M'thack-kir, Mirumoto Nanashi, Kasuga Naosuko : Background Story Benjiro's End
Benjiro’s End. The Ikoma used to say, given enough cups of sake and sufficient prior knowledge of the place, that Benjiro’s End was where the Hida went to find enlightenment. That wasn’t true. Even if you could find enlightenment at the bottom of a cup of sake, the sake on Benjiro’s End was so bad and the value of the place so pitiful that even the Hida couldn’t be bothered with searching for enlightenment there.
Benjiro’s End was a small orbital mining station around a sizable asteroid in a system formed mostly of rubble, debris, and whatever flotsam of spaceships the tides of commerce would wash in. It had only a couple of Hida samurai to enforce the law, but most of the inhabitants were heimen who worked as laborers, mining, processing and shipping ore from the asteroids to be turned into mid-grade steel for starship hulls and garbage scows.
The Hida had better things to do than monitor the day-to-day comings and goings of the heimen. A few simple detectors for tetsukami…a harsh beating, or worse, to anyone found carrying such things, and making sure the heimen followed the rules, and it was enough for the Hida guardsmen. A few koku or the latest Scorpion Summer Court vids, and small mistakes could be easily overlooked. Even if those being overlooked were making things very difficult for the heimen that worked the asteroid.
Requests for aid were numerous in the work listings of the Clanless Today Internet site. Plenty of heimen with unsuccessful bids for attention from their lords, in bases and stations and small planets too isolated for the Champion’s interest to help. They were more numerous now, as the clans were still recovering from the Seogeku of Water’s devastating attacks, and many such bases fell in Crab territory. Many opportunities, and many far richer than this. Still, the Ronin only ever took on very specific assignments. He’d only take opportunities where he judged the cause righteous. He’d only take opportunities along his ‘Path’, though he never divulged what that path actually was to M’thac’kir. And he only took assignments where those seeking help had specified: Radiant Weapons Forbidden.
He rarely had competition for his assignments.
One such request had led him to Benjiro’s End, but not to enlightenment. Instead his path of investigation led him to this seedy sake bar, air thick with the smoke of illegal herbs, that had become the headquarters of the smugglers using Benjiro’s End as their base of operations. The heimen of Benjiro’s End were used to smugglers, but these thought nothing of using force, and the weapons they’d paid for the Hida guards to overlook, to terrorize the miners, eat through the provisions and supplies of the small base without paying, and having their way with the miners’ daughters. In civilized lands, the samurai would be outraged. But Benjiro’s End had not been civilized for a long time.
Shinwa was kneeling quietly at a table, a cup of sake in front of him, though he didn’t touch it. His katana, an antique not fit for much more than a reenactment in this day and age, lay on the ground beside him. He looked around the busy sake bar, focusing on controlling his breathing and evaluating the situation. Nearby, a lean samurai with Dragon mons leaned against the bar, taking a pull from a tall glass of flavored milk and ignoring anyone who approached. A middle-aged samurai-merchant in the colors of the Tortoise lined up a row of small cups in front of her as she explained to one of the heimen overseers the benefits of her Rokugani-made pottery over the lesser quality stuff the bar was using.
I’d rather they weren’t here, but they don’t look like they would interfere, he thought.
His targets were…all the other samurai in the bar.
With Kiru’s help, Shinwa had tracked down the smugglers to their headquarters and determined when they would be meeting. Now it was just a matter of solving the problem for the miners.
Three at the table. Two at the doors. One in the back. Six radiant blades. The chief and his lieutenant have firearms...fortunately, they are both at the table. Shinwa took one more deep breath. Now.
“Hozan-san,” he called out to the leader of the smugglers, who was laughing over his sake with his companions. “A moment of your time.”
The lead smuggler, Hozan, turned. “You have a problem, ronin?”
Shinwa held up a datapad. “Just a list of all the ore you’ve stolen from the Hida. Considering the war effort, I thought I would offer this opportunity to allow you to return it. I am certain the Crab would be very understanding.” The datapad was dead…but Hozan didn’t have to know that.
Hozan did not mess around. He slowly stood, as did the other smugglers in the sake house, probably intending to intimidate the lone ronin. The Tortoise stopped talking as the overseer turned and scrambled out the door. The Mirumoto seemed to ignore the rising tension, taking another sip of milk. The sake house owner disappeared into the back.
Shinwa set the datapad carefully on the table. “No, then?” he asked calmly.
Hozan drew his firearm.
First mistake In a single swift iaijutsu strike made from sitting position, Shinua drew his plain, steel sword from its saya and lashed out, swiftly and without hesitation or mercy. In that same motion, the blade struck at Hozan’s unarmored fist, sending the firearm and the hand to the floor, leaving Hozan with an expression of shocked horror. Shinwa sprang from behind the table following the strike and struck down with the blade on Hozan’s lieutenant’s right arm. The sword sliced through the modern powered armor under the lieutenant’s coat as if it were not even there, and the lieutenant’s arm dangled uselessly at his side. Two.
The two guards at the doors drew their katana, while the third man at the table windmilled back away from Shinwa in an attempt to escape. He found himself barreling into the Mirumoto, causing him to spill milk all over himself. The Dragon whirled, grabbed the man by the back of the head, and slamed his face into the bar. The Tortoise glanced around, and helped herself to the contents of the Heiman’s sake cup that had been on the table before her.
Shinwa leapt across the room to the door in a single jump, surprising the two guards who were going to make a dash at him. As he came down, he struck one of the guards with his blade, slashing down at the radiant armor he war. The blade again sliced it as well as any radiant sword. The other guard managed to bring his blade down in a glancing blow across Shinwa’s back. It seemed a decent blow, but the blow deflected off the steel shoulderpads and did not even scratch the coat.
The Tortoise stood and was wandering around the sake house, deftly stepping out of the way of any of the fallen and helping herself to full cups of shochu that those whose injuries had been too complete had left on their tables. She noticed one of the smuggler’s datapads lying abandoned on a table, tapped a few times on her own, and touched her datapad to the smuggler’s. After a moment, she checked the data transfer, and surreptitiously moved on to another table.
The Mirumoto had pushed the man he was fighting’s body to the floor with when he noticed another samurai emerge from the back room and draw a large handgun: a Daidoji’s Kiss.
“Look out!” he called.
Shinwa spun at the sound, the arc of his blade cutting down the guard that had sliced at him. “Kiru!” he shouted, seeing both the Mirumoto and the smuggler that had been in the back near the sake bar.
The smuggler that had been in the back did not hesitate. He shot. Shinwa went down with a welter of blood that erupted from his leg. A high-pitched squeak sounded from behind the bar and chanting in a strange, non-human tongue could be heard from behind there.
The Dragon whirled. In a single smooth motion, he drew a pair of radiant sidearms from holsters on his obi and fired twice at the smuggler that had been in the back. The lieutenant who had been sitting at the table with Hozan and had been significantly hurt, but not killed, had successfully drawn his own sidearm with his other hand and pointed it at the Mirumoto.
The Mirumoto pivoted quickly to point his radiant pair at the lieutenant. The two stared into each other’s eyes in silence, waiting for reinforcements or authority to come, or one or the other of them to waver or fail and grant the opportunity to the single shot that could end either of their lives.
The lieutenant’s finger twitched as he started to pull the trigger of his weapon.
Shinwa launched himself into one last attack, both hands on the tsuka of his katana, plunging it into the smuggler’s back. The smuggler collapsed in a crimson spray, and Shinwa collapsed next to him in a rapidly expanding pool of blood. He closed his eyes.
From behind the sake bar, an eruption of fur and claws, twisty tail and chittering as the nezumi known as M'thack-kir burst out and raced to Shinwa’s side. “Stupid stupid. Shinwa will end up killing Kiru and Shinwa!” The nezumi chittered again angrily, and the bleeding stopped. The wound was very serious; a shot from a Kiss like that will often take off the limb from an unarmored opponent. It was amazing that the ronin still had a leg. “Get get out of here!”
The Tortoise yawned. Seeing that the bar was now vacant, she picked up her datapad and wandered behind it to pour herself a shot of the house finest.
The Dragon slid both of his guns into their holsters. “I have a bike. I can give you a lift to the spacedock, if you have a ship.”
M’thack-kir gave the gunslinger a small bow. “Shinwa and Kiru will be thankful. Shinwa when out of shock.”
The Tortoise sipped her drink and started reading the latest article about Ikoma Tamiyo on her datapad.
The Gunslinger pulled up a hood over his bald head, and it formed into a dragon-headed helmet that settled over his features with a greenish-tinted display. “Mirumoto Nanashi.” He helped Shinwa off the floor.
Shinwa shook his head blearily, struggling to stand on his own, his face pale. He managed to long enough to flick the blood off his katana like a Sunday night vidscreen samurai from a bad B-Movie. He re-sheathed the weapon in his saya and bowed respectfully to the deceased or injured opponents. “I recommend you leave Benjiro’s End…or the Hida will have more than one person here to wring their stories from,” he said gravely. “They will be here soon.”
Nanashi made a disgusted sound as those smugglers well enough to do so fled from the bar. “The Hida ask questions like that of both sides of a fight. I’d rather not be questioned. Let’s go.”
He and M’thack-kir helped the ronin Shinwa out to Nanashi’s tetsukami bike, a magnificent piece of machinery in green and black. M’Thack-kir made a whistling noise of approval when he saw it. The two helped position Shinwa on the back of the saddle behind Nanashi. “Don’t break-break it,” he warned the ronin, but Shinwa did not respond. The nezumi eyed the bike again, deciding there were too many to ride it. “Take him to Bay Five,” he said. “Kiru will go-go another way.” With that he turned, pulled open a utility hatch into the inner workings of the station’s power systems, and disappeared. Mirumoto Nanashi twisted one of the handles. The bike lit up with green fire and he and the ronin were off.
The bike raced down the wide hallways of the space station, leaving the battle-wrenched sake house, and soon Benjiro’s End, far behind.
The Tortoise reached the end of the article and yawned, turning off the vid screen. “Interesting,” she said to the dead bodies that were all that remained of her company. She poured herself one last drink before heading out herself. Not even she wanted to entangle herself with the Hida on Benjiro’s End.
M'thack-kir: Background Story Discovery of the Field of Dreams
Leaving the bridge, M'thack-kir sighs with relief now that The Warren is safely out of harm's way; that last planet had a touch more action than he had anticipated. He touches the commlink on his wrist and whispers, "Shinwa, okay-okay?"
It never had quite clicked to him that you could speak normally into the communication device.
There was a delay in the response that was significantly longer than expected, but the response was clear when it was made.
It is not coming through the commlink at all, but right behind M'thack-kir.
There, leaning against the wall, his face a little too pale, is the ronin Shinwa. "I am okay, Kiru-san." His voice sounds very tired, but retains that almost preternatural even, calm tone that he has always used, no matter how insane the situation at hand might be. "Thank you for asking. And for your healing. I had not noticed his companion with the concealed Kiss."
Kiru smiles with his lips parted, amused but not surprised as he swivels about to face his name-kin. "Kiru just fixed Shinwa's Name. It is fine."
His gaze shifts to examine Shinwa from top to bottom. "Cannot refresh Shinwa, though. Sorry-sorry."
There's the slightest displacement of some of the folds of the obi Kiru wears as a neck-scarf. It is clear that Rik is beginning to stir from his own nap, although he does not poke his head out to greet his friends.
Still so calm and formal. He gives a slight bow...a little less low than usual. There is pain in his thigh where the bullet tore through him, and he is endeavoring to mask it, though Kiru obviously knows all about it. The token effort is important to him anyway. He is samurai, even if he is a ronin.
"To trouble the kami...or anyone else...for such little need when we have the blessing of sleep would be foolish. I will see you in the morning, my friend."
The corner of his mouth quirks in a small smile. "You too Rik."
Upon being directly addressed, Rik scampers out of the bottom of the strange collar and nods at the ronin. "Bedtime? But it's finally night time!" he squeaks. "Rik nocturnal, silly," Kiru replies with a twitch of his nose, followed by a standard Rokugani bow. "Rest well, Shinwa."
Shinwa does not answer....he knows by now that Kiru will be staying up longer than he, and he sees no need to speak. He nods his head, and retires to the small alcove that serves as his room and shuts the door. Much like every day, he first reverently sets his wakizashi and katana on his daisho stand next to his pistol. He removes and folds and sets aside his outer jubon, inner jubon, obi and obi-age, and shitabaki, checking each as he does so for any hints of blood from the day's fighting or seepage from his bandages. Finding none, he changes into simple indigo yakuta.
He then picks up the shitabaki he had been wearing earlier and his brown trenchcoat. The shitabaki had been ripped through with the bullet from the Daidoji's Kiss and was stained with his own blood. The trenchcoat had been stained with the blood of his enemy. With a sigh, he places a bowl under the water dispenser and presses the button to have hot water come steaming forth, grateful that it seems to be working correctly for him today. Scalding hot water, the required prayer, and soap and the blood is gone. He feels the same flash of confusion he feels every time se does this as the paradox catches up with him. But best to keep the form. He is too sore to worry today about what it means. He would have to repair the hole in the shitabaki in the morning after they dry.
He rolls out his futon and blankets from the cabinet in the wall that stored them when he was not sleeping.
He lies down. He should sleep. He needs to sleep. The blood loss had been significant, and he could feel the fuzziness imposing on his thoughts. But the pain is too great. The bandage on his thigh is uncomfortable. Sleep is eluding him, and the more he tries to go hunting for it, the more muddled his thoughts become.
He sits up.
Perhaps some meditation to calm him.
He tries for some time, but even that is eluding him for tonight.
He is thirsty. A drink of water should do.
He goes to the water dispenser, switches the setting to 'cold' and places a cup under the spout. Unfortunately, only scalding hot water comes out this time. It has broken for him, again.
Tired. Thirsty. Unable to find center.
Shinwa quietly emerges from his capsule to go find a working dispenser that would give him something cold to drink. And wondered if Kiru was still awake. Even if he was, best not to disturb him. Except...he /always/ went to sleep after he did. And he always made absolutely certain he knew when he was going to bed. A flash of curiosity got the better of him. Maybe he could check on him on his way to get some water anyway.
Shinwa's unerring senses tell him immediately that both Rik and Kiru are in the captain's quarters, the first room down the corridor from the bridge. Now that he is paying attention to it, there is a faint tingle in his skin, that same feeling that seems to occur every time the Nezumi enacts whatever mysterious power it is that he possesses.
The door to the rodents' room is closed, as it always is when Kiru is occupying it. Standing on the outside, being in greater proximity now, Shinwa can not only hear the rhythmic chittering of a Nezumi song beyond. He also senses Rik high up, presumably on the latticework of rope rigging installed in the room to make him feel more comfortable on the ship.
Kiru is moving about in the room at an erratic pace...he is dancing again. Just like he did at the ceremony that bound them both together.
Shinwa is holding his glass, and finds himself outside Kiru's door.
He is pretty sure the nezumi won't notice him if he is in the throws of his dancing. And he never asked him not to look in his room. On the other hand, it is not very honorable to spy on him.
Shinwa is swaying a little bit due to the fuzzy-headed feeling accompanying the bloodloss. In fact, sitting down might be a good idea.
Rather than compromise his honor, he'll answer by doing what his body seems intent on doing anyway...send him slumping quietly into a seated position /just/ outside the room door to drink his water and wait for him to come out and explain what he was doing.
The dancing continues for a few more minutes, and then Kiru finishes, falling with keen precision onto his bed asleep. As he does so, Shinwa falls unconscious—it is fortuitous that he had sat down in a relatively safe position.
Kiru opens his eyes to gaze upon the stark brightness that is the ever present daytime of the Field of Dreams in Yume-do. With a smile of contentment, he inhales deeply, taking in the scent of the other members of his tribe, the green grass, and Shinwa.
"Eek!" He screeches in shock and fear, scent glands suddenly perspiring as he looks down at the 'body' of Shinwa sitting by his side. This is bad-bad-bad-bad! What if he is killed by Chief? Then Kiru will die! He looms over him and snarls through his teeth a command that brooks no defiance, "Shinwa will stay very still. Kiru will return."
A heartbeat later, Kiru dashes off with Nezumi swiftness to find Chief, desperately hoping that he won't be exiled for bringing an outsider to their only sacred place.
Shinwa, much of the fuzzy-headed feeling related to his bloodloss now gone thanks to the virtues of yume-do, still feels another wave of confusion as he arrives in the nezumi dreamspace.
