Out of the Darkness

Thoughts from the road, Redux

What a pleasant place this castle is, so clean and well kept. I am pleased to stay in such a place. Kitsuki-sama was wise to bring us here, and how refreshing it is to stay in a place where no one has anything to hide. Everything is as it should be, and that is clearly for the best.

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Letters home

Honorable Parents,

I send greetings. I have finally caught up to Kitsuki-Sama who is my new assignment. This is something much different than my time in the legion. I have been called a courtly festival at the home of one of the imperial families, an honorable Seppun. Still I do not see much of their vaunted warrior or shugenja. This is a courtier’s residence as opposed to one of the guards. There are gatherings here of many of noble lady, namely one of the Agasha, one of the Kuni and one of the Iuchi to win husbands. I fear though that they will be not be happy as the choices here are fairly poor. We have the shosuro actor who is also in Kitsuki-Sama’s service, his honor is what one expects of a scorpion, the Shiba who seems to be persuing pleasure and not honorable marriage, a fellow member of our clan who while worthy with his rank in the legions is focused on momentary pleasures and not honorable marriage and many more of the same interests. There are few of worthwhile rank for an honorable marriage. The only one truly that seems worthwhile is one of the Ikoma. Indeed, I had a wonderful go match with him in the gardens one afternoon.

The more interesting guest is one of the Toku. He is here as ambassador for the newly formed clan of Toku-sama who saved our lives shortly after the unfortunate affair of the scorpion. His clan while magistrates have not yet begun to see the benefits of their imperial favor and I wish I had a way to make him as well dressed and outfitted the others here as befitting a member of such a worthy clan. Perhaps okaa-san could speak to our kin among the Ikoma and something can be done for Ikoma-sama that is here to take the Toku under his wing.

They have started to have some special activities relating to fall festival but I am not participating yet. I am not much of a painter though I admired the work of the others. I have also been studying the law further from a book that Kitsuki-Sensei gave me but I am not sure that he really wants to train us or teach of the imperial service. Rather he seeks to enjoy the privileges of position while we insure he is not disgraces by doing the task. It might be because he has been a little sickly it seems.

I hope that all is well with imoto-san and ototo-san. I shall write again when I can.

your dutiful daughter,

Akodo Kimiko

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Thoughts from the road

Such beautiful land, it is good to see. Mother does not approve of travel, but how could any man not wish to gaze on the Spine of the World or the sweeping plains beneath them? It will be good to see people, to watch their faces, to study the ways of the folk both common and high alike. Travel is better with companions I have been told, and so I believe. Here we have a Lion and a Phoenix, both curious studies in their own people’s natures. In the Lion I can see the lines of her ancestors, the words of the great Ikoma bards made flesh. In the Phoenix there is a more subtle poetry which is none the less delicious in its complexity.

It is good, and fitting.

Such curious peasants in Crane lands. So independent, so strange. Still the Crane are wealthy, so perhaps they have something to it? There is a play about a peasant who rose to greatness, more than one. Perhaps the Crane are fond of those. And the ronin! How many epics do I know of the ronin. I should write one of my own, perhaps. But it is not ready, it is not time.

For now, I wait.

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Adventures of the Lion and lackeys

Kimiko considers the paintings she as looks around her room preparing for dinner. She kneels and prays. “My honorable ancestors, we have seen some justice prevail and I have seen the proof of the words of my elders that the crane are weak. I have been assigned to travel with a phoenix yojimbo guarding a shosuro shugenja that claims to be an actress. We traveled through crane lands and when we stopped at a pool, a spirit of the water attacked the scorpion. I could not in honor allow a servant of noble Kitsuki-sama perish and so I reacted. The spirit could not withstand the touch of the honorable blade that you bequeathed to me and dissolved. We then discovered that the spirit had killed many in revenge for its pool being tainted by dishonorable murder. Some peasants killed a samurai that showed interest in one of their daughters. He was a dishonorable whelp but for peasant to slay a samurai is to betray the celestial order. They then killed the magistrate that came to investigate. We determined the truth and the peasants confessed. This is where the crane are weak. Rather than destroy the entire village so that no one else thinks they can get away with such, they are killing only the ones responsible. The others will remember they got away with murder for a long time and their village was spared. I pity the ronin that now is responsible for them for I fear he will not live long past his first time disagreeing with them. I hope though that my actions in revealing this crime and causing the pool to be purified please you and you continue to guide my hand that I can bring honor to you some more.”

As she finishes, she sighs. “I need to learn to write better so I can send back reports to the clan. That crane village would be the perfect spot for our next attack to hit. I will need to insure that Kitsuki sama knows as well since that attitude also makes it a spot the foul blasphemers would find many recruits. Part of the reason we destroy such villages completely.”

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To My Phoenix-chan
A letter which no one else, and certainly no Scorpion, will intercept and read

Hiroko-chan,

I trust my missive once again finds you well, and dutifully advancing your knowledge within the libraries of Kyuden Isawa.

I have some important news—Our Champion has decided to reassign me from Ryoko Owari; I am now attached to Kitskui Kage, an Emerald Magistrate of some importance. We are currently with him, visiting a local Seppun daimyo in the Imperial lands. I wish you could join us here—the lands are quite beautiful in the autumn, and the elegant festivities remind me of the event at the Scorpion embassy when we first met. In fact, just as on that occasion, there is a cadre of youngsters who are just beginning to experience the wider world. Their innocence is a refreshing reminder of the purity of youth; I look forward to interacting with them throughout the coming week and helping to…expose them to the finer points of being an adult. Perhaps with the appropriate influence, they shall become very close friends and allies, drawing our clans ever closer together in the service of the Empire.

