Out of the Darkness

Dearest Mother (6)

Dearest Mother,

Good news! Kitsuki O-Kage has petitioned the Emerald Champion on behalf of our village…since we will be staying at Pale Oak Castle for some time, I expect to receive word about the koku that will be provided to you while we are still here. The Castle itself is quite magnificent, especially with the Emperor’s Oak growing in the central courtyard. The surroundings are actually quite peaceful, that is, when honorless dogs who pretend to call themselves samurai are not sullying this place with their foul deeds.

Again there has been a murder; this time the Phoenix lord of the castle was the victim, and one of his own guards was the guilty party. Apparently the man was distraught over the loss of his son in a recent battle. Even if you were to lose me (kami forbid) I trust that you would not stoop to dishonoring father’s or my memory by acting in such a fashion.

Fortunately, working with Mirai-san and Uragiri-san once more, I was able to apply the lessons that Kitsuki-sama has been teaching me to track down the perpetrator, and he was arrested once his deed came to light. Which was fortunate, because if I had not found the true killer, an innocent man may have been put to death instead. I don’t think I could have lived with myself if i had let that happen. It was quite disconcerting that so many were sure of who was guilty, and were not willing to go beyond the seeming of things to find the truth. At least Mirai-san was able to petition the kami for their wisdom, and Uragiri-san was able to ascertain how unreliable the supposed witnesses had been. But ultimately, it was the heimin servants whose testimony proved most crucial in resolving the matter. It seems that some samurai are always neglecting to remember all the others whom the Celestial Order has placed among them, more often than not to their detriment. I for one count myself fortunate not to have been raised by such foolish folk!

This murder and the investigation occurred during yet another Tournament, this time to commemorate the peaceful nature of the Phoenix (ironic, isn’t it?). There was painting, and poetry, and dance, which I am told was quite lovely, but I have learned that the kami have gifted me with different gifts than they have the Kakita or the Shiba. The two of them acquitted themselves quite admirably—I had expected Uragiri-san to win again, but to my surprise, Mirai-san emerged victorious! And yet when it came time to hunt down the criminal (a much more important feat, to my mind), I certainly felt that I was in my element. After all, hunting lawbreakers really is not so different from hunting stags and the like.

Please tell me in your next letter that everyone in the village is recovering—I have been petitioning the monks and priests to pray for you every day.

Your devoted son,
Shika

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Musings of a Phoenix part IV

The recent tournement was very enlightening and it seems all the small ceremonies and arts that I had witnessed. It was enough that I was able to take first place in the tournement. The kami were with me but I know I owe some of my thanks to Megumi and will burn incense to him. He inspired me with his watching over the Topaz championship to inspire all to strive for heroic deeds. I know that I put much subtlety in my painting but I am not sure if the brutish crane realized that painted him as being fallen and disgrace to his family compared the other Crane. I suspect he only saw a crane at lead of the animal mon and is crowing. I am surprised that he actually manages to get around so well since his nose is so high in the air, I doubt he can see where he is going.

Still, he did prove decent at talking to witnesses for solving the murder of the daimyo of the castle. His gift for lies worked to the advantage of the investigation. The Ronin was skilling in managing to locate where the murderer’s room was located. The Kami showed me that it was indeed a phoenix but I would not have figured out which one so quickly and I could not have accused all of the clan. This makes me wonder as well, the crane was quick to want to bear testimony and accuse. I could still get my clanmate off with absence of a second testimony unless Kitsuki-sama choses to be the second witness. It takes two samurai witnesses and of sufficient status. The ronin’s word could be dismissed easily so it falls to me.

I wonder if I made a mistake. When I realized that the guilty one was of my clan, should I have covered it up to let the dragon die and save face for my clan or was I right for aiding the investigation and helping to preserve the peace that my clan stands for. I fear I will face this dilemna and choice many times in the coming days. My daimyo is Phoenix but I have been seconded to imperial service and so am caught between honor and duty to daimyo, clan and blood and duty to him whose service I am in for the moment. I will have to meditation on this much further. The two pull on me strongly. I know that the one murdered was fanatical about the peace that his murderer betrayed not only him but the ideals and beliefs of his daimyo. It is a tough decision. It is one that I have to make before this case is tried. I will have to see what is best for my clan. If it becomes only one witness, it becomes an unsolved murder unless the torturers do get the confession from him.

I could easily shift blame back to the mirumoto though in truth, I suspect I know where he was. Revealing that would mean his death as easily as trial for murder as the Doji would line up for their whole family to avenge the one that seduced a crane wife. Maybe though in honor I should reveal it. It would be a chance to further show how tarnished the crane are and allow some saving of face for the phoenix.