He pulls himself up into a sitting position to look around to see over the long grass, but does not stand. Kiru's tone was concerning. From the things he has learned so far, at least from Kiru, is that the nezumi are unlikely to attack unless they are threatened and feel no other choice, especially not attacking a formidable opponent. Perhaps there was someone here who might feel threatened.
He looks around carefully, raising an eyebrow, but says nothing and makes no other move. His face remains utterly calm, in the face of the strange place, in response to Kiru's dire warning... An unexpected twist...but a fortunate one. I needed to learn more.
Kiru runs past his kin on the outskirts of the gathering, zeroing in on the fire circle at the centre. Chief would be there—he always was, his real body comatose back home as it was.
He arrives at the fire circle and awaits acknowledgement.
Shinwa, while he waits, quietly performs a set of tests on himself to determine how 'real' this is. Does he feel pain? Has he the ability to focus on one thing, or does his concentration drift? Does he remember the specific details of a complex task. Does it capture all the senses?
How would you distinguish this place from reality at all?
He picks long stem of grass from the ground near him. He runs it through his fingers, smells the end where he tore it. If it still is satisfactory, he pops the end in his mouth and chews on it while waiting for his nezumi friend to return.
The Chief is slow to respond. The dream is his dream, his part of Yume-do, and after so many years here he can certainly tell when people enter or leave it.
However while the new presence is unexpected, it doesn't feel hostile. In fact it feels similar to Kiru.
His eyes turn to Kiru and after a moment said, "M'thack-kir...what troubles you?"
"Wind-seeks-allegories followed M'thack-kir to Field of Dreams!" Kiru exclaims in the Nezumi tongue. "M'thack-kir thought Wind-seeks-allegories was asleep-asleep, like normal. M'thack-kit yields-yields to Chief's judgment."
He prostrated himself on the ground, exposing his neck in submission.
The Chief was silent for a moment, looking at the subservient form of Kiru. Finally, with a touch of amusement in his voice, the Chief said, "M'thack-kir will not see Tomorrow yet. No need to cower-cower like a Samurai." He quickly reaches out through the dream once more, sensing Shinwa before he said, "Wind-Seeks-Allegories shares M'thack-kir's Name-Name. Wind-Seeks-Allegories travels with M'thack-kir's. Helps M'thack-kir's search for Burnt-Crane Tribe's Home-Home. This is a rare bond between a Nezumi and a Samurai. Almost unheard since the Terrible Day."
He gestures wide, his voice loud so all present could hear, "Wind-Seeks-Allegories is different from Nezumi. But Wind-Seeks-Allegories is also of the same Name-Name as M'thack-kir. Wind-Seeks-Allegories part of Burnt-Crane Tribe. So Zin'tch has ruled-ruled."
The Chief looks down at Kiru, the first touch of reprimand in his voice, "Of course, Wind-Seeks-Allegories has never been to the Field of Dreams. And while here is safe-safe, there are still many ways here that can lead Wind-Seeks-Allegories and M'thack-kir to Tomorrow, if M'thack-kir does not protect Wind-Seeks-Allegories. In fear of Zin'tch's reaction M'thack-kir forgot the other dangers-dangers.
No one stays put when Nezumi tell them to."
"M'thack-kir knows exactly where Wind-Seeks-Allegories is because of Name-Name. Still, M'thack-kir will go check on Nnich'charatha." He smiles a toothy grin at Chief Zin'tch before getting back to his feet and walking at a brisk pace back to where he senses Shinwa awaits him. It takes a bit longer than expected, as several members of the Tribe try to waylay him for news of the Land of No Land that he is tasked with travelling.
He finally extracts himself by deftly somersaulting over one particularly insistent female, and jogs over to the human. At seeing the grass in his mouth, he frowns.
"What is Shinwa doing? Here less than ten heartbeats and already disrespecting Chief's dream?"
Shinwa removes the grass stem from his mouth. He accepts M'thack-kir's anger calmly, and responds evenly, raising one hand with a regal gesture to make clear he is not interested in being lectured. "Kiru-san. You have brought me to a strange destination and told me nothing about it save to stay where I was or even the existence of a chief in this place. If your Chief is disrespected by my presence or actions, then perhaps my introduction to the rules of this place was insufficient."
He lowers his hand, and lifts and looks at the grass stem in the other. "I was trying to find out the differences between this place and...the place where we were before we came here."
Kiru's nose twitches in annoyance, and he mutters something in Nezumi under his breath as he shakes his head. "Must-must join the others now. Danger is certain if far from Chief."
He calms down and smiles cheekily.
"Does Shinwa want to meet Shinwa's family?"
The corner of Shinwa's mouth crooks in the slightest of smiles. He stands in the tall grass and gives a proper bow. "This one would be honored."
M'thack-kir returns the bow and bounds off, tail streaking behind him, back to the gathering, causing more commotion by calling out with glee. Other Nezumi respond with like squeals, some of the youngest bouncing up and down in joy at meeting a new member of the Tribe.
Shinwa walks after M'thack-kir in a more restrained way, a faint smile curving his lips. He nods at the nezumi that approach him in greeting, not having learned their language, keeping his hands outspread, both to show that he means no threat and that he's not carrying anything shiny or interesting at the moment. When directly approached and greeted, he bows a more proper greeting in response.
In juxtaposition to the Tribe, 'restrained' is a clear understatement, as the Nezumi Shinwa interacts with are all exuberant in their gestures and demeanor. Many, but not all, lean in far too close for samurai propriety to take a loud sniff of Shinwa's shoulder (or perhaps armpit? With their noses it is rather hard to tell).
Eventually they manage to progress through the throng enough that they reach a group of women with (presumably) their babies. Most have the typical grey, black or white fur that many in the Tribe share, but Kiru stops at the one female who is as blonde as he is. She is bouncing a little Nezumi on each knee. "Shinwa, meet M'thack-kir's mother. G'hi'hi is wise rememberer." Kiru leans over to pick up the two kids (only one of whom shares his colouration), to allow G'hi'hi to stand up and squint at Shinwa properly; the ronin has long since learned that Nezumi eyesight is a bit poorer than that of Rokugani.
Shinwa bows politely to G'hi'hi. "I am honored to meet you. You have much reason for pride," he offers with earnest sincerity, though he doesn't necessarily expect to be understood.
His eyes dart over to M'thack-kir. "I have no gift," he says simply. He looks across the long grass around him. "Save one, if I am permitted to share without causing offense?"
Shinwa always sounds like he stepped out of an old vid-drama on late night. He sounds even more like that at the moment as he makes his way through the uncertain situation.
Kiru doesn't know what to expect exactly, but that has always been the way with this specific human, and he has never intended harm towards him. He might still get in trouble with Chief for whatever this is, though. He smiles and nods, both at Shinwa and then again at his mother, indicating it's fine. "No gift-giving is needed, but it will ease Shinwa's mind."
G'hi'hi, for her part, seems amused and looks on with interest.
Shinwa looks around himself for a few moments until he finds what he is looking for. He takes a few steps until he reaches a particularly long piece of twin-bladed, sturdy grass, and snips it short between his fingernails. Then he returns and sits down near G'hi'hi and the children.
Using his fingers, he trims the pair of blades of grass and lays them next to each other. Then he looks up with the very faintest of smiles at the interest he has gathered. He cups his hands around the blades of grass, bracing the pair of blades next to each other between his thumbs just as one would lay the paired reeds of the Hichiriki.
Then, concentrating on the challenge of the primitive reed instrument, he places his thumbs against his mouth and starts to blow. A buzzing whistling sound can be heard, not loud, but at least somewhat melodic. He repositions his hands again slightly and tries again. The sound emerges again, slightly more in tune.
Then, with one more glance to M'thack-kir, G'hi'hi, and any other audience members he has gathered, he begins to play a /very/ simple folk melody.
Kiru frowns at the damaging of even more of Chief's dream, but the others look on in wonder—they are not kir, and therefore do not understand the meaning in the desecration. Apparently Chief does not think it significant, however, because the dream is still stable.
G'hi'hi closes his eyes and enjoys the music, taking note of each part of the simple melody. Once Shinwa has finished, G'hi'hi smiles and nods at him before uttering in Rokugani even more precise than Kiru, "I will teach it to all of my pups, this gift you have given the Tribe. Thank you."
Shinwa bows again to G'hi'hi. "You are welcome," he says formally, letting the broken blades of grass fall to the ground.
He glances over at Kiru and his disapproval and gives him a questioning glance, and shifts in his place sitting on the ground so he can converse with both Kiru and his mother. He does not seem to object to the presence of the kids, though he makes no move to pick one up himself. "I apologize, Kiru-san, if that also caused offense. May I ask questions?"
While damaging the dream is always a risky affair, given how the chief makes and sustains it for the Nezumi across the Empire, the dream seems a touch...brighter? As if the Sun is higher in the sky and tomorrow is further away.
Shinwa's name is changing here. Chief favours Shinwa.
He makes himself comfortable, playing with the child that is presumably a sibling of his. His mother has higher Niche here, and so it is her right to answer Shinwa's question first on behalf of them all.
G'hi'hi nods eagerly. "It is a great thing to seek counsel. We revere such a thing; asking questions is never rude to our people."
Shinwa's expression is quite serious, though he does not seem tense. "This place...where is it? It seems like it might be the place called Yume-do. But it might be part of a different story. " He glances around towards the horizons. "And do you live here always, or do you travel here? Kiru-san...do you come here every night?" He turns back to G'hi'hi. "Do all of you travel here every night?"
He shakes his head. "I fear I have very many questions."
"This is the Field of Dreams," G'hi'hi replies. "I do not know your word Yume-do. There is much more to this place than we can see or imagine, and its existence has been tied to that of our people since before the Terrible Day. What you see and feel here is Chief's dream. He is the chosen prophet of the Transcendents, and he cannot leave this place." Her voice grows quiet and her gaze lowers. "Chief's body has long since gone away. He still leads our people, and with the help of the Transcendents he provides the Burnt Crane with a home to connect with each other, even as many of us, like M'thack-kir, journey across the stars to find the Bright-Happiness Day. When we find it, we may no longer need a Chief ever again."
Kiru nods excitedly. "Getting closer, Kiru is. Kiru knows it!" He scratches behind the ear of his presumed-sibling, eliciting a squeaky giggle. "Kiru returns every night, yes. Sometimes there are many here, sometimes only a few. But Chief is always here, and never alone. Only Nameseekers can find Chief's dream, can bring rest of the Tribe with them."
G'hi'hi peers at Shinwa, awaiting these 'very many questions.'
The ronin considers this over thoughtfully, but while he thinks, he says, "I am no scholar of the realms, but Yume-do is said to be where a human's spirit travels when they dream."
He pauses to collect his further questions.
"Is there only one Chief of the Nezumi who create a dream that is shared here, or are there many? Do the Nezumi have, then, their own dreams, as humans do? Are they like this one of the Chief, or very different?"
He gives time between his questions for answers, but there are more, and he listens with intense interest. "Are there beings who only exist within the realm of Chief's dream, who have no counterpart in the waking world?"
His skin seems to grow a little paler, but it is hard to tell. "Have others like me ever come here?"
"Burnt Crane are the only Tribe left," Kiru explains. "There is only one Chief at a time, but since the founding of this Tribe long-long-long before-before, same Chief has ruled. Chief is the only Nezumi here who cannot leave. Chief protects the Tribe from the other beings who walk the Field of Dreams."
G'hi'hi nods before adding, "You are the first human to witness our gathering here in a very long time. Only the Prophets of the Burnt Crane Tribe can visit without Nezumi aid, and they haven't come in years. Too busy, I suspect, with human matters."
One of the children, braver and perhaps more bored by all of this foreign talk-talk than the others, makes himself comfortable in Shinwa's shadow, eyeing his possessions for anything shiny-shiny.
Shinwa is wearing just what he wore before he entered the dream, only a simple indigo yakuta with a river's rippling pattern on it with a simple white obi and tabi. No shinies today.
He listens to the answers thoughtfully. "What is Bright Happiness day?"
Kiru's mood picks up, as though he's pleased Shinwa has finally asked about the right topic. "Not what. Where. Bright-Happniess Day is a place. Bright-Happiness Day will be home-home of the Burnt Crane Tribe for the rest of Time, will save the Burnt Crane Tribe from dwindling away into Yesterday as a forgotten civilization."
G'hi'hi quietly adds, "A home that no God or Rokugani can steal from us."
Shinwa has been growing progressively more pale through the conversation, though he hasn't seemed hurt in this dream at all.
In response to the description of Bright Happiness Day, he looks pained. "I hope you find such a place soon. That it brings the end you hope for. It sounds like a good ending."
He frowns and shakes his head, as if effected by something.
Kiru frowns again. "Shinwa is unwell, but the sickness is not from Field of Dreams. Cannot get sick in Field of Dreams."
He puts the child down and, ignoring personal space, approaches the ronin to examine his face closely. "Does Shinwa know why Shinwa is unwell?"
Shinwa solemnly considers that question. "I feel fine. And I have more questions," he answers, but he seems unsteady in his responses. "Though...it's like...there's another place I'm supposed to be." He shakes his head again, starting to look confused and even paler. "I can't leave....we still don't know the right ending.... The Nezumi...when did they come? Did the Phoenix bring them...I...? This dream...it seems real. What if that's what happened? Is this all just a dream?"
"Shinwa? Does Shinwa still feel pain from battle, not just tired?" Kiru unceremoniously prods the ronin at the site of his wound from earlier in the day, not patient enough to navigate the foolish samurai etiquette of lying to appear strong. At his reaction, even if it is one of a determined face angrily hiding any actual reaction of pain, he squeaks at his mother with urgency and closes his eyes.
Shinwa's own vision blacks out as his soul is transported instantaneously back to his body.
Scant seconds later, Kiru is standing over Shinwa, muttering to himself. A surge of wellness passes through him, that tingle he is now very used to feeling. "Itsuki!" he shouts, voice echoing down the corridor to the pilot's quarters. "Quick-quick!" He then crouches down to calmly reassure his Namekin. "Shinwa will be fine-fine. Just wait."
It takes the meek, yet particularly handsome Shiba Itsuki a few minutes to arrive, evidently having needed to dress himself properly before responding to the summons. He rushes to Shinwa's side with no attempt made to hide his concern. "Keep him awake-awake, Itsuki," Kiru instructs flatly. "Kiru needs time-time to fix Shinwa's Name."
Without explaining any further, Kiru dashes back into his room, the automatic door closing as he throws himself into another, louder dance.
A slowly widening pool of blood has spread across the floor. It has soaked through the bandages on Shinwa's thigh and his indigo yakuta. His face is almost as white as a sheet from the amount of blood he has lost. It is hard to say why such a wound reopened, but it has. Perhaps mere misfortune had been enough, or perhaps some friendly earth kami had been supporting him had left. The fresh healing Kiru performs staunches the fresh flow of blood so the pool stops expanding. He blinks the sleep out of his eyes, puzzled, as he fixes on the face of Shiba Itsuki. "...It must have been the Phoenix..." he murmurs as his eyes start to drift shut again.
M'thack-kir, Mirumoto Nanashi, Shinwa Background Story Catching Dragonflies - Written by Mirumoto Nanashi.
The Transport finally landed on the backwater Phoenix world. The ramp lowered, spraying red dust into the air. A group of peasants lead their animals out of the transport, their bleating echoing off the ship’s walls. A group of what could be Ashigaru lead a bound man into town. A tall lean samurai follows, dressed in a black duster but with hints of Dragon green seen beneath. He strides off the ramp and steps onto the red earth. And immediately turns and vomits next to the ramp.
That feels better. I hate reentry.
“You alright, Samurai-Sama?” comes a voice of woman from his side.
“I’m fine.” He says brushing past her. She looks annoyed at his briskness but goes about her day.
The sound of a powerful engine fills the transport hold. A beautiful bike slides off the ship like water. It makes its way through the small mining town. The town is relatively small and made up mostly of the peasant class. The buildings are made of the local wood and constructed in a way that placed the mine at one end and the landing pad and local shrine at the other. Not much to see, but for the locals it was home and a place to make an honest living.
The samurai makes his way to the local tavern. It was easy to find as it was one of the largest buildings in town. He places his bike outside and makes his way in. The tavern might have been lively in the evening, when the miners were done for the day, but currently it is almost empty.
Good. Maybe I can get a quite drink.
“Sake. Whatever you got.”
“Greetings, Samurai-sama. It’s rare for one of your stature to bother coming here.” Says the bartender. A balding man with strong arms and an apron pulled tight just under his pot belly. “Not staying long. Just passing through.”
