to the ground, followed a moment later by the other half.

The warehouse was silent, except for Rin's breathing and the death rattles of the slain, though new shafts of sunlight shone into the warehouse where the laborers had managed to open a door and flee out inside the streets.

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Rin looks back at the open door and sniffs loudly then with a casual flick of her wakizashi she slices the rope binding the monk to the post and sheathes it in one deft move then crouching she finds an unsoiled portion of the boos mans robe to clean her long sword before standing and sheathing it as well.

Rin waits for the monk to take the rope from his mouth, while she waits she nudges the witches body with the toe of her shoe. Hmm wonder if i should cut the head off just to make sure...

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His hands free, Kagato removed the oil-soaked rope from his mouth, spitting politely to one side in an attempt to clear his tastebuds of the rank stuff.  Freeing his legs next from the now-loose coils of rope, he stepped away from the post and surveyed the carnage wrought by the skilled swordswoman as he wiped his mouth on the sleeve of the haori worn open over his chest.

"A hundred thanks, Mirumoto-sama, for the timely saving of my humble self.  May their ancestors judge these two miscreants fairly."  The monk bowed deeply, a sign of gratitude and respect, as he spoke.  "I am Togashi Kagato, a wanderer in search of truth, and I am in your debt."

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"Hmm, I am Rin, and how nice of a coincidence for I am a searcher of truth myself, among other things."

Rin moves to the boxes that were being filled and knocks a lid aside with her foot and peers in at the contents. "What was this all about if I may ask."

Kagato notices that the swordsman is wearing a second Katana on her back and a single jitte is in her obi along with her Daisho. the dark hair is shoulder length on one side and shaved on the other and a Tattoo of a dragon decorates her skull in the shaved area from above and in front of her ear with the tail curling down along her neck.

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"I fear they had captured me for a grisly purpose."  Kagato shook his head somewhat sadly as he looked at the dead 'potter'.  "Though doubtless under duress, they mentioned taking me to a man named Okkio.  A madman, he has something of a reputation for coveting and wearing the skins of the Ise Zumi  to gain their strength."  Though the young monk had a face better suited to smiles, his expression was grave indeed as he spoke of such a foul subject.

Looking around, he found his travelling pack where it had been cast to one side and hefted it to his shoulder.

"We have been hunting this fiend for a while now."  he said, picking up a simple straw hat from where a fleeing laborer had left it in their haste.  "If he is nearby, it would indeed behoove a magistrate to hunt such a monster down, and would also behoove this one to assist if at all possible."  He tried on the humble, loose-woven hat and was apparently happy with it, smiling a little as he let it rest on his bald head.  Turning to Rin, he bowed once more.  "How should we proceed, Mirumoto-sama?"

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"We will await my companions they should be here soon, then we will see about this thing who dares wear the skin of our clansmen. Perhaps he knows something of our other goal." She smiles at the monk obviously admiring his tattoos,

"I welcome the chance to have a clansman at my side. much more pleasant than some of those I have traveled with."

She tilted her head gazing as he fitted the hat. "I like that."

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The Crane followed the girl with swift, graceful strides, not breaking her courtly decorum by running, though it was by a hair, Kamiko close behind. Zoyu's full lips curved faintly in a pleasant grin, but her mismatched eyes were watchful, and the back of an elegant hand brushed the hilt of her katana, ready to strike at the first instance of danger.

Soon, the girl led them to the small ceramic works with the attached warehouse. Zoyu arched a fine brow at the splintered remains of the door.

"It is here this one was bid to lead you, Kakita-sama," the girl said to Zoyu, bowing her head.

"So I can see," Zoyu murmured with dry amusement, wariness easing with the lack of sounds of battle. "You have done well, girl. Accept this small token and the thanks of a pair of Jade Magistrates, for completing a duty laid upon you swiftly and well."

The girl gasped as she opened her hand and saw the koku Zoyu had pressed into her palm, while Zoyu glided into the warehouse to find several downed men and a woman, Rin standing among them with another man, clearly some manner of monk of the Dragon Clan.

"What trouble - or to be precise, former trouble - have you found this time, Rin-san?"

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"Togashi-san there," Rin points out the little girl peering in around the broken door behind the newly arrived samurai, "that is the one you owe your debt to for with out her I would not have stumbled upon you.' 

Then Rin faces Zoyu with a big smile, "Ah Zoyu-san, I had hoped to find clues and we may still., this one, is Togashi Kagato, a clansman, with an interesting story that we may wish to pursue. And these offal you see on the floor and two that fled, were holding him captive and would have done terrible things with his death I believe."

She nudges the woman's corpse with her shoe, "This was a witch,  its bag has Maho, and you may want to strike its head off just to be sure it is dead."

Rin walks over to the little girl and crouches down to her level, " Domo, you did very well child, I Mirumoto Rin, am in your debt."