What to do?

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The Touch of the Master's Hand

Dear Diary,

The Phoenix had a pleasant enough festival of sorts, to honor the arts. It was quite nice and my new companion won the whole thing! It is good, both for her and her clan. For her it is a happy thing that she has an occupation for her time and mind that is not related to her girlish infatuation with yours truly, and it is good for the Phoenix in that I am glad they have something to feel good about after recent events. I had always considered them our little sister to the north, but now that I get here it seems even more quaint. The only downside really was that one of the Phoenix murdered another. The master of the whole castle and the sponsor of the tournament was stabbed in the back by one of his own, it was a scandal. This was no roadside in, but a master in his own fortress. I guess it is good the Crab are down by the Wall instead of the Phoenix, eh diary? Ha ha, I am just glad it is not me.

Anyway long story short I solved the crime and made the accusation. The others helped, more or less, in their usual way. The ronin is an amiable enough fellow, I should teach him the art of the draw. He seems to lack that aspect in his training, and he seems to want to become a member of one of the Great Clans. Perhaps it is my duty as one of his betters to elevate him.

Also diary, I am thinking of writing a book. I must get my materials together and sharpen my pen, but I have been reading a fascinating book called Confessions of an Opium Eater and quite frankly if this person can write something so cool I can only imagine people would crap themselves with delight at the chance to read my exploits. I will keep you posted, diary!

Rock, Chalk, Sparrowhawk, KU

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Dearest Mother (5)

Dearest Mother,

We just arrived at Pale Oak Castle, where I received your letter. Thank you so much for thinking of me! It is too bad that so many in the village have taken ill lately. I will ask Mirai-san to say a prayer to the kami for the health of all of you. In fact, there are many other priests and monks here at Pale Oak Castle; I will see to it that all of them unceasingly beseech Ebisu and Jurojin—and even the spirit of the Emperor beneath the White Oak—on your behalf.
And do not fret about Lord Kyotei-sama’s requirements from our village. Kage-sama is a most beneficent and generous man; I will just need to explain the situation to him, and surely with the resources at his disposal he will reward me for my service to him thus far, and I will thus be able to fulfill my duties as a loyal son to you. Expect my next letter to contain all the koku that the village owes for our taxes this year. If Chosei will be traveling north with his goods in the near future, perhaps he can return to you with the koku himself.

Your beloved son,
Shika

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Dearest Mother (4)

Dearest Mother,

The most amazing thing happened the other day—Inoshi learned to speak! Well, actually, he could always communicate, it’s just that now I can understand what he’s saying. I think it has something to do with my kabuto—the old man from Tsume said a blessing over it before he turned into a crane. But in that case, I still don’t know why I can talk to boars (and horses!) and not just birds. Anyway, Inoshi is quite smart, and he is even better company than many humans I’ve met in my travels so far.

That may seem an inappropriate thing to say, and I pray that father forgives me for speaking so about those of his station, but so many of the samurai that I’ve met just seem to pretend they’re honorable when they really aren’t. When we stayed at an inn recently, several of the samurai had consumed far too much sake, and they were harassing the other patrons, including the women and girls. When I saw that someone could be so cruel to those who were smaller and weaker, and when I pictured him even acting that way toward someone like you, I could have drawn my katana and challenged him to a duel right then!

On a completely unrelated note, it turns out that the brazenly drunk samurai was actually murdered later in the evening.

Someone had apparently stolen another samurai’s wakizashi and stabbed the poor Crane samurai in the back while he was relieving himself. But even if he deserved a dishonorable death, the one who committed this crime was guilty of far more heinous violations of the tenets of bushido. Sensei Kage of course ordered us to investigate the murder. He has already been teaching me a lot, and always saying wise things like “Investigating a crime is like hunting a stag…both an investigator and a hunter look for tracks left behind by their quarry.” Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I was not able to discover the identity of the murderer; I guess I still have a lot to learn from Kage-sama.

At least Kage-sama is held in high esteem by his colleagues, and my friends that serve alongside me are still worthy of respect, even if many other samurai are not. However, my friends also seemed quite…ineffectual…in helping out with the murder investigation. Uragiri-san was a paragon of courtesy while respectfully questioning all of the other samurai—it was quite pleasant to be alongside him despite the fact that we were investigating such disquieting occurrences. But I despair to say that the most that we learned was that many Crane are very aloof in their dealings with other samurai, and are willing to obstruct the investigation of a murder to feed their petty prejudices. Beyond that, we also learned that the recently-deceased samurai had begun engaging in unseemly behavior since his return from his last assignment in Dragon lands. And also that another of the samurai was taking advantage of one of the young servant girls—what was worse, he seemed utterly unconcerned that he was selfishly benefiting from his deceit! Alas, even the most dishonorable of them still did not confess to the crime.