The bartender sets a cup down and fills it. “Doing some work for Agasha Hisojo-domo I take it?”
The Samurai removes his hat, his bald pate gleaming, and downs his Sake in a single draft.
“I hear he is hiring a bunch of men,” says the bartender conspiratorially as he refills the cup. “This town needs that mine and if you’re working with Agasha-domo then I would ask you to please just get back on the transport and leave. We can’t offer you much in the way of compensation but we can do something.”
The samurai watches as the bartender cleans a glass with his cloth in a very nervous fashion. “Exactly what is this Agasha doing?” asks the samurai, downing the next drink and motioning for another.
The bartender looks at the samurai, taking notice that he didn’t say he wasn’t working for the Agasha but not saying that he did. The bartender hesitates but after making sure that no one in the empty bar was listening in, he says in a hushed voice, “The town has only barely been able to make our taxes the last couple of years. But the miners pull a lot of metal from the mine. The towns supplies are drying up but Agasha-domo seems to be unaffected by this.”
So this Agasha is skimming off the top.
The samurai lays a koku credit down and leaves the bar without saying a word.
The samurai pulls up to the gates of the Mayors estate. He leaves his bike there and hands his swords off to a servant, as tradition dictated. He is escorted into a lavish waiting area and served tea. The samurai sips it in deathly silence. Eventually a rather portly man dressed in the yellows and oranges of the Phoenix enters.
“I am Agasha Hisojo. I am the one in charge of this little town. I understand you are traveling and looking for a position in my little….Organization here,” says the rotund Phoenix through chubby cheeks.
This man could not be slimier unless he crawled through the mud.
“I’m looking for a girl. I understand you have connections that might be able to help,” says the Dragon Samurai. His On in place so securely he looks almost half asleep.
“I can pay you in information but it will cost you. I could see you as one of my foremen in the mines. Say for a year?” Hisojo says.
“I think it would be in your best interest to tell me what you know now. And when you’re finished I am going to encourage you to retire and leave this town. But I’m going to be nice and allow you to decide just how vigorously I encourage you,” says the samurai simply. He says it in the same way one would comment on the weather: more a statement of irrefutable fact then the grave threat it was.
The fat Agasha was slow on the uptake. “Who do you think you’re speaking to? Boy!”
The Samurai stands. A couple of ronin come into the room through hidden compartments in the corners. They are holding rifles and by their stance it was obvious that they knew what they were doing.
“I am Mirumoto Nanashi. And I am the Samurai that is going to get what he wants. And I’m the Samurai who is going to beat your men like the dogs they are unless you do as I say,” says Nanashi with subtle motions to the two ronin.
“These dogs, as you say, are the best mercenaries that money can buy. A pathetic excuse for a samurai without his swords doesn’t stand a chance. And you dare make threats?!” There is a flap of cloth, a wicked crack and two flashes of light before the heavily armed Ronin slump to the floor. The Agasha is startled and reflexively jumps away. It’s only the touch of metal on his forehead that keeps him from backpedaling out of the room.
“Your money isn’t worth spit to me. Now what do you know about missing little girls?”
The Agasha turned white, his On discarded. “You won’t get away with this. There are other guards. They will be here soon.” He whimpers.
“Then I suggest you talk fast unless you would like me to continue to decorate your home with these dogs,” Nanashi says as he presses the gun even harder into the man’s temple.
“I don’t know anything. All I do is skim off the top of the profits here. I don’t deal in kids,” says the Agasha in total panic.
Nanashi pulls out a small device from his jacket. He presses a button on the screen and the Agasha hears his own voice played back to him. “I don’t know anything. All I do is skim off the top of the profits here. I don’t deal in kids.”
“And that is why you’re not dead already. Now I am going to make sure that your superiors get this so I would start making nice with the towns folk in case you have nowhere else to go.” Nanashi says with the smallest hint of a smile.
Nanashi holsters his pistol and turns to leave. The Agasha makes a motion for one of the rifles that had fallen to the floor. Before his had could get even half way a hole appears in the floor between him and the gun. Nanashi looks over his shoulder at the fat Agasha. “Don’t. You would only piss me off.”
Nanashi walks calmly out the estate. It was when he has reached his bike that a very dirty man comes running up to the gates.
“What’s wrong?” Nanashi asks.
“It’s the mines! There is a problem at the mines!” says the dirty man in utter panic.
Nanashi straps his swords to his back, revs the bike and disappeared down the road in a trail of red dust.
The mine was on the far side of town. The construction equipment was rusty and well past acceptable by samurai standards but adequate by peasant standards. Nanashi arrives in time to witness a score of miners running for their lives from what could best be described as giant cicada.
These pony sized insects are scuttling up the mine shaft behind fleeing peasants, their mandibles clicking and clacking, dripping with drool or slime. They reach fresh air for the first time and begin to shake like large dogs. Bits of mud and slime and chitin go spraying off in all directions.
Nanashi jumps from his bike and whips his pistols from their rest. Light and thunder fly from his grip as he tries to blast the bugs nearest the minors. One of the insects jumps on top of a miner who was stumbling and rides him to the ground. Its mandibles dig into the peasant’s back with a wet crunch. The man lay there screaming for help. Nanashi puts the poor man out of his misery with a single shot.
“Get to town! Get everyone to the transport ship!” Nanashi yells between shoots.
The men go running for their lives as Nanashi stands his ground, blasting one bug then another. Bits of viscera splatter the bugs behind them.
By the Kami there are a lot of them.
The mouth of the cave explodes in rock and dirt as more of these disgusting things come climbing out of the ground. They climb on top of each other or anything that got in their way. Nanashi takes some quick steps back until he gets back to his Bike.
“Kiba! Engine start.” The powerful motor growls to life. Nanashi looks over his shoulder just in time to see the men running like the wind. One of them trips over a bit of cable and falls.
Nanashi swings his leg over the bike as he puts away his pistols. He wheels the bike toward the exit and makes a break for it. As he passes the downed man, he reaches out and grabs the man by the collar. He does scrape across the ground slightly but Nanashi is able to lift the man up enough to get him onto the back of the bike.
Nanashi makes it back to town ahead of the men and begins yelling at anyone who will listen to make for the transport. A woman begins to argue with Nanashi until a bug bursts from the ground between them. Nanashi had just enough time to draw his sword and decapitate the thing before it chews on the woman’s leg.
The town busts in to a flurry of motion, people running hither and thither. Nanashi stands with a few men, his radiant pistols flashing with light and thunder. The men beside him wield shovels and post-hole diggers. They stand and fight valiantly, holding back the Chitin’s tide as best they can as the whole town floods toward the cargo ship.
When the majority of town is out of the way Nanashi turns to those beside him and yells. “Pull back. Guard the ship.” Nanashi turns to his bike and yells. “Kiba. Follow me!” Nanashi’s motorcycle follows beside him like a trained dog.
The men have pulled back to the landing pad and are trying to get everyone on board. An old man is having an argument with another about bringing his goat with them. Nanashi stands like the center of a hurricane, pistols firing left and right. Bugs die by the handful but it just isn’t enough. A woman’s cries break through his focus. Her adolescent son has rushed off the transport and is charging the things with a large knife.
Nanashi swings his bike around and kicks it into full gear. He drives through some of the things in order to get to the boy. Nanashi makes it to the boy in just enough time to blast the bug that was leaping at him out of the air. Nanashi strikes the boy in the back of the head with the butt of his gun knocking him out. Nanashi then grabs him and throws him over the bike. Nanashi tries to make it back to the transport but is cut off by the bugs. Nanashi has just enough momentum to throw the boy over the heads of the insects and into the arms of one of the men. The man catches the boy with a most surprised look. Nanashi looks at the obviously terrified man and yells. “Get on and take off!” before turning the bike around and blasting a path through the bugs away from the ship. The man stands there stunned for half a second, watching this nameless samurai sacrifice himself for them.
Nanashi could see the transport take off over his shoulder.
All right. They are safe. Now what?
Nanashi takes off at a breakneck pace, quickly leaving the town behind him. But the bugs were breaking through the surface everywhere now. Even larger bugs were starting to emerge, their transparent wings making a painfully loud buzzing noise. The ground is quaking from the millions of legs running on the ground and the air itself hums with insect wings. Nanashi pushes his bike to race along the red earth.
“Kiba. Activate auto pilot. Keep speeding up and hold steady.”
A voice comes through Nanashi’s ear bud. “Be advised. We are exceeding safe speeds for this environment.”
“I don’t care. Just keep going.” Nanashi spat as he activated the metal band around his neck. Layer after Layer of metal covers his head. With his helmet in place and the auto pilot on, Nanashi spins around in his seat so he is sitting backward on the speeding bike. He takes his pistols and lays down on his bike taking shot after shot. Alien bugs die one at a time, being shot and then trod under foot by his fellows. Another has its wings detached at the joint. Nanashi is actually starting to enjoy himself when Kiba’s voice broke through again.
“Not now Kiba. Kind of busy”
“Trying to kill some murderous bugs here.”
“Very well. I shall not inform you about the large ravine we are currently hurtling toward at speed unsafe for the earlier mentioned environment.”
Nanashi has just enough time to look over his shoulder to see the quickly approaching gigantic hole in the ground before he reaches over his shoulder and caused the bike to go into a skid. Nanashi swings himself to stand on top of his now skidding bike as he slides toward gravity’s inevitable revenge. Nanashi stands atop his poor bike and decides to face the bugs one last time. Sparks fly from below him as his radiant pistols flash. If this is to be his last stand then he is going to make it one for the stories.
My only regret is that I couldn’t rescue her.
Images of a scared and lonely phoenix girl flash in the light of his pistol shots.
I’m sorry brothers. This is the best I could do.
***************************************************************************** The burst of communication to the bridge from the rural planet could have been a distress call. It was on the correct frequency. But the communication was cut off so quickly it was hard to say. The Shiba piloting the craft looked over at M’thack-ir and Shinwa. “What do you think? There looks to be a larger ship landed at the settlement. It could be nothing.” There could be just the faintest crook of a smirk at the corner of Shinwa’s mouth. “No. For our story, it is never ‘nothing’.” Kiru nodded. “The Warren should go go close. We shall see what we can see. But keep the cloaking device active.”
Small dust twisters spiraled upward from the ground in The Warren’s wake, marking her passage as she zooms across the dry landscape.
The three look intently at the figures on the screen, the drama beginning to play out before them. “Are those….insects?” Shinwa asks. “That’s…creative.”
Kiru’s eyes narrow as he looks more intently. “The transport there is departing…it looks like it has picked up the villagers. What are they chasing?"
Shiba Itsuki’s sharp eyes caught the glimpse of green trailed by hundreds of the giant bug-like creatures. “There. It looks like a motorcycle. It’s headed straight for the cliff.”
“We will catch him. I will turn us around and we will fly backwards. Itsuki …use your magic.” Kiru settled down into the copilot’s seat, throwing himself into the job of maintaining the controls of the ship so Itsuki can begin casting the spells necessary to stop the inertia and holding the ship steady to catch the motorbike rider. “Shinwa, go to the cargo bay and catch him.”
Sure. Catch him. Exactly how am I supposed to do that, Kiru-san?” Shinwa thinks as he raced towards the cargo bay. “Throw him a rope? He can feel the shift in the microgravities as the ship spins around and started flying backwards. There is not exactly much time to think about it. Shinwa enters the large empty space. Everything is securely strapped into place except for a few leaves that had managed to make it through to here from the ventilation system.
Even if Itsuki is able to hold the ship steady, the ship can hardly hover close enough to the cliff for the motorcycle to make the leap. At least not with a little help. If they tilt down for the catch, the rider and bike would be flattened. If only I could turn the cargo bay into a vacuum and suck him in…
Shinwa slams his hand onto the control that depressurizes the cargobay, normally used to adjust for landing on planets or moons with contaminated atmospheres. The cargo bay doors remain sealed.
Compel the air kami to leave….
The air empties out of the room with a hiss. Shinwa will die of lack of oxygen and the lost pressure in a minute, but if this takes a full minute, the motorcyclist will be at the bottom of the ravine and Kiru will be able to peel the ronin off the floor of the Cargo Bay soon enough.
He can hear Kiru counting off, “Approaching the cliff….5…..4….” The sound trails to silence as the cargo bay lost pressure. Shinwa’s lungs scream and he feel his skin swelling, but he refuses to waver. Every sense strains. “There.” He can feel, there, just out of reach, the life boiling towards him at a rapid clip.
“Good fortune, Samurai,” he thinks as he slams his hand down on the control that opens the cargo bay doors, keeping the de-pressurization pumps at their maximum.
Compel the air kami to leave....and it creates a void. The kami will return with a vengeance at their first opportunity.
Shinwa is thrown back against the back wall of the cargo bay at the vast inrushing of air as the cargo bay acted as a giant vacuum, sucking in the air before it, pumping it out again through the depressurization pumps. Dust, sticks, a screeching green motorcycle and its flying rider, and a few of the giant insects are sucked into the cargo bay. The roar of the wind is incredible.
The Warren veers away from the cliff at the last moment, spiraling upwards into the sky. Groggy from the blow against the back wall and the lack of oxygen, it takes all of Shinwa’s strength to pull himself up and touch the control that would shut the cargo bay doors. A second control is touched, and the depressurization stops, letting sweet, gentle air fill the compartment again with the breath of life.
One of the insects has been bisected by the shutting cargo bay doors. The other is beginning to get up again, recovering from the difficult transit.
Head still reeling, trying to draw on what focus remained, Shinwa staggers upright.
Still one enemy left to face.
Shinwa suddenly feels a familiar tingle; but a half moment later, he feels refreshed, and does not even bear a single scratch or ounce of pain.
"Waiting for signal to leave atmosphere," Kiru's voice calls out over the ship's internal comms.
Bless the fortunes for Kiru-san, Shinwa thinks as the wave of relief washes over him. He hits the signal for the comm as the insect starts moving towards the motorcycle and the crumpled body of its rider. "Domo arigatou. Make sure there are none on the hull and give me a minute."
He focuses and springs into action, drawing his blade as he leaps into his attack, throwing himself between the creature and the motorcycle rider. His blade slashes down....
...and cleaves easily through the creature's tough carapace, Shinwa's sword is sharp as anything infused with the power of the tetsukami. The thing keeps moving, but Shinwa is fresh, now, and ready, and tougher than he looks. The battle ends with bug guts spewed across the cargo bay. The ronin cleans his blade on his sleeve and hurries to check on the unconscious Mirumoto motorcyclist.
Calling Kiru to bring assistance and healing, the ronin begins the process of saving the Mirumoto's life, his faith restored once more.
When Kiru does arrive, having left the ship in the capable hands of Shiba Itsuki, he is quick to draw his Radiant pistol and confirm the death of every insectoid with a laser in each head. Only then does he see to the man they had exerted effort to rescue, who is thankfully fairly stable.
"Will live. Tsukune smiles on this one, ne? Even as she consumes a world below."
M'thack-kir: Background Story A Plea from the Lantern
The report was printed out on a recyclable thin sheet of plastic courtesy of Shiba Itsuki, who had passed it to Shinwa. He was reading it on a bench in the 'Galley', now a garden filled with fruits and vegetables. The ronin liked it there.H
"Kiru-san...the Scorpion really have twenty-eight of your kin enslaved on the Lantern that no one knows about?" He frowns. "If a Phoenix ship like The Warren goes into the system with tensions as high as they are now, it could trigger a battle. And it might not be just The Warren that would be targeted."
M'thack-kir shakes his head. "Not 28, Shinwa. 30. Two pups just born into Tribe."
He steps carefully amongst the lychees, not to protect the fruit so much as to prevent getting dirtier than necessary.
"Burnt Crane Tribe allies with the Three-Face-Night Tribe. Cannot use Itsuki...or The Warren. What does Shinwa think?"
He plucks a handful of lychees and chews them briefly, skin still on, before swallowing.
Shinwa rubs the back of his head with his hand. "Another clan. Not the Phoenix. I..." His jaw tightens. "It will be hard. We will need to take some jobs we might not like. But I can request a favor and get the koku if we find someone with a ship that will be willing to take it."
He lowers his hand and shakes his head. "I do not know what this will truly cost. There are consequences. That is how such stories go."
Kiru leans in and looks Shinwa solemnly in the eye. "Strong names achieve great things because other names are too weak. If kin-kin aren't saved, they cannot be remembered in Yesterday. It would be like they never existed. M'thack-kir has no choice but to save kin-kin."
The last sentence makes it clear that if Shinwa doesn't want to take the risk, the Nezumi will still attempt to achieve his goal.