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Kamiko went to the fallen witch, her face schooled to an impassivity; a mask under her mask. Though Rin saw her deeds as heroic...and they were impressive from a martial standpoint...she saw only vital information streaming away in rivers of crimson. There would be no questioning now, no connecting ties to leadership. If they hadn't been careless and left clues, the trail could conceivably go cold here. Fortunately the Magistrates had other leads to follow, but still.

Quickly and efficiently, her slim fingers searched the remains of the shugenja's robes and clothing, looking for scrolls, for objects...anything she might glean information from. When that search was done Kamiko moved to the other one to repeat the search.

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Three lotus flowers, drifting over scarlet streams.  One direct and forceful, one lovely and proud, one seeking ripples...

It was indeed an unusual sight, at least for Kagato as he sat on the tailboard of a cart, watching the three women from under his peasant's straw hat with a politely affable expression on his face.  Two swordswomen, bold and forthright as warriors should be, and this quieter one, slippered feet avoiding the splashes of blood yet showing little hesitation as she rifled through the dead's belongings.  It was to Kamiko he directed his next words.

"If I may be of some service, I believe these carts are laden with goods meant for the same destination I was intended.  They certainly seemed in a hurry to load the crates - and me - aboard them.  Perhaps some stamp or marking may prove of significance to a seeker of signs?"

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"Please accept my gratitude, Togashi-san," murmured Kamiko as she rose to her feet and bowed. "I shall do as you suggest, as soon as I have finished here. Thanks to the kami that Mirumoto-san was guided here when she was, in time to be of assistance."

She looked more closely at the tattooed monk then.

"One wonders if you overheard anything useful in their conversation with one another before she appeared."

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He noted the other arrivals, obviously more of Mirumoto-sama's companions.  Another Scorpion, male and dressed as some manner of courtier.  A small Lion woman, swathed in a hooded robe from which her delicate features peered.  Like the Scorpion woman, she bore the scroll-satchel of a shugenja.  Another Crane, also a bushi like his lovely clanmate to judge from the weapons, though he did not carry himself the same way.  Two Dragons, two Scorpions, Two Cranes and a single Lion he mused, keen dark eyes taking in the group before he slid down from the cart tailboard and returned the female Scorpion's bow.

"Gratitude is shared, rather than simply received.  Were it not for Mirumoto-sama, I would be on my way to a grisly fate at the hands of a fiend by the name of Okkio.  I hesitate to repeat again my intended purpose, but suffice to say the fact I was not killed and stuffed in a crate for transport is, on the whole, not to be considered a blessing."  He pondered a moment, eyes half closing. 

"They were taking these goods to Falling Leaf Village, a place I do not know, but where they intended to "sell them at a price so good they can't pass it up".  I would assume that my point of delivery lies not far from the path to this village, though probably not past it, as explaining a bound monk in amongst the consignment may tax even the most silvered of tongues."  He shrugged, adjusting the sleeves of his faded and patched green haori.

"Forgive my manners.  I am Togashi Kagato."  he bowed again, deeper this time and angled to include the courtyard in general.  "And as I told Mirumoto-sama, I would be honored to be of assistance in tracking down Okkio."

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Kamiko carefully looked over the corpses, using a knife dropped by one to avoid touching the dead flesh, thereby rendering herself impure. The dead woman did indeed have a scroll satchel which Kamiko cut off of her and slipped away to inspect. Though the dead shugenja appears to be ronin, the majority of the scrolls she carries seem to be written in a cipher. Being a shugenja herself Kamiko's eye can recognizes them as spells, even if she cannot determine which ones without attempting to break the cipher

The dead man and woman each had an aiguchi (knife), which they each dropped when they were killed, and a dozen koku in various coins between them. Found on the man is a small set of keys, piece of flint and another key made from a piece of obsidian with the back end in the shape of a crescent moon. On the inside of his forearm is also a tattoo of a crescent moon, the mark of the moon cult. The woman, perhaps strangely, lacked the tattoo of the man, but her hair turned out to be a wig, hiding her shaved head, though close inspection would seem to indicate that she was loosing her hair anyways, judging by the sparse stubble that had begun to grow back.

Rin's inspection of the crates revealed ceramic tea and sake sets of fine quality, each one nice, but not overly so. Though on the bottom of the tea pots, sake bottles and cups, faintly stamped is a mark Rin has seen before, stamped into the zombie masks in Royoko Owari. A further search of the crates reveals nothing else by more sets in small wooden boxes and packing straw.

"Though they are dead, we can, still speak with them for a short while, at the very least." Kageko offered.

"Or at least I can., though their compliance I may have to force." she added.

 

The mark on the tea and sake sets...

Spoiler


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Rin, after recognizing the markings, takes a cup over to Zoyu, "Same as the masks," she shrugs.

"Kageko-san, make them speak, please."

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The small Lion nodded her head beneath her large hood.

"Yes, you will comply.." she then said to nobody in particular.