Our travels from Ryoko Owari to the lands of the Seppun were also quite eventful. My colleagues and I uncovered a conspiracy among the peasant villagers of Doji Hoji. They had already murdered two samurai—a Crane and a Phoenix—and a number of other deaths were sure to follow. But we have forestalled their evil machinations, and I have fulfilled my duty as a Shiba, ensuring that the untimely death of the Phoenix for no good reason whatsoever will soon be met with the Doji daimyo’s justice. The matter of restitution from the Crane to the Phoenix for the murder of their samurai was broached, but the precise details shall be settled by the official representatives of the Clan, rather than by your humble servant alone. Furthermore, in addition to uncovering the debt incurred by Hoji-sama due to the actions of his heimin, we have also earned the gratitude of the ronin Goku, whose position as Protector of the village we have solidified with our glowing report to Doji-sama of his investigatorial prowess and zeal for justice. As a consequence, Goku would certainly be favorably disposed to any who would refer to Shosuro Hiro, Akodo Kimiko, or Shiba Shunsaku, should they seek favors from him.

I shall write again with further news. I keep you always close in my heart, even as I travel close to the heart of the Empire.

Your Shunsaku

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A Nonsensical Message with No Hidden Meaning

Bayushi-sama,

O gs vrkgykj zu xkvuxz znk soyyout Cgy yAiikyylAr==Cozn znk otzkrromktik vxuBojkj zu Ay< Znk Gxzoygt gtj O Ckxk ghrk zu ruigzk znk Lgrrkt VnuktoD> Kgmkx gy ynk Cgy zu Cgyn gCgE nkx Yoty< ynk mrgjE giikvzkj znk goj Ck vxuBojkj lux nkx gtj nkx YCuxj> ZnkE ngBk hkkt yktz zu znk gmxkkj Avut ruigzout[ Znk Gxzoygt gtj O tuC mu zu znk rgtjy Cnkxk znk Qgso jkyiktjkj lux uAx xktjkFBuAy Cozn znk VxojklAr Utk gtj znk WAkyzoutkx>

6

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Dedication of a Shrine of Heroes

Hoko lifted his mangled hand for silence. After several moments, the noise quieted to an expectant murmur, before stopping completely.

“Today we dedicate a new shrine in our village. A shrine to four samurai who died fulfilling their place in the Celestial Order. Most samurai pay little heed to us peasants, but these four, they were different. When our hour of greatest need was upon us and we risked dying of starvation they saved us at the cost of themselves. Today, we begin the process of honoring their commitment to duty.”

He then leads the village into the temple of Fishomon, where there is a new altar against the right wall of the main chamber. It is a small, relatively unadorned construction with space for incense and a small bowl for offerings. Of special note however, are the items sitting on top of the altar. There is a helmet adorned with stag horns, a fine calligraphy set, a centipede shaped hair piece, and a delicately carved statue of a crane.

The villagers solemnly place a variety of offerings around the altar; then Hoko speaks again.

“We had long been without spiritual guidance when the four samurai came to our rescue. We are without guidance no more. A new brother has arrived to attend to our spiritual matters.” Hoko gestures to the back of the room where stands a monk in a nondescript brown robe. As he throws his hood back, Hoko continues, “let me present to you, my fellow villagers, brother Roshi.”

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Dearest Mother (9)

Dearest Mother,

Aaaaargh.

Love,
Shika

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Dearest Mother (8)

Dearest Mother,

I’m writing to you, finally, from the coastal Crane lands. Our investigation at the Lion Castle has come to an end; while we believe the Daimyo’s mistress had a hand in his death, the murders have continued despite her demise as well. We also discovered a man trying to hamper our investigation. He fled the castle when I pursued him, and we have been tracking him across the countryside ever since.
The Fortunes have smiled upon us, since our prey is not able to find a boat in the village to which we have tracked him. But there are bigger problems…the fish have disappeared from the waters, and the people are starving. The Fortune Fishamon has apparently brought us here to help those who revere him, and he has even brought across our path another shugenja who is a master of Fire. With her help, we have traveled beneath the waves, and have encountered all manner of strange creatures: jelly-fish, man-fish, and even a few fish-fish. We go now to hunt down the source of the villagers’ trouble: a giant Tainted creature terrorizing the locals from the depths of the ocean. I believe the scrolls have called it Oni no BinLaden.

I am encouraged that my companions have become strangely more competent in the very recent past, but some dark cosmic force seems to be holding me back from fulfilling my full potential. Perhaps after this tumultuous battle, I will finally discover the secrets of advancing in my chosen profession.

I’ll write you again once we return to the surface, if we manage to find Oni no BinLaden somewhere in the murky depths.

Your Loving Son,
Shika

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A Letter of the Bossman

Dear Fu Leng,

Hey Dude! What’s shakin? I am rockin it down here in the deep ocean by Crane lands, totally killin all the fish and making an army of jelly dudes. Some pesky humans blew the crap out of my jelly fish swarm, but things are still rosy. I’ve dispersed my JF thugs throughout the wide and vast brine to totally smack the shit out of them. That aside, things are going great, I have totally killed all the fishes and eaten them and I am layin down the SLT. Hope you are keepin it real in the Shadowlands!

Your Buddy,

Oni no Kurage

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