Shinwa's blue-gray eyes meet M'thack-kir's without the slightest bit of hesitation or doubt. The corner of his mouth twists up in the slightest smirk. "This is just a dream for all of us, Kiru-san. We all fade as fast. But if it is, I would have it be a good one for your people."
He looks down at the plastic in his hands. "The ripples may go further than you know is all. We can try the Shinjo Shipyards."
He smiles at that. How little Shinwa knows, and yet he reveals glimpses of understanding at surprising times.
"The Thunder-Horse Tribe is our only choice, yes, but they may want to assert claim over kin-kin. Must be cautious."
Shinwa passes the sheet back. "Find a place for them to be in Phoenix lands. I will see if I can round up the koku. And we will see who is looking for fun amongst the Unicorn and seeks a challenge."
Kiru doesn't reply, instead nodding with a twinkle in his eye. He knows exactly where these Nezumi will reside if the rescue succeeds: Rokugan. Of course, they will be dropped off at a Phoenix-held station first for secrecy and proper travel arrangements to be made, but should this succeed, he will have brought another Tribe into his own.
A deed of exemplary Name.
Shinwa lowers his head, listening as Kiru gives the Shiba the order to leave for the shipyards. This probably would mean nothing in the long run. It might put to risk his mission, especially if it cost his life. But until the moment he was forced into a different path, he would choose for himself a hero's journey.
M'thack-kir, The Wake Angels, Shinjo Kailen, Iuchi Hajime: Background Story The Shinjo Shipyards: Recruiting
The Shinjo Shipyards are huge beyond belief, and good relations between the Unicorn and Phoenix mean that The Warren usually can find a place to get repaired there when external repairs are needed. Of course, usually, M'Thack-kir returns the ship to Phoenix space if it needs work. But this time, Shiba Itsuki is going to stay with the ship, while M'thack-kir and Shinwa are going...recruiting.
Some early communications have turned up some promising leads, and those leads have lead to this small, rather gaijin-themed, tea house in Circle 9, Deck 4, called 'The Eagle's Rest'.
The proprietor gives the pair an odd look as they enter, but he serves Unicorn. They get all sorts here.
Shinwa sits down at a table, orders some tea, and waits to see if he is joined by anyone interested in some koku and a quick and very quiet expedition into Scorpion Space on a distinctly /NOT/ Phoenix ship. M'thack-kir, for his part, doesn't sit down with Shinwa at all. Instead he approaches the bar directly and quietly asks the bartender for some elderflower nectar in perfect Rokugani.
"What with?" The barkeep replies, perhaps curious as to what a specimen of a nigh-extinct species might include in its diet.
"A glass," Kiru says flatly before squeak-whispering something.
The bartender sets about responding to the request, with a glass appearing in front of the Nezumi soon after.
Instead of picking it up, Kiru turns around and leans casually against the bar, surveying the room. Anyone with a view of the glass behind him might notice a tiny, furry creature poised on the rim, drinking furtive sips.
Shinwa keeps an eye on M'thack-kir and looks up when he receives his tea. Their connection is late, but they can wait a little while longer. The standard Unicorn jumpsuit makes the Rest a sea of purple, even seeing how small the tea house is. The deck may be out of the way, but it is popular with the pilots in from long voyages without a taste of anything other than Rokugani aesthetics. Picking out a single face among the crowd would seem almost impossible. Save for a few personal items that change from pilot to pilot, the uniforms are, well... uniform.
Height, however, can easily do for identification when aesthetic fails. From the entrance walks the world's shortest giant, flanked by a only moderately smaller woman and another figure who's height does not allow him to be seen above the crowd. So, he is merely a shock of silver and black hair that follows the other two.
The giant's dark skin would be remarkable anywhere outside a Unicorn port, but here he is merely one of many. Despite his stature, he weaves through the tables with grace rather than forcing a path as he leads his companions through the tea house. Nonetheless, their passage is marked by their fellow Unicorn, some with rolling eyes, others with politely concealed snickers.
He spots the table where Shinwa sits, and makes his way over, until his form unintentionally looms over his contact. The great bear of a man sizes up the Ronin with a quick glance, then dips into a deep bow, respectfully waiting to be acknowledged.
His face flushes with embarrassment as his companions, the large woman covered in tools and the silver ghost that looks like a strong wind might up and carry him off, simply walk around him and sit at the table unannounced. The lithe man sits easily, faint traces of music leaking from his headset, while engineer is stiff and business-like.
The woman flicks a few silver-armored fingers over the holo-display on her left arm, and Shinwa's message is displayed on the tabletop.
"You're the one who posted this request?" She asks without preamble.
Composing his face to perfect stillness, the ronin stands and bows, deeply, first to the extremely tall man and then to the other two are with him, even if they did not bow to him. The bows are deep, a reflection of his inferior rank as a ronin. Initial formailities taken care of, he returns to his kneeling position opposite the tool-bearing woman and her plugged-in companion.
He looks down at the display. "Yes," he says simply. "That is our request. I have a gift I am eager to bestow on a Unicorn pilot willing to take a risk in Scorpion space." He looks up, directly into the woman's eyes. His own are calm, neutral, and very serious. "I am called in this life Shinwa. Do you know such a pilot?"Recovering from his embarrassment, the large man kneels in between the two of his companions. He is the perfect medium between the two, resting easily without being carefree, professional without being stiff.
"I am known as Moto Ariel. This is Shinjo Ketaan, and my wife, Koshuud Tai-Wen. You must forgive my company's enthusiasm, we've not been dockside in some time. Asteroids make for poor etiquette partners."
The woman, evidently Tai-Wen, rolls her eyes at Ariel, then gives a seated bow and a non-committal noise that might be interpreted as something that, given time to mature for a decade or so, might resemble an apology.
The phantom of silver and silk in a skintight jumpsuit runs his eyes over Shinwa. Rather than Ariel's quick examination, Ketaan's gaze takes in far too much and lasts just a hair too long for propriety. He eventually nods to himself, though wether in approval of what he sees or in time with his music it is hard to say. His bow is lent a certain flair by his outer robe, which swirls around his kneeling form like a cape made of clouds. When he rises, he bears a small, almost devious smile, and his eyes are laughing.
"My good, Shinwa, was it?" Ketaan asks, just a hair louder than Ariel due to his headset. "You seem to be fortune's favored child this day. In an entire port of daring and skilled pilots, you've stumbled upon the most. Of which, well, that depends entirely on who you've been talking to."
M'thack-kir's attention is fully on the table where the three Unicorn have joined Shinwa, and he makes no ploy to conceal his interest. However, he remains at the bar, not willing to risk approaching. The barman can hear some muffled squeaking, though, from both Kiru and his glass, not that he can comprehend what is being said: "One of them smells funny." "Space will do that." "Do we have to go with them?" "Put some nectar up your nose, Rik. Or make more pheromone. I don't mind." "Hmmph." Shinwa spends a long, slow moment evaluating the three people in front of him, though if he makes any judgement one way or another, it is impossible to say. He pulls out a small scrap of writing plastic, and what actually looks like it might be a brush tip pen. Primitive. He writes a set of coordinates on the plastic, and an amount of credits, denoted in Imperial koku. He slides the scrap across the table.
The amount is impressive enough to make it worth the trip, but not so much that it seems completely impossible that a ronin specialist off a very profitable job or two couldn't have put together the amount.
The coordinates, if entered into a datapad, point to The Lantern, a volcanic moon circling a gas giant on the outskirts of Scorpion space.
"I need to pick up thirty passengers and leave in a hurry. As few Scorpion or Imperial entanglements as possible. We have no desire to trigger a conflict by accident. Interested?" Ketaan reaches for the plastic, which Tai-Wen smoothly snatches before his hand can reach. She does some quick mental calculation, then nods to the two of her companions.
"Hmm. The ships only have room for six, including us. By fast, I presume that you mean there won't be time for multiple trips. So, we can fly anything you can get, but we'll need a larger ship," Ketaan muses to himself. He exchanges a glance with Ariel, who suddenly has a thought. At his thought, he turns to Tai-Wen, who is already running the calculations. The Angela begin firing conversation back and forth such that it seems almost a language into itself.
"They've the ship for it."
"They could use the money."
"Can we afford their cut?"
"It'll be tight."
"Stipends are still good."
"They aren't bad at staying under the radar."
"We can afford it."
"Right. Making the call."
Tai-Wen gets up from the table, the holo-display on her microfabber already live. Without making excuses, she steps off to a corner of the tea house, and opens an encrypted deep-space comms line to Shinjo Kailen.
Ariel turns back to Shinwa nodding. "I think we know some people with a ship to suit your needs. Even better, they've got experience avoiding unnecessary entanglements. You've no problem bringing on more people to this venture?"
Shinwa's eyes dart towards the bar where the Nezumi is trying to make himself inconspicuous, a silent question before he turns back to Ariel. He takes a sip of his tea as he considers that addition to his plans.
"A Unicorn ship? A crew too large will bring more people with questions who might not like the answers. But something smaller, and fast..."
Ariel nods, leaning in close after throwing a glance to his wife. She is thoroughly impatient with the time it takes a deep space call to connect on a personal device's processing power.
"Suppose there were a scouting and survey vessel, strictly non military, which was not officially in the Unicorn rosters. Entirely legitimate business, I assure you. However, we know a pilot on such a vessel, a ship large enough to collect your passengers and swift enough to avoid attention. Alternately, if you already have a vessel, this pilot is more than capable of flying whatever you have while we provide escort."
At the ronin's pointed glance, Kiru's ear twitches, but otherwise there is no reaction from him. Shinwa will manage fine. Nothing to break.
The nectar is soon gone, as is the tiny sugar glider that had consumed it all. Rik has now darted back into the safety of his home in his friend's scarf.
Kiru tilts his head slightly at Shinwa, perhaps asking if it is safe for him to approach yet.
Kailen is on board the 'Ki Rin's Way' watching a movie in the ThranishGeek Channel, when her commlink alerts her about the incoming call.
"Moshi moshi." Tai-Wen hears.
"Finally. I thought this thing would never go through," Tai-Wen says, tapping up the volume in her earbud and switching the audio to personal only. "Daybreak, calling the Way. Got a job, could be right up your alley. Personnel extraction, 30 bodies, low visibility. One run, decent pay."
The shorter phrases standard to deep space communication, so as to avoid as much misunderstanding as possible should the communication be scrambled somewhere in the vast space between transmitter and receiver, could only do so much. Tai-Wen waits, tapping her foot impatiently while her message dances off into the void to the tune of an unpredictable amount of lag.
"Hmm... Not a kitsune, I suppose." The Unicorn whispers to no one in particular and turns the volume down.
"Send me the details. We'll respond within the hour." She thinks of sending regards to Keetan, but nah... Now it is time for business, it seems.
Shinwa listens to Ariel's 'theoretical' description of the ship. "I understand. We have no ship that can be used for this mission, and are grateful for ship and pilots."
He gives a small bow from seiza. His gestures are oddly formal, even archaic, especially for a castoff ronin normally scrambling too much to survive to be worried about such proprieties. "Are we then agreed?"
He removes from a pocket of his trenchcoat a stack of unmarked credit-sticks and lays them on the table, indicating an amount of koku sufficient for at least docking fees, ship refitting, and general preparatory tasks involved with such a mission, and maybe a few pre-mission celebrations besides. He does not say directly that it is the first portion of their payment, made up front, but the intent is clear. "Please allow the privilege of helping you prepare for your journey. If we are agreed, my partner and I will meet you at your ship when you are ready to depart."
He has not said yet who his partner is. He probably does not intend to do so until the agreement is formally made.
Just in case.
Hajime would show up not long after, with a rather sleepy face as if she had just gotten up from bed. She looks over to Kailen. "Hey, Kailen-chan. What's going on?
Tai-Wen dials the info into a text-only transmission, then sends it spiralling off into the Void. With a nod, she returns to the table just in the to take control of their finances.
"They're interested at least. We'll get word in an hour or so, save for cross-space lagtime," she says in a matter of fact tone, sweeping the credit sticks into a buttoned pocket of her apron. "I don't imagine they'll turn us down."
"There is one other thing," Ketaan says, toying with the one credit sticks he managed to liberate before their deposit was banked. "We like being in the dark as to our mysterious employers as much as the next pilots, but if you wouldn't mind asking your friend at the bar to join us?"
It would seem that Ketaan had not truly been idle after all, and those lazy eyes didn't miss much. For his lackadaisical pose and tone, one might easily mistake him as simply a fop asking over a guest for tea.
The ronin does not seem surprised or concerned about the question, or Tai-Wen's seizure of the credit sticks.
Shinwa lifts his hand and moves his fingers in a gesture and indicates that it's OK for Kiru to come join them at the table. He watches the Unicorn carefully for their reactions, his eyes narrowing slightly. Is this going to be a problem?
"Let me introduce my partner in this venture, Kiru-san." Slight emphasis on the '-san'. I recommend it shouldn't be.
In a much quieter tone, only audible to those at the table, Shinwa adds, "And the term is 'Nezumi'." He does not smile. Shinwa may not smile, but Ketaan sure does. At the secondary comment, his eyes widen and his lazy grin opens into a full expression of childish joy.
"Wait, seriously?" Ketaan tosses an obvious stare at the figure at the bar, not bothering with the subtly of his earlier examination. "Remarkable."
Tai-Wen and Ariel, for their parts, have both pulled out data pads and are already flicking through various information. From the mirrored reflection flying by on the back of the flexi-plastic, it seems that Ariel is looking up greetings and social aspects, while Tai-Wen has the more practical concerns of anatomy and diet. As one, the husband and wife look up and say, "I have questions."
Kiru approaches at the signal from his brother-in-arms, pausing a few steps from the table to scratch underneath the Phoenix-coloured obi he wears as a neck scarf.
A stiff, low bow precedes his introduction. "M'thack-kir of the Burnt Crane Tribe is pleased to make new friends. Shinwa, they are now friends, ne?"
Shinwa raises an eyebrow and turns back to the Unicorn, his expression relaying the Nezumi's question forward. "Well. Are we?". He nods at the married couples' question. "That first. Then answers."
"I got a call for a job from some clan mates of ours that I met a month ago. I am waiting for the details. Maybe the captain is interested." She turns the volume up again while waiting for the intelligence. "You should see the last episode Captain Harlock. I have recorded it."
When the message arrives, she reads it and gives it to Hajime to read it as well. "Well? What do you think?"
Tai-Wen begins to respond with, "Let's not get...," but is immediately cut off by her husband saying, "Yes, of course," and her frontman enthusiastically sticking out a hand to the Nezumi with, "Shinjo Ketaan, a pleasure."
She mimes throwing her hands in the air in exasperation, and sighing, "Well, I guess we are. I'm Koshuud Tai-Wen, and my big spacer-headed husband is Moto Ariel. We're all friends now, good? Great."
Kiru tilts his head to the side, unsure of what the outstretched hand means exactly. He isn't holding anything...It can't be a scent gland. Humans are too primitive. "Friends touch hands in the Thundering Horse Tribe?"
The faintest smile traces the corner of Shinwa's mouth. "This is a common thing among the Unicorn, so I have read, Kiru-san." He nods with gratitude towards the three who have made relatively polite greeting towards his partner.
"Friends then. As friends, we can answer some questions."
The matter of friendship settled, Kiru slides onto the seat beside Shinwa comfortably. He is evidently not some meek servant, having such a casual air about him now. His tail flicks underneath the table to coil around his left leg.
"Questions?" "How did you get to,"
"What is the protocol for,"
"Enough!" Tai-Wen interjects, raising her voice without sharpening it. Her fellow Angels stop talking, and Ariel even has the sense to look abashed. "You two can satisfy your curiosity on your own time. This is a business meeting."
She sets the datapad down and presses a button on the side of the table to signal for service. Her gaze darts between the Ronin and the Nezumi, weighing each of them carefully.
"We can safely assume that we will be conducting business. So we will need to know more. What exactly makes you think that there would be Imperial entanglements, and why do these thirty people need extraction in the first place? If it is something illegal, be prepared to offer a great deal of incentive for us to not get up and leave now." The three Unicorn hear a squeak not quite from Kiru's throat, which both Kiru and Shinwa comprehend as, "She is too loud. It will draw predators."
The Nezumi casually rests one hand under his chin, comforting the hidden Rik with a waft of subtle pheromone that these humans wouldn't be able to detect.