"You may have tainted your soul with the touch of He Who Shall Not Be Named by your foul use of accursed maho, and be awaiting his gnarled grasp to drag you down to Jigoku, but I am a Sodan-Senzo of the Lion Clan, and until that time you are well within the reach of my magic." she said, but not to Kagato or any of her fellow Magistrates, her eyes seemingly focused on somebody who was not there. 

"We are Jade Magistrates, hand picked by the Son of Heaven himself to serve the Empire and root out foul magics and maho-tsukai such as you, and you shall not defy his will." she said firmly as she reached into her stachel and removed a scroll.

Kageko unrolled the scroll and looked it over as she nodded a time or two.

"Ah. Then you are aware of our work, as the light and blessings of Amaterasu do indeed still shine down upon Journey's End City." she then replied , though nobody was speaking to her.

It was odd to Kagato, and only slightly less so to the pair of Scorpions, as Kageko appeared to hold a conversation with somebody who was not there, for many of other clans had at least heard of the Sodan-Senso of the Lion clan, but few outside the clan ever got to meet one. And yet before them stood one, apparently speaking with the spirits of the dead that others could not see.

Carefully Kageko knelt down and withdrew a small, rectangular, lacquered wooden box from her pack and opened the hinged the lid, revealing that it was full of a fine gravel. She sat the box down and then withdrew a rolled up piece of cloth, which she unrolled revealing sticks of incense, three of which she removed and with a small prayer and soft blowing on the ends began to smolder and release their scent.

Once lit, Kageko stuck the ends of the incense in the gravel of the box, holding them like at a shrine, and began to cast a spell from her scroll. A soft blue wave of light washed out from the incense, and as it pass by and through each of the rooms occupants, they could see two more among them... spirits of the dead.

Their forms were a little hazy, made of a translucent blueish light or vapor. The man looked the same as the body, except the crescent tattoo on his arm shone so brightly it was almost difficult to look at. He sat by his body , murmuring a prayer, while the spirit of the woman stood, hunched over before Kageko, snearing down at her. The woman's spiritual formed looked little like her body. She was virtually bald, only sparse strands of hair hanging from her head, much like her corpse, while the rest of her body was gnarled and twisted with large sores and boils dotting her skin, so of which were open and oozing. One eye was nearly forced closed by a large boil on the eyelid, while the other eye was obscenely wide open, bulging out almost like that of fish.

Kageko turned to the others and asked, "What would you like to ask?"

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Kamiko reached into her satchel and produced the image of the maker's mark from the mask, and now apparently from these kettles as well. There was a fit of jealousy seething in her heart over the Lion's power, an unworthy feeling. Still, to be able to put the dead to question! She wondered to herself what the limits were. How long did the spirit linger? Could its answers be enforced? She was eager to see more.

"Tell us everything you know about the maker of this mark."

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The spirit of the gnarled woman let out a loud laugh at Kamiko's command.

"You think I will tell you anything, you half-gaijin fool? How your Clan tolerates you is beyond me. You know the saying, 'If you lay with dogs, then expect fleas'." she cackled at the Scorpion.

Kageko narrowed her eyes at the spirit of the woman and leaned forward slightly to make sure she was heard.

"You clearly know little of the Sodan-Senzo, witch. I could speed you along to your fate in Jigoku, or maybe I could ensure you linger here, unable to move on, forever trapped between worlds, between lives..." she threatened.

The spirit's laugh stopped and she looked closely at Kageko, her beautiful face a passive mask of serenity with just the faintest upturn to the corners of her delicate lips. 

"You had better hope you never meet him. If the fortunes favor you, then you may find your death before you have any sort of chance to." she scoffed, apparently not yet willing to test Kageko's abilities.

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Kamiko's face behind her veiled mask was placid.

"The insults of the hellbound are as meaningful to me as the crunching of pebbles as I step on them," she said calmly. "My honor will be avenged by the desolation of everything you held dear in life. Though I notice you do not have a cult marking like this other one. Nor are you praying for aid."

She tilted her head slightly.

"Tell us who you were spirit, and how you came to sell your magic to the cult of the moon."

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Kitsu's ability did not sit well with Miren, though he showed no outward sign of it. It was useful and she was a damned soul. There was much worse waiting for her when her soul was finally released to her eternity.

He'd worn a mask of hunting this night, one of black and gold like the sun chasing the moon through the night. He spoke softly from behind his sister, reigning in his temper over the sellspell's words long enough to accomplish what could be salvaged of their mission here. "When you stand before Emma-o, you must face Miru-me and Kagu-hana as well. She will know your secrets and he all your misdeeds. Would it not be better to face them with your final act while lingered one of at least some atonement?" His brow lifted and his tone hardened, "Or would you prefer that the Lord of the Dead extend your time within Jigoku because of your stubbornness and poisonous heart? We are offering you your absolute last chance to seek some modicum of honor before Emma-o passes sentence on you."

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