What’s more, during the investigation Mirai-san focused on learning what the kami had observed at the murder site, but her efforts were equally ineffectual. The kami must have been sleeping just like Inoshi was, because they didn’t see anyone commit the crime either. How could someone be stabbed seven times in the back and not even any spirits see who slew him? It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t mean to insult one to whom the spirits listen so attentively—Mirai was rather exceptional at convincing the kami to tell her where the other samurai were hiding things, but still that only meant that we found out who didn’t commit the murder, since the only “evidence” we found (a bloody kimono) clearly didn’t belong to the one in whose room it was discovered.

At the same time, I fear Mirai-san’s focus on ephemeral matters such as listening to the voice of the kami has caused her to become dangerously naive about the real world. After we continued on our journey (leaving Kage-sama’s friend and fellow Investigator in charge at the inn), Mirai kept nagging me to take off my armor, despite the fact that we had been accosted by an Ogre not two days before! She seemed to think that some other samurai that we had never met would protect us from more Ogres or other such danger. While I have no desire to offend her or her fellow Phoenix samurai who are charged with patrolling the Imperial Road to Pale Oak Castle, Mirai-san has clearly never been on an extended hunting foray with the men of her village, or even spent any time alone in the wilderness, as far as I can tell. I guess it is too much to expect wisdom in such vital matters from one who spent her entire childhood in a library. If she had ever felt the need for watchfulness as I have, she would be pleading with me to ride closer to her in order to guard her, since she even neglects to carry any real weapons beyond her wakizashi. Of course she expects the kami to protect her, and they just might do that—if she has time to summon them. Perhaps if I explain to her about our hunting expedition of this past winter, when Inoshi’s mother burst from the underbrush and slew poor Roku before the rest of us could even level our spears, she might understand the true dangers in which she is placing herself.

I fear this letter may leave you depressed about my current circumstances. But do not fret, dear mother; in my next letter, I expect to have much happier details to describe. After all, we are on our way to Pale Oak Castle in the lands of the Phoenix, where it is rumored the spirits of the blessed Emperors themselves watch over the people gathered there. I can’t wait to see what Kage-sama has planned for us during our visit!

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A Curious Dilemma!

Dear Diary,

A most troubling thing has occured, although looking with the wisdom of hindsight it was to be expected perhaps. I had noticed the Phoenix who travels with us staring at me often, and given her nature I thought perhaps she was envious of my success and how poorly her own clan fared at the Topaz Championship. It is nice they are holding one of their own, perhaps there will be things there the Phoenix will be good at and they can have some glory. But this is not why I write, diary. I have figured it out. It was as she stared agog at me in my magnificent armor that I realized she is but a sheltered child, a product of the Phoenix penchant for hiding their offspring in libraries. I must be the first proper samurai she has had contact with, given how uxorious the Phoenix bushi seem to be. And in my glorious armor, no less! Diary, it is clear she must have fallen in love with me! Her infatuation is plain, but I can not let it continue. First, hooking up with a holy person seems like a drag, and second she is a midget and that would be weird. I have a plan, diary. I shall show her that there is indeed a tarnish to the shine of the magnificence she must see at every turn, I shall endeavor to make my manners a bit more coarse if possible around her. I do not want this blossoming into a dangerous obsession, after all!

KU

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Musings of a Phoenix part III

My feelings and respect for the crane as the symbols of grace and culture in the empire are about gone. The failure to protect the candidates during the tournement from Ronin and Assassins was bad. The loutishness of this so called topaz champion worse. They have had Maho-Tsukai cells and ogres running about their lands makes it even worse again. Now it is made worse by drunk behavior worse than the crab at Tsuma and a Murder. It is obvious that the crane are a weak clan in decline now. The murder investigation was fascinating as the only conclusion is that whoever did it was foolish in that they tried to frame the obvious target only they tried too hard and cleared him instead. It fits the lack of subtlety that have started to see among the crane. I wonder if the topaz champion did it. He was part of the investigation and thus in perfect place to hide or bend evidence.