"Does the Thundering Horse Tribe not care about freeing slaves held illegally? Being tortured?" "Now just hold on a second, you little,"
"What Tai-Wen-sama means to say," Ariel says, smoothly defusing the situation before it can erupt, "Is that we know only what you have told us. And it is you who said that avoiding Imperial entanglements would be best."
"And, truthfully, Tai-Wen does speak for all of us," Ketaan adds, slipping smoothly from his seat to massage some of the tension out of the engineer's shoulders. "If slaves are being held, then it would seem beat to involve the law. Since you ask otherwise, there must be some reason, ne?"
"In short," Tai-Wen says in controlled tones as she swats her teammate's hands away, "No matter how much we might feel for the plight of such people, only a fool jumps into a nest of Scorpions unshod. If you want a job done properly, then you'll need to tell us what we're getting into. We need more than credits from a pair of surface hoppers so deck-soft you still smell of soil. If we didn't, we'd be no better than mercenaries."
Ketaan retakes his seat, still smiling. "Tai-Wen, dearheart, no one can understand you when you talk like that. Thing is, our services may be for sale, but our conscious' aren't. So we'll need to know why you want this to stay out of the purview of the law, and what exactly we'll be risking war over."
"It can't be spoken about here. Three Face Night Tribe has many ears."
The name is presumably safe enough to utter aloud, but Kiru suddenly looks uncomfortable, and one of his ears twitches anxiously.
"Well then," Ketaan drawls as he deliberately reaches over his teammates to flick the service light back off, "Let's the five of us go somewhere a little quieter. What say you?"
At the sudden outburst of questions, Shinwa looks cooly impassive. He raises a hand with an almost imperious gesture to cut off the discussion.
"First, /Friends/, we are going to quietly drink tea for a time while those staring at us lose interest."
He quietly takes a sip of tea to demonstrate. After a short time, hopefully with the table growing a little quieter and Kiru becoming less distressed, he puts down his cup.
"The answers are straight forward. The passengers are Nezumi slaves. Slavery for Nezumi is technically still not disallowed by Imperial law, though of course it is considered dishonorable. The location where they are held is secret. The method of the way we received this communication can only be duplicated by Nezumi. And should the Scorpion find out that the base is discovered, they will kill all the slaves than have the Phoenix use it against them in court."
He pauses for a moment, then continues. "We do not know if there are other such groups, but the Scorpion could kill them all rather than allow such secrets to be revealed. Is all clear now... friends?"
He gestures at himself and Kiru. "As to why...You have only the testimony of a robin and a nonhuman. If you find that and the koku worthy enough, then if the Scorpion find out you were involved you can claim you did it simply for credit and had no idea the Nezumi were Scorpion property. "
His voice is neutral. "Or you can turn us over to them now. Or walk away and leave this job for others more willing to see slaves freed. Your choice. Please decide quickly, however."
Kiru lowers his gaze and whispers, "Three Face Night Tribe is experimenting on the slaves. Torturing. Kiru understands it will escalate soon if nothing is done."
He says nothing else, not to explain how he got this intel, nor to justify the assertion that not only is he not the last Nezumi in existence, but that there are at least thirty others of these rarely seen creatures.
Shinwa keeps his cool gaze impassive, even regal, as he watches the Unicorns' response and awaits their decision.
Let us see if these are still yet the Children of the Wind.
The Wake Angels do not need long to confer, but rather just share a glance back and forth, then nod.
"Good enough for me."
"We'll do it."
"Looks like you'll have to endure the pleasure of our company a little while longer, friends."
A small nod of his head. Still no smile. "Excellent. Is there anything else? Or are words now made a course of action decided?"
As one, Ariel and Ketaan both look to Tai-Wen, who starts tapping on the datapad.
"Well, there are practical concerns to consider. The ship we sent for is outfitted for human passengers. I can make any necessary retrofits, but I need to know what to expect."
She sets the datapad on the table, spins it around, and slides it to Kiru. Up on it is a rather extensive and invasive survey.
"Weight, dietary requirements, common illnesses, transmittable illnesses, whether we can expect Zero-G sickness, what sort of injuries we can expect, and more. Transporting refugees is a risky business to begin with, but in tight packed quarters we need to consider everything that could possibly slow us down. And there simply isn't enough publicly available knowledge on Nezumi biology to make those calls. If you would please?"
Kiru shrugs. "Underfed Nezumi weigh the same as Rokugani. Nezumi do not get sick, and if there are any injuries, only M'thack-kir will cure them. As for dietary requirements, should only need three tatami worth of dirt."
But what if I die trying to rescue them?
His ear twitches again.
No. That is not my path or my Name. It will be fine. "There will likely be some diagnostic implants embedded in most of kin-kin. Once removed, can friends dispose of them? Oh, and some rags for modesty will be needed."
Please don't ask me why.
Shinwa's voice is even, despite the hints at the recitation of a horror. "Standard non-meat fare is fine. They will not be staying long. We merely need to get back to Phoenix space and you will be free of us and our guests and be on your way. We need to finalize those arrangements, but we should have them together before we depart."
Ariel and Ketaan nod, followed by Tai-wen's slower acknowledgement.
"I'm no surgeon, nor are these two. We'd be more harm than help pulling any wetware from anyone if you want the meat looking in better shape than the tech. But if you can pull them, or know someone who can, I can make sure that they won't transmit. Nothing like a quick data wipe and a run through a fabber material cycler to ruin some tech's day," Tai-Wen offers.
Shinwa sinks deeper into cold silence as the atrocities are discussed.
This is too dark. This is not how this should be. He allows the Unicorn to discuss with the Nezumi a little while longer if there are additional questions left. He has said enough.
Kiru nods, satisfied.
"Thanks in advance for the assistance. Shinwa, time to go?"
Very to the point—this is hardly a social engagement.
Shinwa nods. "That would be best. You may reach us at this ID when you are ready to depart, and we will have the rest of the information you desire."
He waits to see if there is anything else, then stands and bows, deeply and formally, as to a superior.
"Domo Arigato. You have shown great reasonableness and compassion."
His words are oddly formal and old-fashioned, like something out of a book or old movie.
In their staggered levels of casual, the Angels rise and give a variety of bows.
"Well, we've work to do then. We will contact you soon," Tai-Wen says as she rises from her own perfunctory bow.
Ketaan tosses a hand up in farewell as the Angels begin to walk away, and over his shoulder flies, "Be seeing you!"
Then they are gone, once more melting into the sea of purple that is the Shipyards.
M'thack-kir, The Wake Angels, Shinjo Kailen, Iuchi Hajime: Background Story Flyby the Lantern
The arrangements had been made. The deals had been struck. That their Unicorn partners for the mission had brought along a little extra enforcement in case things went south on this quick strike expedition...well, all Shinwan knew is that the ship was now accompanied by a group of fighters that called themselves The Wake Angels.
Scorpion space was coming fast. They'd asked just to zip in, land quickly, load up the ship with its cargo, and leave as fast as possible.
The Ronin had no idea what their new "partners" would think about that cargo, though.
Hopefully, everything would go smoothly. When it came to space combat, his role was to keep out of the way and remember that life was short.
Mono no aware. There is an end to every story. Even mine.
Hopefully that would not happen today.
From the darkness of a storage closet very near Shinwa, squeaking can occasionally be heard from the Nezumi occupying it. He had made it clear that he wanted to keep out of others' way for the ride, but Shinwa can feel a constant tingle down her spine; she alone knows he is in fact preparing for what will inevitably come.
The Wake Angels did not exist. Their very existence could be taken as an insult, a dangerous proposition. One does not walk into the home of another with a drawn weapon. And so, they did not exist. The Firedancers saw to that.
The Koshuud Industries Mk 3 "Firedancer," a proprietary Radiant shielding of the Unicorn shipyards, was designed to passively enhance the speed capabilities of fighters operating in atmospheric conditions by draining off a large amount of the heat generated by intense velocity before it could reach the body of the ship and ruin the pilot's day. Seeing success on the competitive racing circuits, the upper echelons of the Clan decided to install them on select groups of Baraunghar class fighters, for the tactical superiority fighters could spare the extra power required to maintain the shielding without experiencing the loss of speed a single-pilot fighter might.
The Baraunghar class fighter has no inherent stealth capabilities. It was not designed to exploit the element of surprise via sudden strike, but rather by moving at such speed and maneuverability that any response was impossible. As such, a standard Baraunghar would not be the most subtle vessel to bring on a covert mission. However, in the right hands, a Baraunghar equipped with a Firedancer module could perform a delicate and dangerous maneuver known simply as "Riding the Wake."
Utilizing the Firedancer's enhanced heat shielding, a Baraunghar running at low power could slip into the engine backdraft of a larger vessel, creating a strange form of active camouflage. Only the best or most foolhardy of pilots attempted such a thing, for it first required down-stepping the engine to such a level that ramping back up to full speed could damage the reactor if done ineptly, resulting in costly repairs. Then, in this intentionally crippled state, it involved diving into a trail of plasma. The output of the standard Rokugani engine is extremely hot, even in vacuum, easily enough so to cause immense damage to an unshielded vessel. Even with the Firedancer active, it is a delicate play. Too far from the ship, and the backdraft is not hot enough to disguise the heat signature of the Baraunghar from passive scanning. Too close, and the Firedancer could overload, bathing the front of the fighter in burning heat. In addition, it is far from perfect, for while it fools the scanners that seek active Fire kami in the area, the plasma trail from a vessel the size of the one the Angels now followed silently was far from bright enough to disguise the ships from someone simply looking out a viewport. A good thing too, for if the trail was bright enough to render them invisible, the Angels would also be flying blind.
Sitting in the cockpit of his Baraunghar, Moto Ariel carefully adjusts his flight speed to remain in the sweet spot, wishing he could remove his helmet to wipe the sweat from his brow. His fellow Angels always make such maneuvers look so easy. He always appears uncertain next to them, but can show no fear in the face of their confidence. So, failing the chance to run a hand across his face, the large man instead narrows his eyes and draws in a deep breath, savoring the familiar flavor of the recycled air. It still has just the barest hint of peppermint from the jury-rigged mod that Tai-Wen fixed up last time they had extra stiped to burn. The sharpness brings him calm, and he opens his eyes fully again, ready to work, one of a trio of silent phantoms basking in the glow of their client's engines.
Something chirped...Shinwa didn't really know what it was called, but he knew that when that thing chirped it meant that the ship was entering the general local proximity of a planet. Curiosity got the better of him, and he made his way up to the front of the ship to see the main viewscreen and confirm that this, was, in fact The Lantern.
The moon below had lower gravity than he was used to, and large active volcanoes spewed their noisome gases through the atmosphere. The ground was all raw sulfur, ash, and volcanic rock. No life would grow here. There was no water. The air was bound to be half poisonous, a hideous fume. And, from the report he'd read, enough obsidian to risk madness for those who spent too much time on the place. Flashes of lightening from terrible heat-driven weather systems licked across the moon's surface. Only a mad person would want to live on such a planet.
And yet the Scorpion were there...as was the cargo Shinwa and Kiru had come to retrieve.
Shinwa shook his head.
"Unicorn-sama's....Could you please let the Wake Angels know that we're here? If they could kindly remove the monitoring satellites without being seen, this one would be most grateful. We can then land and retrieve the cargo. Thank you."
Shinjo Kailen is sitting comfortably in the co-pilot's seat of the Ki-Rin's Way. She waits patiently for her time to come. The captain had explicitly said that since this is a job she brought over, she would pilot the ship for their final approach at the planet. She looks over to Hajime. They are in this together. Their first real mission. The two women have worked together before, but they have never pilot the ship during a mission that requires such guile and precision. At some point, before Shinwa speaks, the woman looks at the screen in front of her and nods to the Iuchi. "It is time!" she proclaims as softly as she can and stands up.
"Captain, permission to..." Before she has a chance to finish up her phrase, the elder captain nods. "Granted." She says.
Kailen moves to the pilot's seat and looks at the shugenja next to her. "Piece of cake, Hajime chan. Let's do this." She turns a switch that lowers the power of the ship. The lights go down and it is evident that nothing but the life support is active at this moment.
"Ketaan san, you are up." She says to the radio. "Communication down until further notice. Waiting for your signal to enter the system. Satellites in position according to previous intelligence. Good luck. Over."
She turns to the ronin with a grin of self confidence "We will be there shortly, Shinwa san. Just sit back comfortably and enjoy the ride."
Ketaan is stretching out in the cockpit of his fighter when the message arrives. His hands are on the controls the instant their covering engine exhaust begins to fade as the larger vehicle powers down. He can almost feel the nod as the unspoken agreement passes between the Angels.
As one, they dive out of the plasma trail in wildly different directions, and without taking the time to aim, fire their payloads.
While the weapons upon a Baraunghar were designed to handle most conventional ammunition, the same systems that could propel top of the line explosive rounds could also act as a crude shot mass driver. Small meteors with cores of some heavy element with natural Radiant properties launched at the last known prediction for the satillites would crumble upon impact, the heavy radiant cores thoroughly frying the Scorpion's broadcasting equipment as well as rendering the floating spy to so much scrap to fall from the sky to the planet below.
After the impact,the resulting fragmentation of target and projectile will fall irregularly to the world's atmosphere, resulting in theories that the satellites were destroyed in meteor shower. The radioactivity in the rubble will support the theory.
All of which hinges, naturally, on the information being good.
The weapons unleash doom into the silence of the Void. The mission is now in the hands of their informant, and of fortune.
Shinwa watches impassively as a sparkle of shattered satellite tumbles into the foul-smelling atmosphere. "Try to land behind the ridge I described earlier. It is about a half-K from where we need to be. We will bring them to you. Domo arigato, Shinjo-sama."
He hesitates for a moment, and adds. "If some number of passengers arrive, but we do not...please do not wait for more than an hour, or stay if you are threatened. Take those passengers that arrive to Gennai's Garden. They will know who to contact on the way. The koku will be sent to your accounts regardless, I promise you."
The ronin bows and withdraws.
As he passes the broom closet, he says, "Kiru-san. Prepare yourself for the descent." Then he straps himself in for the descent through the atmosphere.
Hajime nods at Kailen. She was a bit anxious over this as she felt a little rusty with this kind of thing. On the other hand however, nothing could be worse than the boredom of sitting around and doing nothing! The Iuchi just grins at Kailen when she speaks to let her know she is ready anytime!
The door opens and out comes the Nezumi, his obsolete Koiso MKV radiant pistol in hand. The tassel of feathers dangling from the handgrip shimmers softly with an otherworldly glow before fading to normal.
"Rik, you will need to stay on the ship today, so I can find my way back. Stay hidden once I'm gone, okay?" he squeaks quietly, not that any of these humans can understand him...except Shinwa, of course. Something in his scarf replies in a similar chitter, "it's about time to sleep anyway."
Kiru smiles as he finds a seat opposite Shinwa to strap himself into—no sense in getting killed before he can save anyone.
This is the part that most pilots can never master. The satellites are off, but reaching the surface still unseen is not something easy.
"Starting secondary engine." Kailen presses a button and a small engine starts. Slowly, the ships starts approaching the planet. About ten minutes later, they start moving a bit faster.
"Entered atmosphere." Kailen announces and presses the button again for the engine to stop. Gravity will do the rest. And the start going faster and faster.
"Cooling system on." Various buttons are pressed and various systems on the ship start working again. But not the engine.
"1 km to surface. Hajime san, I will need full speed in 20....... 10, 9, 8". It is good to have an Iuchi at this point. Otherwise, it is even more riskier.
Flanking the ships burning descent are three much smaller objects, the miniature fireballs that mark the Wake Angels' descent. In the cockpit of one, Tai-Wen casually flicks on the atmospheric control settings, leaning back and putting her hands behind her head as she surveys the shit excuse for a planet. Its ugly terrain rushing ever closer, the entire view tinted lime by the Radiance of the Firedancer keeping the cockpit nice and cool, she shakes her head in slight bemusement at what the Scorpion consider worth settling.
An alert flashes on her microfabber, and she eases out of her relaxed pose to set her silver armored hand on the controls.
"Hope you buckled your seatbelts, kids," she mutters sardonically into the unpowered coms. Communication blackout protocol could be a pain. While she trusts the Angels to know what they are doing, she has her doubts as to what the Ki-Rin's Path can sustain. "It's going to get rough."
With that final thought, she engages the airbrake, and the G-forces slam her into the back of her seat.
Gravity is an oni. It snatches you out of the sky and hurls you to the ground if you let it. If you dodge...just right, it can hurl you into orbit around it, where you dance just out of its reach, but it snatches at you over and over again. Dance too far out of its reach, and you break away, spinning outwards to the stars. Dance too close, and it grabs you and drags you to the ground again.
Shinwa didn't like this part of the dance much. It would help if his dance partners liked him better. He glared balefully at the ship around him, not entirely sure that it didn't want to kill him just on general principles.
Down and down....and then brought short as the thrusters kicked in at the last moment, setting down the ship with a gentle kiss on the fiery moon's surface. Of course the rules are true....but thank the kami for them anyway.
Time to go get what they had come for.
Kiru is at the blast doors before anyone can get there; he knows who he is, and the word 'queasy' does not feature in his Name. He deftly reaches into his scarf and then places the diminutive Rik up in the overhead grating, knowing his friend will scurry to a comfortable and safe retreat to await his return.
"Shinwa, careful-careful. Shinwa will need Shinwa's helmet. The smell suggests similar air quality to the Terrible Darkness Lands. Best to avoid cancer," Kiru calls out loudly over the commlink on his wrist, for the benefit of the other passengers, mostly.
Then he punches the door release and dashes outside, head low and gun in hand.
Shinwa pulls on a mempo with a clear visor and taps the gauge on the side a few times to make sure the air kami are circulating properly in it.
Cancer. Of course. he thinks grimly. I shall have faith in you today, air kami. Do you have faith in me?
Not enough time for a crisis of faith now, no matter what the air kami's opinion is.
"We are departing now," he signals the bridge. "We shall endeavor to be back as quickly as possible. Please remember what I said." Even on embarking on a mission of stealth, Shinwa speaks like some Friday night B-Movie samurai in the Kurasawa action vids a mere hundred years after the development of celluloid.
He checks his obi under his trenchcoat and his daisho at his side. Whether or not communications will stay up...well, with him it was always a little hit or miss. He'd try for now.
"Let me find the cameras first, Kiru-san. The path into the mine is certain to be monitored."
With that, he exits the blast doors and steps out onto the surface of the volcanic moon, letting the blast doors shut behind him and stop the smell of sulfur and brimstone from filling the ship.
"Just run everywhere. Shinwa's mere presence will break them." There is a quiet cackle through the commlink.
Shinwa can feel a familiar tingle before seeing the vision of a Nezumi sneaking up on its goblin quarry in his mind's eye. Strangely enough, he finds the thought encouraging in relation to his own capacity to go unseen. (Mechanically, we both just gained a Stealth rank of 4, so you know, bae.)
Kiru is stalking up ahead. Moving quietly, yes, but his species are far swifter than Rokugani, and so he is still making more ground at present.
Fortunately, Shinwa can see him quite clearly, almost as if the Nezumi has a faint glow surrounding him that only Shinwa can see.
Shinwa moves steadily behind, hand on his daisho, contemplating this particular mystery of stealth. However, he activates the commlink to say "Hidden cameras. Four meters left, one forward, two up. The second is five meters right, one point five forward, two point five up. You will not be able to bypass them."
Even M'thack-kir's keen eyes cannot see anything at those locations other than plain, soot-gray cliff face. The Scorpion are either hiding their cameras very well, or Shinwa is imagining things.
Maybe I should have brought Rik after all...
"Can Shinwa break them?" Kiru whispers into his wrist.
Shinwa considers the issue carefully. "Does simple violence count?" The corner of his mouth crooks in a small grin. "I can cut down one. You will have to shoot the other one. There is a small fleck of stone just below the right camera. Aim just above there."
He starts the count.
In a blur of motion he draws his katana and jumps. In the low gravity, he needs no assist to close on the spot on the cliff wall, and his blade flicks forward. The tip penetrates some sort of masking fabric, and the camera falls off its niche and to the ground, landing at about the same time he does.
Ah. Simple enough. Kiru takes aim where he has been instructed to, then pulls the trigger confidently. A laser significantly more potent than what the weapon should be capable of producing discharges, creating a small crater in the wall where the camera used to be.
M'thack-kir sniffs the air and nods to himself. "Kiru will leave a trail for kin-kin to follow as an escape route." He briefly rubs his cheek against the wall at belly height, marking the spot with a pheromone that identifies his Tribe and the direction to safety.
Then, another nod to Shinwa, and Kiru stalks ahead, ready to vaporise the first Scorpion to cross his path. He seems unperturbed by the partially toxic atmosphere he is breathing in all the while. The benefits of a small base, on an isolated moon, with an unbreathable atmosphere, where there is nothing of value to be won. No one is going to bother with outdoor sentries. The hidden cameras and proximity alarms, each of which either Shinwa has been able to discover (if hidden) or Kiru has been able to identify easily (if not hidden) and avoid or disable are more than sufficient to satisfy even the most diligent guard. They have arrived during the night cycle for the small mining base. That only leaves the door. It has been built to be protected from most kinds of damage, even from a fighter's guns.
I might be able to get through....but it would make noise. Noise means a fight. I would need to issue a challenge. That would not help these nezumi at all.
Shinwa arrives at the door and reaches out to lay his hand on the controls. He was not impressed.
He nods, takes a step back, and attempts to open the door. The locking mechanism continues to hold. Shinwa does not seem surprised. He tries it again a second time. This time the mechanism fails. So does the opening mechanism. The door rocks, but does not open automatically.
Fortunately, Shinwa can give the heavy door the good old heave-ho. That should do it.
"Wait, Shinwa," Kiru whispers behind him. "Emergency protocol for doors is to have them open after a malfunction is cleared."
He steps up to the controls himself and places his palm on it, before chittering quietly.
Just as soon as Shinwa feels the familiar tingle wash down his spine, the controls light up with a beep, and the door opens.
Kiru wipes his cheek against the doorway. "We are close. The scent is strong, and there is only one trail. Clearly kin-kin are forced to work outside in those conditions, and imprisoned at night."
Enough said, Kiru stalks inside, following the pheromone path laid out so clearly for his nose. He tries not to think about the emotions of fear and lost faith that the scent is so heavy with.
Shinwa nods and follows, continuing to keep an eye for hidden cameras...or hidden Scorpion.
When they draw near certain passageway he stops. "Human. 10 paces that way." His words are scarcely above a whisper. He gestures to the right, to a room off of one of the side corridors. Fortunately, the room door is closed. He has to trust to M'thak-kir's additional stealth and his own light step to sneak past the room quietly,
It is only a matter of minutes before they find the holding cell. It is the size of a traditional samurai's greeting room, and certainly not large enough for twenty eight adult Nezumi and some newborn pups to reside in comfortably.
Kiru's nose twitches as he notices that the metal bars on this prison door have been partially chewed through, but at a height humans wouldn't notice.
They still have fight in them. Hope isn't lost.
Kiru squeaks in Nezumi at the prisoners, sending a ripple of surprise among the wakening tribe. Someone responds, arriving at the cell door to stick their nose through it and sniff Kiru's scent.
The whispered chattering goes on for a few minutes, until Kiru's speaking partner nods and gestures to his extended family.
"They have agreed to join the Burnt Crane Tribe. They have no rememberers or Nameseekers left anyway," Kiru explains quietly to Shinwa. Then, he holds his pistol to get a shot at the electrical lock on the door and fires, blasting a hole the size of a Hida's head through it. "They know to follow the scent trail I left. Will Shinwa escort the mothers and babies first?"
His fingers tighten around the pistol's handgrip. "Kiru will leave last."
Shinwa says softly. "They must be as quiet as they can, and we move quickly. Tell them if we encounter anyone, they must keep moving forward as quickly as possible, following your trail, until they get to the ship. The doors will open for them. I will fight whoever they encounter. They must not stop, for any reason at all. We will bring any who get left behind. You will tell them this?"
He leaves unsaid the little truth they both know...that they will fight to distract the Scorpion and allow the Nezumi to escape with the Unicorn, even if it costs both their lives. And one of them cannot leave without the other.
"Ahhh..." Ketaan's voice comes through the comms to all of the Unicorn at the landing site. "Hate to be the one to break radio silence, but our intel didn't happen to mention Chuubushi patrols did it?"
"No?" Ariel's uncertain response comes across.
"Funny, because I'm looking out my viewport at what looks a lot like jump-jets off in the direction our employers went."
"THOSESHITSMEAREDSCRAPHUMPING," The rest of Tai-Wen's invective devolves into static as a puff of radioactive surface dust is kicked up by the sudden activation of atmospheric engines, temporarily scrambling communications. One by one, the Baraunghar-class fighters leap off the surface and shriek through the thin, caustic atmosphere on the Ronin and Nezumi's trail.
Kiru bares his teeth in a grin at Shinwa. "Strongest instinct in Nezumi is survival. Kin-kin do not need to be told to keep running. Already instructed kin-kin about the ship and doors, too."
His head turns sharply. "Rik is in danger. The ship might be compromised. What if friends are really Three Face Night Tribe?"
M'thack-kir squeaks a quiet order at the other Nezumi, before gesturing for them to go onwards.
"Shinwa, find a safe-safe zone and see if ship is safe first, okay?" There is concern in his hushed voice, but the matter at hand is too important to be paralyzed with worry over his little friend.
Shinwa simply nods and leads the way out, leading the nezumi on path that avoids any Scorpion that might be wandering the hallways at this late hour of the night. Whenever it seems that a human might be near, he places himself between them and the slaves. For a moment there was a risk...but no. This time, he is lucky.
When he reaches the main doors, this time, they open easily since Kiru did not lock them after they had managed to bypass the locks the first time. After that, he starts off moving ahead of the group of Nezumi, then circling back, leading them away from the cameras that have not been disabled.
"SECURITY COMPROMISED. ALL PERSONNEL, FULL ALERT."
No need to hide anymore, good.
Kiru tells the last of the escapees to bolt for it, then he reaches into the Field of Dreams to pluck a particularly powerful memory taught to the Tribe by his mother...
From where Shinwa is, he can feel a brief tingle before seeing the sudden image of what can only be a Nezumi climbing through the top window of a castle in the dead of night, a blade in each hand as well as in clutched by its tail. Vengeance is here. Time to hunt down the local human chief!
Ketaan's ship becomes a ripple of green with a humming whine as he activates the Firedancer while picking up speed. In the cockpit of his own ship, Ariel slaps a scroll case onto a magnetic strip, flying one handed as he unrolls the classic prayers of the Iuchi and begins muttering his greetings to the slow and sick water kami of this Fortune-forsaken rock. The flow of energy, imperceptible to all without the gift, traces lines of blue between his and Ketaan's ship.
A quick, heavily static-riddled message penetrates the bunker to the helmet of the Ronin within. "Compan****side. We'll cov*****uick."
A salvo of carefully aimed Radiance from Tai-Wen's ship darts past the spearhead of their wedge, throwing up additional plumes of radioactive crud to obscure visibility and corral the surprised Chuubushi together. Mere fractions of seconds after their reactive jump jets have pulled them away from the sudden scorch marks on the moon, Ketaan's kami-enhanced engines dart him directly over the clustered samurai in a near-invisible screaming fireball obscured by dust and burning atmosphere. The sonic boom and pressure wave that follow in his wake are more than enough to smash the unfortunate Scorpion into the ground, shattering bone and suit as the rest of the wing circles for another pass. Handheld weaponry begins to lance randomly out of the cloud of toxic dust and confusion.
Kuso! Shinwa swore silently to himself. Around him, more than a dozen nezumi scrambled, eyes filled with fear and staring around in a panic as a pillar of dust and volcanic ash ascends in the direction the Unicorn ship ahead of them. Many more are running through the trench cut in the walls of layered tuff and obsidian.
A static-filled message reaches his headset, but it's beyond him to make out what the words are. And then he feels the shift around him as his senses sharpen, his muscles flex, and a surge of andrenaline...not his own...races through his body as the nezumi starts hunting.
I need to stop him...he needs to get out of there and round up these crazy nezumi while I try to secure the landing site....
He taps the commlink button on his mempo to signal M'thack-kir...or the Unicorn....But there is no answering chirp to greet him to signal that communication lines are open. Dead. Air kami...you pick a fine time... He prays that the regulator on the mempo holds out just a little while longer. A fight where you cannot breathe is uniquely challenging.
Very well. If battle it is...
He stops running in a small crook of the trench not far from the Unicorn ship. He raises his hand, his face grim, the gesture infused with an air of imperious authority that draws the eyes of the Nezumi to him. He holds the position, perfectly still, focusing on slowing his breathing, stilling the racing of his heart, quieting his mind. The Nezumi can smell no trace of fear.
"Sekai ga ugoku node, ore wa chuuou de tatteiru." He exhales slowly.
As the Nezumi gather around him, all catching up, he lowers his hand, palm down. A gesture he hopes they understand. "Wait here." He then turns and runs towards the Unicorn vessel, his simple trenchcoat streaming behind him, his hand on the tsuka of his katana.
When fighting Scorpion, one thing has been true in every story since the beginning of the Empire.
It was never the ones you could see that were the problem.
He can smell them all so easily, the ones who are alarmed, both afraid and excited, as he nears them.
They are not worth my time.
He weaves around a few by taking separate corridors, keeping low just in case.
Then he stops.
There are too many of them...I won't have a chance if I don't leave now. And I'm sure I've been spotted on camera by now...Survival first. Vengeance later.
He whispers something to himself, drawing on yet another memory altogether.
Shinwa is hopefully not too distracted by the tingle that accompanies the brief vision of a glowing Nezumi sprinting past him at incredible speed before it fades away.
"BANZ-" the Scorpion who rounded the corner and charged at Kiru with an electric stun-sai is interrupted by a single laser shot. Hard to shout when your neck is disintegrated, causing your body to drop to the floor while your head flies forward from the running momentum.
Definitely time to go.
Kiru turns and bolts for it, knowing the shout and the laser blast will draw more attention. His agility enhanced by the memory, he makes use of his tail stretched out behind him to steer his direction like an ancient sailor would his fishing boat rudder, throwing himself into fleeing faster than humanly possible. There are two moments where he is forced to leap over or around an unsuspecting Scorpion heading in the opposite direction and then turn a corner sharply so he won't become an easy target, but it is hard to get lost when the very air is laden with the key to escape.
And he has two guiding pilot lights in the form of Rik and Shinwa to keep him on course.
Except that the main entrance is now guarded by two bushi with stun-sai and holstered sidearms.
Kiru stops in his tracks, pressing himself against the wall so as not to stand out too much.
A moment later, a gust of air surges down the corridor, causing both Shinwa and Kiru to tingle as it passes Kiru.
Shugenja. I have no choice but to run now, M'thack-kir realises. He fires a shot at one of the two guards as he begins to run, not caring about killing the Scorpion so much as making them panic so he has a greater chance of escape. Luckily, his target screams in pain and drop his weapon to the ground, deactivating its electric field, meaning that Kiru only has one armed enemy he needs to focus on evading as he somersaults over the two bushi and dashes out the door into the trench beyond.
A laser narrowly missed his head, beaming out ahead of him. Clearly this fight is not over yet.
The unexpected burst of speed races through Shinwa as he runs, but he doesn't have time to once again question the strangeness of being linked in this way to a Nezumi. The speed is welcome as he puts the escaped slaves further behind him and closes rapidly on the landing site.
The crouching bulk that is The Ki-rin's Way squats over on the hillside like some great beast of burden: an winged elephant, perhaps.
Shinwa focuses, scanning the landscape, looking for the unseen, the expected only because of the nature of their enemies.
Two Chuubushi, possibly left behind by a squadron of others who are serving as a feint for these attacking vessels, were hidden behind some larger rocks, sheltered and out of sight of the ship.
And up on the side of the vessel, a hidden explosive device that would crack the hull of The Way open like a crab in its shell.
It probably has a timer. But it is just as likely they can trigger it instantly as well. I cannot take care of both at the same time. Fortunes help me...
He took a deep breath, and leaped, sword down, crashing from a distance to land between the two chuubushi in their radiant armor, his katana a silver flame of death that cleaves through radiance and steel with equal ease.
"Are they clear?"
"No way to tell. Keep them distracted, Vanguard."
Ketaan's Baraunghar continues to spin frantically in the air, dodging Radiant fire and returning his own to keep the Chuubushi suppressed and their attention drawn.
"Come on, kiddies. Keep your eyes on the," a Radiant bolt comes a hair too close, ricocheting off of the shielding a breath before hitting the fighter. "...Maybe not that close. Can you focus your eyes a bit to my left? Thanks!"
"This is taking too long," Tai-Wen mutters into the coms as she approaches the atmospheric limits, reeling around to provide cover fire. "Even with the satellites down, someone will get off a transmission. I don't want to be neck-deep in fighters."