This feeling was made worse as we traveled. The Topaz champaion while it is understandable he wishes to show off his status delivered insult to the imperial legions and Shiba bushi that patrol the roads and keep the phoenix lands safe. He dared to wear his armor through the whole trip to Pale Oak castle. It was a declaration that first he felt we could not protect him on our roads and second that he is so weak a samurai that he needs armor to protection from bandits or creatures of the wilderness. Is he a samurai or an Eta? I suspect his arrogance is because of a complete lack of courage within him. I understand the need to wear armor in the Crane lands, they are a very lawless place, but the phoenix lands are peaceful. Armor is for war.

The ronin too had such a lack of courage and I had thought better of him. I tried to explain to him the insult that he was delivering to my clan but he was too oblivious or too fearful.

I try to work on my patience and peace, to let the water flow within me rather than fall to the fires of anger but it is hard. I look forward to this contest ahead. I remember the stories and some of the art from the Topaz championship and I believe I shall acquit myself well in the lands of my clan. I am though thinking of taking up the sword. Grandmother’s katana is held for my first born but I could claim it so that I can challenge the arrogant crane if he continues to provide insult to the Phoenix.

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A Letter to Kage

Most Honorable Kage Sama,

My investigation continues into the death of Kakita Soho. Regrettably, I have little to report. I have continued to follow up on the information provided by the enthusiastic participation of your new assistants. What they may lack in more formal training they certainly make up for by providing new perspectives on the investigation process. Their very thorough and rapid job ensured a number of promising leads were not lost as the various customers of the inn went their separate ways. When I have more to report I will write again.

Your Humble Servant,

Kitsuki Yamamoto

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The Trials of Kakita Uragiri in the first year of his reign as Topaz Champion

Dear diary,

The past couple days have been a mystery in all senses of the term. Our travels to the Phoenix lands and a big tree grown from the bones of a dead Emperor was interrupted by a mysterious murder at a roadside inn! One of my cousin Kakita was the worse for drink and perhaps behaving not to the fine expectations of our people (as I am the exemplar to this generation) so I took it on myself to council him to a state of wellness and harmony. Alas, it was all for naught. Any progress I might have made towards reforming him was lost when he was murdered by a wakizashi to the back! My new companions and I were set on the task to ferret out the murderer but alas the web of lies and deceit proved to be too much for one as honest and forthright as I. Perhaps one day I will have the stuff in me of a magistrate, but today was not the day.

On the subject of my companions, the wee shugenja was of more merit than I would have thought! I do not fully understand the nature of her art, but apparently she can badger the kami to give her information of dubious merit. This is better than no information at all, I suppose, and she did seem to have an uncanny knack for finding hidden stuff. I have never been around shugenja much and the monks I have met seem more interesting than the ones back home. Perhaps it is not all superstitious foolishness after all. We will see, dear diary, we will see!

My other companion is the ronin and his pet pig. It is a curious thing. I have always been told ronin are base creatures who have no concept of bushido, yet he seems to have a sort of instinctive grasp for bravery and justice and honesty. He owes duty to no master, yet he tries to carry out things as if he did. It is curious, as I said. Both of these are challenges to things as I have been told, things as I have known. Phoenix lands are said to hold great wisdom, perhaps even a champion can learn something, eh diary?

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The Tsuma Sun Times

A fight broke out between the patrons of the Poison Water Sake House, owned by the illustrious Yogo Ichiba, and a group of Crab visiting for our most famous, renowned, and pretty much awesome Topaz Championship. The fight was the continuation of one that began in the House of the Flying Carp, reportedly after a Crane, which itself was a continuation of a fight that began at the Powdered Smile, a geisha house near the outskirts of the city. Before leaving the house of the Laughing Carp the Crab were seen speaking to a Crane, who some have identified as the Topaz Champion, told the Hida to “load on and give those Scorpions a beat down.” The Hida then proceeded to pile out of the Laughing Carp and into Poison Water.

Needless to say, the damage to the Poison Water Sake House was extensive. Witnesses described their entrance into the building “like a blue/gray tornado.” They immediately began drinking not only their own sake, but that of the other patrons, a group of ronin in particular. Contentions between the Crab and this group were responsible for the initial fight, according to one of the serving boys, a peasant named Riku, which quickly grew to encompass not only all the patrons and staff on the first floor, but those on the second as well. When the honorable magistrate Kakita Doh arrived, he reports that he saw various body parts sticking out of the exterior wall of the building, all flailing rather meekly.

The scene from the inside of the inn was not much better. Not a single piece of furniture was left unbroken. The bodies of the patrons were in a similar, if slightly more vocal, state of disarray. Some were under the remnants of the tables, others prone on upon the stairs. There was ever one hanging upside down from the ceiling.

No coherent testimonies could be gathered from any of the samurai at the sake house, given that no one of any social standing remembers anything, and consequently no charges have been filed.

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