"The prisoners are in the trenches," Ariel says, coolly lining up his own hovering vessel with his wife's. "We just need to buy them a bit more time."
"And give the Scorpion a farewell present? I've got just the thing!"
"Any opportunity to test new toys, love?"
"You know me too well. And it's not like they don't deserve it."
"Well, it wouldn't do to be ungracious guests I suppose."
Tai-Wen's evil grin is almost audible through the coms.
"Follow-follow!" Kiru barks at the newest members of his Tribe as he practically soars past them, not taking the time to slow down at all.
His momentum, only increasing thanks to his natural and supernatural speed, carries M'thack-kir out into view of the ship, but he does not run directly toward it. Instead, his tail arcs out behind him to adjust his course, and Kiru zeroes in on Shinwa taking on two chuubushi alone. One of them reaches for a remote button, but Kiru makes a carefully placed shot with his pistol as he approaches, incinerating the remote in the Scorpion's hand. And causing some useful collateral damage to said hand as a bonus.
If that remote is important, I'll fix it later.
"Who in Jigoku do you think you are?!" screams a woman's voice from above.
Kiru looks up to see an armoured samurai-ko several feet in the air above, hovering without the aid of technology.
She holds a number of glowing plastic cards between the fingers of each hand, ready to throw them.
Even matched against a surprise attack, closed from a distance with an uncanny speed, Scorpion chuubushi are fast and well trained. These were no simple yakuza but trained warriors of a great clan with excellent weapons and heavy radiant armor. Shinwa might be impossible to hit with a radiant firearm at this distance, but the great clan schools still taught iaijutsu, and the draw on a radiant weapon was almost as smooth as the draw of Totsuzen.
Still, the ronin's first blow was a crippling strike, and the chuubushi he struck found a deep crack in his helmet, releasing the oxygen and letting in the poisonous air of the sulfurous little moon. He also found himself with a crippling injury to his hand a moment later....Shinwa could sense Kiru's presence closing upon him and just barely dodged the shot that took out the remote. But while that bushi was still trying to draw, Shinwa had a more serious threat to face...the bushi that had not yet been struck.
This is your moment, he silently told the bushi in front of him. Live it well. This is where your story ends. They both lept into motion. The Scorpion was a little quicker on the iaijutsu draw, but his blade slid off the ronin's trenchcoat. The blade cut into Shinwa's flesh, but the wound was minor. The injury Shinwa inflicted in return cut deeper. But worse than the injury, the light rimming the chuubushi's blade suddenly flickered. The bushi was skilled, quick to counter the attack, but the blade struck and did...nothing. It struck deep and hard, but had no edge with which to strike and simply bounced off of Shinwa's trench. His next strike similarly did nothing...and was his last as Shinwa took his head. The head bounced gently to the ground in the lower gravity.
He can feel the seconds ticking away like the hairs standing up on the back of his heck. And above, the shout of the shugenja. He hopes Kiru can handle it, because he can't. He has to stop that bomb. The other Scorpion, his hand damaged heavily, draws his blade. Unfortunately for him, Shinwa is already ready. He narrowly escapes the blow and strikes back deeply, fracturing the helmet completely and shoving the samurai away to choke on the air.
No time left to check to see him through yet. Shinwa spins and braces himself for one more great leap...this time to reach the bomb.
Air kami...I promise you...let me get to that bomb and stop it....and I'll.... He didn't finish the thought...he was already in the air.
Kiru doesn't try to answer the shugenja's question - it would take valuable seconds to explain he is the Seeker of Brightness. Seconds he doesn't have.
So instead he rolls evasively to the side, pulling the trigger on his weapon as he flicks its aim out at her.
The laser finds its mark, pulsing into the Scorpion's chest and knocking her backwards with great force, but it is not the only thing to reach its target: two of the glowing cards dart out and attach themselves to the central ashigaru plate covering Kiru's chest. Immediately, the plate glows white hot and begins to sizzle, melting.
"Iyaa!" Kiru screeches as he scrambles to remove the plate before it can corrode painfully onto his chest. He drops his weapon to the ground, gouging at the binding that straps his armour around him with his claws.
It takes several seconds, and M'thack-kir ends up with a bleeding, furless patch on the centre of his chest, but he manages to remove the armour before it can completely melt him; strangely enough, the metallic acid should have engulfed him instantaneously, but something slowed it down.
I'll need to fix that...but no time!
He calls out for his kin to hurry aboard the ship, presuming Shinwa is running over to it with haste to open the door for them all. Then, he scrambles along as well, forgetting his Koiso MkV sidearm as he does so.
"Clear! They're clear!"
Ariel barely has time to call out the signal over the coms before whipping through his scrolls to find the appropriate prayer. Their ships almost touching, the water kami once again reach across the barren expanse, but this time for the pilot rather than the engines of the accompanying Baraunghar.
In her own seat, Tai-Wen lines up the shot as she stares at the last retreating ratman through the enhaced image on her viewport. Her fingers hovers on the trigger of her weapons and the loading controls, but she waits until she feels the familiar sensation of the kami speeding her actions. The moment she does, she is a blur of motion as she fires the solid-mass weapon systems once, triggers an automated reload for a very special payload, and fires again.
The first mass to fly out of the Baraunghar is what appears to be a glob of metallic red paint. It has no special name, for it is merely an engineering additive essential in the activation of Radiant shielding mixed with isotopic dye. The second launch sends the Baranghar lurching back with an abrupt explosion of force as the payload fires an engine of its own. The explosive equipped on it is a high-powered incendiary device of accelerants, caustic agents, and a ridiculous amount of mass. The creator, who had a flair for the dramatic, dubbed it the Ten Gods' Promise. The delivery system carrying the TGP also has no name, but not for the reasons of being unimportant, but because it is a contradiction. The sheer size of the TGP means that it requires a container with its own means of propulsion, for the firing of a weapon of the TGP's size from a fighter causes such recoil that aiming is impossible otherwise. However, the system that carries the TGP has to be aimed somehow. The Koshuud, being inventive minds with a knack for horrific levels of space-age destruction, would surely never utilize gaijin technologies to create an onboard computer small enough to fit in a piece of ordinance with the sole purpose of tracking a specific isotope only found in proprietary engineering additives before they were activated.
That would be dishonorable.
The first Scorpion out the door is flung backwards into the bunker as she is bodily smacked with a heavy pile of dyed additive. She hits the polished steel of the corridor, and the auto-clear on her visor sweeps the dye aside to reveal an immense missile following close in the dye's path. She is too busy scrambling out of the way to see the outer shell of the container split away, revealing the TGP in all its horrible glory. She is too busy ducking the TGP's flight from the capsule and down the corridor to see the dye turn brown as the isotope catalyses against the metal of the missile shell. She is too busy diving for cover to see the neon green of the Firedancer shield flicker to life, sealing the bunker entrance with a heat-containing concave barrier.
Then the payload smacks against the wall of the hallway, and within the sealed confines of the fortress, the Ten Gods' Promise is fulfilled.
Shinwa lands with a solid 'thunk' near the join between the left engine and the main body of the Ki-rin's Path, balanced somewhat precariously. Right below him, a large, circular black disk with a clear digital timer is attached to the body of the craft like a blister. A digital clock interface counts down the seconds...less than thirty left.
Everything is falling apart around him, but Shinwa does not have time to worry about that at this particular moment. Kiru will have to deal with whatever he's squeaking about over there on his own, because if this bomb goes off no Nezumi are getting off this rock.
And neither will I. Short story.
He taps the bomb gently with his katana blade. Sometimes that might stop the countdown, but that kind of luck is not with him today.
As he pulls the blade back, he notices that there is no magnetic tug pulling his blade towards the bomb or to the magnetized hull.
18... Makes sense...not every ship uses a steel hull....GOOD!
Shinwa assesses. He draws his blade back. This is going to be tricky on the angle. But he's done worse.
Strike. The blade swings down at an exotic arc, cleaving delicately through the paint, epoxy, and metallic hull of the ship itself, skinning off the thinnest of layers with an odd metallic shriek, and cutting the bomb free of the ship. It slides a foot away but is otherwise is unharmed.
Shinwa takes one stride over to the bomb, his footfalls heavy on the roof of the craft. He gives the bomb a tremendous kick, sending it sailing away from ship as far as it can go in a direction away from the Nezumi.
It flies in a wide arc, assisted by the moon's lower gravity to go much further than it would have otherwise, but Shinwa crouches behind the engine anyway so he doesn't get blown off.
Enough of the toxic dust clears for the coms to come live again, and Shinjo Ketaan's carefree tones ring out to everyone on the coms. The buzzing hum of Radiant fire can be heard in the background.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that, due to unforeseen circumstances, we're going to have to cut your cruise short. For complaints and refunds, please see your nearest Scorpion embass*"
He is cut off by a crackle of static as Tai-Wen seizes the channel.
"Get off the coms," She barks, "Right. Time to go, get ready to dust off."
Are you crazy?! What are you doing setting explosives off for? Kiru thinks with exasperation as he picks himself off the ground. The other Nezumi do so too, and huddle together as they rush into the waiting ship.
Kiru comes last, inspecting his left paw which juts out at a particularly unhealthy angle.
"Foolish Shinwa! Warn Kiru next time!" he growls, mostly to himself, as the cargo bay door closes.
One of the escapees approaches to see if he is okay, but he waves her away, wraps his broken arm in his obi neck scarf, and then sets about inspecting his new kin, the two new pups and their mothers first. As he walks over to the two mothers, his armour materialises back on him as if it had always been there, and his Koiso MkV radiant pistol appears in his hand, which he holsters quickly.
"Time to go, all clear!" Kiru barks into his commlink.
Even as Kiru is speaking into the commlink and the ever-patient pilots have started the thrusters and are slowly raising the ramp that serves as the cargo-bay door, all the Nezumi in the cargo bay can hear the sound of footsteps running across the metallic top of the space vessel, and Kiru can sense the presence of Shinwa running above him, on /top/ of the craft.
Sensing Kiru inside the craft, and knowing he would not be there if the Nezumi were not, Shinwa scrambles as the craft starts to move, sheathing his katana as he runs. He scrambles across the top of the large ship to get to where the cargo bay doors are, an athletic feat probably impossible without Kiru's enhancement. When he arrives at the spot, he finds them already about to close, only a narrow gap to daylight left.
The ronin doesn't hesitate, but throws himself headlong into the gap. The fall sends him rolling down the length of the steep, almost-shut ramp to land with a thunk at M'thack-kir's feet.
The ramp seals shut completely and the ship's shaking reaches full power, flattening nezumi and human to the floor of the cargobay as it thrusts its way into orbit.
M'thack-kir, The Wake Angels Background Story Gennai's Garden: The Aftermath
The Wake Angels softly set down their craft on the dock provided, and as soon as the magnetic clamps take hold, they are up and out of the cockpits. Ketaan almost trips over himself getting out of the hatch, but catches himself at the last minute. He grins sheepishly at Ariel's concerned look, but shakes his head to show he is not injured, and walks to join his squadmates.
"Well, we seem to have pulled through in one piece again," Tai-Wen comments, leaning up against Ariel as they watch the Path landing from the observation platform.
Meanwhile, Kiru is standing in the cargo hold of the ship, chittering reassuringly with his brethren whilst the ship finishes its descent. Only someone who has known him for as long as Rik or Shinwa have would be able to tell that M'thack-kir is severely fatigued, having expended all of his energy in performing minor miracles to cure the majority of the other Nezumi of their ailments or injuries.
At least they should all be safe, now.
"Hmmm," Ariel muses out loud.
"What's on your mind, love?" Tai-Wen asks, pushing herself wearily off his supporting arm.
"It occurs that we really should invite our fellow conspirators to the funeral," Ariel comments with a gaze that seems almost to stare through the landing vessel.
"Is that wise?" Ketaan offers, laying a hand on Ariel's shoulder. "They aren't like us. They might not understand."
"True, they are sky-blind," Ariel agrees, "But they have nonetheless fought alongside us, and their cause was noble. I trust them."
"Hai, there's truth in that, but Ariel my love, you trust everyone," Ketaan says as he squeezes the large man's shoulder.
"Maybe," Ariel acknowledges, only flushing slightly at the jab at his judgement, "But isn't that the best way to live? Better to be hurt than to shield yourself against anyone who would come close and never know a softer touch."
"Alright," Tai-Wen says suddenly, her voice more fatigued than assertive.
"Well, if you've got her vote, who am I to disagree?" Ketaan lets his hand fall off of Ariel, and starts to approach the landing pad. "It would be a poor omen for me to be the voice of reason after all."
Shinwa walks down the boarding ramp from the Cargo bay of the Kirin's Path, speaking with Kiru. He too looks weary, though it is hard to tell why. Perhaps reflecting the mood of the whole crew, or the mission has just earned him a few more gray hairs.
"Itsuki said he has managed to find us a place to stay until been arranged for the night at the Sweet Yomi hotel. Just our sort of cheap inn. If they'll be all right for a while," he gestures at the ship behind him, "you might be able to scout out the best path to get everyone there while I pick up some supplies."
He hesitates and adds, "I will need to pick up some work to cover the cost. We may be a few days."
Kiru nods before whispering, "Shinwa saved many lives. Kiru owes Shinwa a great debt."
The three Unicorn are just ahead of them; when they all meet M'thack-kir bows very low. He is too tired to smile.
"Hail, our victorious comrades," Ketaan smarms without a second thought as the pair approaches. He wafts into a bow that lacks a certain airiness when he does so in only his skintight jumpsuit. "A job well done, and though it did not go as quietly as we had hoped, the results were most acceptable."
"The Angels seemed prepared for the exact circumstance," Kiru replies. "Most impressive. M'thack-kir thanks the Angels for their assistance."
Shinwa also bows as the Wake Angels approach. "Yes. You performed a great kindness. Thank you." He looks up at the large engines of the Path that rise above him. "I hope your skills serve you long and well."
"It is what we do," Ketaan replies with all the modesty the Fortunes gave a peacock.
"Well, it's your idea. You present it," Tai-Wen insists gently as she and Ariel approach.
"Of course dear," Ariel says, turning to face the odd pair. "We plan to hold a ceremony for the fallen, and humbly ask if you would join us. You need not participate if you feel uncomfortable doing so, but you may observe if you choose."
Kiru's ear twitches and he immediately casts his gaze around the area. "Fallen? M'thack-kir has detected none here. Nor ever. How do the Angels know of the Fallen?"
His hand flexes, rather ostensibly near his holstered gun.
Ariel gives the nezumi an odd look, while Ketaan and Tai-Wen nearly simultaneously roll their eyes.
"Apologies, friend. You seem to have mistaken my meaning. I speak of the dead, those killed during our raid."
He tilts his head to the side, as though doing so will provide better perspective in this confusing situation.
"The Angels wish to allow our enemies to live on in Yesterday? No. M'thack-kir thanks the Angels for their help, and extends his wishes that the Angels prosper in the land of tomorrow, but M'thack-kir would bring disgrace to all Nezumi by participating or even witnessing such a thing."
At least his hand has moved back away from his pistol?
Ariel nods slowly, a little unsure.
"I... am not sure that I understand, so I would ask you to explain, please. I do not wish there to be any bad blood between us, whether intentional or not. After you do, I will explain our intentions. Is this acceptable?"
Kiru shrugs. "Nothing to explain, really. Nezumi do not try to remember dead enemies, because they would live on in the Field of Dreams. That is reserved only for those of Great Name."
He laughs joyfully.
"It's hard enough for Nezumi to remember anything, so we prioritize kith and kin so they can live on."
Ketaan pipes in with, "Not so dissimilar to Yomi then. I suppose I follow. Seems strange that their entry would depend on people remembering them rather than their own personal enlightenment though."
"Don't be an ass," Tai-Wen says, lightly slugging him on the arm. "Our ways seem no less strange I would imagine," She turns back to the Nezumi and explains, "Long time ago, tradition was that the swords of those slain in combat would be returned to the families. A kind of kindness mixed with stupidity, I suppose, so that they would know that they had died and to let them know who to seek revenge against. Superstitious nonsense, but it did apparently cut down on angry ghosts."
"Thing is," Ketaan adds, "In this day and age you can kill dozens, hundreds without knowing their names. If they had swords, they are probably lost to the Void. If their families learn of their demise, it might be years later once the bureaucracy fishes their names out of a casualty list. So the only real people to make apologies to are the Ten Gods. That's where this soft-hearted fellow got the idea."
"Essentially," Ariel says, seizing the conversation before it can become too off-base or blasphemous, "We proclaim our deeds to the Gods of the Dead, that they may know who sends the souls of the slain to their halls for judgement. We will never know who we have killed this day, but by proclaiming ourselves their killers, we accept the burden of the deed. If we acted justly, then the Ten Gods will judge our enemies harshly. If we did otherwise, then the souls of the falsely slain with be appeased knowing that our punishment awaits. Instead of returning swords to the living, we return souls to the Cycle. Whatever the result justice is done."
"That's a nice gesture. M'thack-kir understands."
He looks Ariel dead in the eye. "Kiru is glad to have met the Angels. Kiru reaffirms that Kiru cannot participate, not even observe. To do so would be an affront to Nezumi tradition, and M'thack-kir cannot defy tradition, for it would weaken Name."
He bows very low, and almost perfectly, too. "Gomen nasai."
Kiru holds the bow for several seconds, to demonstrate to these Rokugani his sincerity. Then he smiles and reaches into his neck scarf.
"Rik is not Nezumi, though! Rik can observe, if Kind-Angel doesn't mind a weight on his shoulder?"
"Of course, Kiru-san. Your ways are not ours, but thank you for enlightening me," Ariel responds with a bow of his own. As he rises, he looks askance at the garment in question. "Ah... remind me, who is Rik?"
"I'll go. I would like to."
Shinwa's voice is sober. "Rik shouldn't. People have different ways. But I will go. Who knows what parts the Scorpion would have had in this story if their feet hadn't been planted along the path they were? Even the worst of them ; samurai sometimes do insane things for duty. We did not speak to them to find out. I will go."
It is not visible on his face, but the Nezumi picks up a quick scent of fear in some of those words, though he knows for a fact Shinwa has no concern with /very/ different customs than his own.
Kiru is about to answer Ariel when Shinwa speaks.
He shrugs, rubs his scarf, and explains to Ariel, "Rik. Friend. Angels and Shinwa are all Rik."
He glances at Shinwa, nose twitching briefly. "Kiru will determine a route of safe passage for the Tribe."
With a final bow, he turns to leave.
Shinwa nods at Kiru. "Thank you, Kiru-san. It will be all right. I will talk to you later."
"Of course," Ariel says, bowing once more to Kiru as he leaves. He rises, and then nods to his fellow Angels. "Engineering then?"
"I seem to recall an appropriate place from the last time we landed here," Tai-Wen agrees. She turns and makes for a quieter section of the space-docks. As she does, she pauses and tosses a look over here shoulder, "This way, Shinwa-san."
The Angels, putting on their deck-clothes over their flightsuits as they go, lead the Ronin past the exits to the more populated areas of the Garden. They stop briefly at a simple metal hatch, which Tai-Wen enters alone. The sounds of conversation can be heard within, then a pair of local mechanics in work clothes exit the room, bowing to the samurai as they go. Tai-Wen pops her head out, then waves everyone inside.
The interior is a small, cramped box of a room, more of a workspace than a social area. Tai-Wen casually moves everything on the desk to the side, clearing a space for the ceramic bowl that Ariel sets on the center of the area. Ketaan pulls out a white-stained cloth, as well as a small pot which he sets down next to the other items. Ariel whispers a quick prayer, and a ball of crackling flame whooshes to life in the ash-stained bowl.
"Are you watching, or participating?" Tai-Wen asks.
Shinwa follows, eyebrows creased like a man examining a mystery to which, perhaps, there is no answer.
"I think in this it is this one's place to observe," he offers quietly. "If that pleases you."
Lest like ripples on the pond...
The ronin watches all things.
"As you will," She says with a shrug, and turns back to the table. She nods to her fellow Angels, and Ketaan picks up the pot. He removes the lid, and dips two fingers inside, smearing a line of white paint across his eyes.
"I am Shinjo Ketaan, blood of the Goddess. This day I have delivered to you a unit of Chuubushi, their names unknown to me. Ten Gods, hear my prayer."
He passes the pot to Ariel, who has already placed his glasses in an exterior pocket of the flight jacket. The stripe drawn across his eyes stands out in stark contrast to the dusky color of his skin.
"I am Moto Ariel, of the People of Steppes and Sands. None have I slain, though my magics have aided in the killing of many this day. Ten Gods, hear my prayer."
The pot is passed to Tai-Wen, who starts speaking immediately in unapologetic tones, before she has even draw her mark.
"I am Koshuud Tai-Wen, the second generation to bear that name. This day I have cleansed a bunker in fire, killing an unknown number of strangers. Ten Gods, hear my prayer."
The pot is set down, and the Angels reach out to join hands over the table, their forms casting dancing shadows on the walls from the light of the fire. Ketaan speaks again, and the cycle begins anew.
"May you judge the souls that we send you swiftly and fairly, as we will one day hope to receive such judgement."
"May our enemies find it in their hearts to eschew vengeance, as we promise to do when our times come at last."
"This prayer do we send to you, as we hope our enemies will do for us when fortune no longer favors us."
They speak the final line together, their voices forming a practiced harmony that echoes off the hull-metal of the workshop.
"We are agents of your blessings. May they fly far from us."
Shinwa nods once, silently, acknowledging the ceremony and the responsibility, It is a heavy one to carry.
There is a moment of silence, then Ketaan reaches for the cloth and wipes the paint from his face. He passes it along, and then starts packing the altar away as the fire snuffs itself out.
"Thank you for attending, Shinwa-san," Ariel says as he scrubs the last of the paint from his face. "Were we an army unit, then perhaps there would be a more formal ritual. But we must make do."
"You honor me by inviting me. Thank you." He gives a sincere bow to the Angels. "Although those that fell by my hand will have their blades found and, I hope, returned, I see the significance of this type of ending. Even though it is unfamiliar to me. I have no idea what the Brotherhood of Shinsei would have to say about such a thing." He straightens.
"As for business, all else should be attended to. And I hope you find nothing wanting. If there are issues, I can be reached for a few days at least at the Sweet Yomi hotel. Though placing space between yourself and us should the Scorpion have inquiries might be a very good idea."
He gives a small smirk. "And for the rest, I am glad to find you all true Children of the Wind. If the threads of our stories cross again, that would not displease me."
"Who can say what the Brotherhood would think?" Tai-Wen yawns as she finishes cleaning up. "Regardless, I would say everything has concluded satisfactorily. Now then, I'm due for a nap."
"Indeed, we should all be on our way. May you go with the Fortunes, Shinwa-san," Ariel mirrors the Ronin's bow.
"And if you need us, we'll be in the wind. It is our way after all," Ketaan adds with a wink. "Safe travels, friend, until we meet again."
"Safe travels until we meet again." Shinwa inclines his head in a gesture of farewell, and the exits through the simple metal hatch and down the stairs to depart.
As soon as he leaves, the panel of lights that illuminate the room immediately go out, the sensors for some reason failing to detect the presence of three more people within, and casting all three into inky darkness.
M'thack-kir, Hida Tetsuko Background Story Gennai's Garden: Late Night at the Hotel
It is raining, and the light of the neon signs reflects brightly in the shiny streets. Gennai's Garden is actually a generally pleasant planet to take leave on, and the sake is good, but the locals are all particularly pious and not many are out roaming the streets at night.
None of the locals, in their homes, discos, sake bars, or temples, know what might bring a Hida Pragmatist to their planet outside the 'Sweet Yomi' hotel, but the Hida herself knows.
Tetsuko found the fresh air and bright lights a little unnerving. She was used to the controlled, almost claustrophobic envisionment of the Kasai. The chuubushi barracks on board didn't leave much room for privacy. But there was something in enjoying simple pleasures. And in forgetting things. She headed into the hotel bar. Any eyes that looked her way when she entered looked quickly away when they saw the tall, broad-shouldered Hida woman. She wore a dusty blue kimono over a tight black body suit. She sat at the bar and ordered shotgun, straight. The bartender chose not to question her and when he was done serving offered a courteous smile. At a safe distance.
The hour is late enough that the bartender's smile looks sleepy as he pours the drink, not bothering to make conversation or do much else than cleaning up after the day's business. The clerks at the front desk are lazily engaged in their own quiet conversations and try to avoid the Hida's gaze. This is not a fancy place after all, and traffic is very quiet, especially on a weeknight.
A phone call to the desk, however, seems to cause a significant stir to the clerks there, and suddenly there is large amount of quiet chatter. Both of them look towards the Hida, as if interested in speaking with her, but finally seem to decide it's safer just to leave her be.
About ten minutes later, a tall, ruggedly-handsome ronin with long black hair throws open the door, looking around the hotel suspiciously. He is dressed in a plain trenchcoat braced with plain metal armor-plates in the shoulders for a small amount of additional protection, and it is clear from the way his coat moves he carries a daisho on his obi. His eyes fall on Tetsuko thoughtfully for a moment, but he ignores her to turn and speak with the clerks. You can see him remove a fistful of credit sticks from his obi and lay it on the desk. The clerk sweeps them up.
Tetsuko turns slightly at the arrival of the ronin, glancing over her shoulder for a moment then turning back. Wave-men, they had their uses at times but other than that they couldn't be trusted. She struck the bar with her fist and called for another drink.
The bartender quickly nods, and fetches a clean cup. He adds some ice and starts to pour.
The door to the hotel opens, and two beings of roughly humaniod size, but with the faces, limbs, and tails of a rodent, wearing very cheap cotton yakuta, enter the hotel. They peer around cautiously.
The two at the front desk back away nervously and point to the elevator.
The ronin passes one of them the keycard he has been given and gestures to the elevator also, hurrying the pair along.
Of course, by this time, they are joined by three more... one clearly female and holding a small...well, it seems an infant.
Another three...a female and two small, but mobile ones...probably children?
Four more...the lobby is getting crowded.
The first two hurry hesitantly towards the elevator and push the button.
"Kiru-san..." the ronin says... "It looks like they could use a small amount of assistance getting to the rooms. Could you please help everyone get upstairs? They are in rooms 308 to 327."
The bartender startles as he realized he has overflowed his glass while staring, and hurries to fetch a fresh one.
Tetsuko turns to stare. She had seen Nezumi before, but not in such numbers. "Is this some sort of infestation?" Her voice carries across the bar to the lobby. Surprised, not hostile, but with a steel edge.
The ronin steps smoothly past the group of Nezumi to intercept Tetsuko's gaze, knowing full well that Kiru is unlikely to be charitable if he hears. They don't need trouble.
He takes in the woman with a quick once-over, and then turns sideways to look up towards the mirror that hangs above the bottles behind the bar. "Hida-sama. I see a group of paying customers visiting with the permission of the Asako." His face is perfectly calm. "If you see some problem with the hotel that is causing you, personally, trouble in any way, then please let me know so I can avoid the problem. I would prefer to avoid problems right now if possible."
Tetsuko looked down at the ronin. "Perhaps I should be wary of fleas then, with that many rodents about." The ronin pauses, as if just about to say something provocative in response, but he instead exhales slowly and bows, deeply, appropriate to his position as a mere ronin.
"Wariness of fleas for a samurai is wise when speaking with a ronin, Hida-sama." he offers blandly. His tone is oddly formal and measured, like samurai from an old B-Movie. "Fleas have long been a part of the story of the ronin, the symbol of the hard life on the road and our uncouth manners. But my manners should not trouble you for much longer."
The nezumi are leaving the lobby as the elevators fill and close and carry them off, one load at a time. But more enter. Probably 30 nezumi all told are passing through.
Tetsuko snorted in derision. "It's not you that is troubling, wave-man, but the company you keep."
Kiru does as he is told, not taking issue with the insults offered—he has a Tribe to protect. The vagabond leads his remaining kin up to their rooms, choosing to take the stairs instead of the lift (after all, Shinwa's rotten luck might cause the elevators to break down midtrip). He whispers reassuringly to a worried mother, even as something rustles out of his neck scarf and darts off to climb up the wall nearby.
The next time the offensive Crab samurai-ko goes to taste her drink, she notices it has three rodent droppings floating in it, only just in time to prevent herself from putting the glass to her lips.
The glass drops from Tetsuko's hands with a smash. With a massive arm, she clears the bar of glasses and bottles, knocking them all to the ground. She also collects a harmless goldfish in a bowl, the bowl falling to the ground and caught just in time by the bartender. She takes out her tetsubo, bringing it down on the bar with a splintering crack. "What sort of joke is this?" She thundered at the bartender, the ronin, the Nezumi and anyone else who cared to listen.
Shinwa, and only Shinwa, hears a quiet whisper in his ear: "There's more where that came from if angry boisterous woman wants some more."
Rik has by now comfortably scampered up Shinwa's boot and clinging to the back of his coat between his shoulder blades.
Shinwa exhales slowly....for those who knew him well it would be a long-suffering sigh...and steps back away from the angry Hida. He keeps his face impassive and his voice neutral.
"Hida-sama, since neither I, nor the Nezumi, nor any other visible being were near you or your drink, and you watched the barkeeper clean your glass and prepare your drink, I must conclude that the answer is that your various invocations have inspired the wrath of the Fortune Ekibyogami and she has given you the courtesy of a warning."
His gaze is calm but steady.
"Now, since the magistrates may have already been called, since this is a Phoenix planet, we may deal with this warning of the fortunes in one of three ways."
He brushes his trenchcoat back to reveal the tsuka and tsuba of an antique steel katana.
"First, I can offer to acquire for you a drink and we shall toast Ekibyogami together in the hopes she avoids us both. I can speak of you kindly to the magistrates and we will hope all will be interpreted as a great misunderstanding."
"Second, you can heed Ekibyogami's warning and leave to toast in whatever company you so choose."
He lays the top of his hand on his tsuka, but his posture is still casual.
"Or third, you can attempt to continue your destruction and I will feel obliged to put my blade in service of these most gracious people," he gestures at the bartender and clerks, "to protect them and their property. As I said, I would prefer to avoid problems. But I have guest obligation to protect the home of my host when it is under threat."
Dueling with a sugar glider between your shoulder blades will be an interesting challenge.
Dying while dueling with a sugar glider between your shoulder blades while defending a Phoenix cheap hotel where you put up a bunch of Nezumi for the night from angry Hida bushi...well some stories end in a way that must be considered more 'Unusual' rather than 'Glorious'.
The lobby and bar were silent, everyone still and watching the Hida. The tension was palpable, it was as if everyone was holding their breath.
"All I know is this," Tetsuko said, meeting the ronin's eyes, one hand still on her tetsubo. "Until the rodents showed up, there were no rat droppings."
Shinwa slowly moves his hand away from the hilt of his katana, but it is still near it.
"I would not know, Hida-sama. Do you come here often? A lady like yourself I would expect in a far more respectable establishment than this."
Is he....flirting? He keeps his face neutral. It is hard to say.
If he was flirting, Tetsuko either didn't notice or didn't care. She opened her mouth to speak, and had she done so there might have been violence. But instead, another Hida entered the hotel. Just as tall as Tetsuko, just as brawny and with more than a passing family resemblance. He surveyed the room for a moment, a long moment for everyone else. With two Hida bushi there, anything could happen. But he wasn't angry, he seemed more...amused. He walked up to Tetsuko, barely surprised at the damage she had caused. He had clearly seen the like before. "Tetsuko-chan, what happened?" He asked, his voice gently mocking her. "Do I have to explain to Ayumu-sama why my nikutai is in the lock up again?" Surpringly, these words seemed to soften Tetsuko. She even looked a little ashamed. "It's...rats...Nobu-kun," she said. "Fleas, droppings...pesky things." Nobu laughed, a big hearty laugh full of merriment. He clapped Tetsuko on the back. "Is that all? Surely there are others more worthy of your strength imoto." Tetsuko nodded, looking down and walking out, avoiding the stares of everyone. Nobu clapped some currency on the bar, more than enough for repairs as well a few drinks. He made a bow to the bartender and the ronin. Courteous, even for a Crab. "Sorry about the mess," he said, then followed his sister out.
Shinwa returns the bow with excellent, if slightly dated, courtesy. He manages to keep his face free of a smirk, but it is dancing behind his eyes. He does not answer the Crab, but as he rises his eyes follow them out thoughtfully.
Once they are gone, he finds a seat at an intact portion of the bar near the poor goldfish. With a gesture of his hand, he summons the bartender over, and says, "Something decent. Something strong. Bring two. And domo arigatou."
When the bartender brings his drink and sets it down before him, Shinwa turns to the goldfish, raises his glass in a toast, and says, "To Ekibyogami, may she pass us by, and to Fukurokujin, Kingyo-san. For we have both lived to write another chapter."
The goldfish's mouth opens and closes in silent agreement.