carpedavid's Land of the Crane (Updated 11 May, 2006)

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First Post
Takayama and Tsumago, Part 5

Thanks Meleeguy! I'm glad that you're enjoying it, especially since it's not your prefered genre. In honor of your post being the 100th reply, I hereby dedicate this update to you.


Fukasu found her companions soaking in the kuramoto's baths. Kakeru had his head tossed back and his sake jug pressed to his lips when she entered the room; Takashi and Musashi were both in a state of deep relaxation; and Kyoji was in the process of putting his robes back on. Everyone turned to look at her when she slid open the rice-paper door.

"Guys, I just saw something suspicious," she began excitedly, "I was out flying around and I saw Tsumago-san..." She stopped, slid the door to the bath shut, and continued in a whisper, "I saw Tsumago-san give a peasant a note or letter of some sort, and then I followed the peasant through town. He's headed south toward Takayama."

Kakeru dropped his sake jug, "That's definitely suspicious."

"We can go catch him," Kyoji said to Fukasu as he knotted his belt. Then he turned to the Kakeru, Takashi, and Musashi, "You guys catch up."

The winged half-oni and the straw-haired monk took off into the night, leaving the samurai, the shaman, and the bald monk to hurriedly fumble with clothing and armor. After a few minutes of running and winging, Kyoji and Fukasu caught sight of the peasant's lantern bobbing in rhythm to his step. They slowed their pursuit, and followed well out of sight as they waited for their companions to arrive.

It didn't take long before they heard the clack-clack-clack of Musashi's armor approaching in the darkness. Once the group was reunited, they rushed the peasant, surrounding him within a few seconds. The man stopped in his tracks, shrieked in fear, and dropped his lantern.

Musashi stepped forward, hand on the handle of his katana, and glared at the peasant. "We are the representatives of our Lord Kurosawa," he growled, "You must do as we command." The peasant cowered before the man who had the power and right to end his life at any moment.

"Give me the letter," barked Musashi. The peasant extended a quivering hand, and Musashi snatched the letter away. He broke the seal and began reading the contents. After half a minute, he stopped, looked at the peasant, and frowned. "It's a love note," he said with disdain as he flipped it over to read the name of the addressee.

"Matsu," he read, and then looked at his companions, who simply shrugged. "Who is Matsu?" he growled as he thrust the letter in the peasant's face.

"I don't know," the peasant quailed.

"How can you not know?" Musashi spat

"I mean...she's just a servant. But I've never actually met her."

A kuramoto having an affair with a servant? How vulgar. Musashi leaned in close, "Then how do you deliver the letter?"

"I...I...I just slide the letter under one of the doors in Takayama's house."

Kakeru sighed and rubbed his head, "I thought we had something."

"I'm sorry, everybody," Fukasu said glumly. Steam rolled out of her mouth and rose into the cool night air as she grumbled to herself.

"It's ok, Fukasu-san," said Takashi, "We all thought this was going to be the big break we needed."

"Unless," Kakeru said, "Mieko-toji knows about the affair, and she's trying to destroy Takayama because she can't get to the woman herself." His speculation was greeted by a round of "Aahs" and "Hmmms," but the group came to no particular consensus.

Musashi refolded the letter and handed it to the peasant, "If anyone asks why the seal is broken, tell them that you were clumsy and that you dropped it."

"Yes, Kurosawa-sama, thank, you."

The group watched the peasant's lantern bob and sway as he hurried down the road. Once the light had shrunk to little more than a pinprick, they began the trek back into town. Kakeru rubbed his head, Musashi watched the fields for signs of movement, and Fukasu kept herself occupied by kicking a small stone down the path.

None of the adventurers felt up to making conversation, so they walked in silence – their only stimuli the cool breeze that blew across the fields, the sound of dirt crunching underfoot, and the rhythmic thunk, thunk, thunk of the stone skipping down the road. After a few minutes, Fukasu inadvertently kicked the stone into another rock, which caused it to skip off into the fields. It made a small splash as it hit the standing water, and then all was quiet again.

As the group continued their slow journey, they approached a small copse of trees that stood just to the side of the road. Musashi stared intently at it, but spotted nothing out of the ordinary. The five heroes had nearly passed the trees when a flurry of movement startled them; four black-clad figures jumped out of the shadows and drew their ninja-to.

Kyoji was the first to react. Ninja or not, these were still human beings, and he wasn't willing to commit violence without giving them a chance to surrender. "Lay down your weapons and leave now," he offered, "and we'll spare your lives."

Those who attack my lord gain no quarter from me, Musashi thought as he charged the nearest figure. The combination of his momentum and the speed of his blade sent the ninja's head flying through the night air. A thick gush of arterial blood coated the young samurai's face in the second before the man's body realized that he was dead.

Upon seeing their companion fall, the remaining three ninja sprang into action. The tallest of them revealed herself to be the leader when she pointed to Kakeru and yelled, "Kill the shaman, first!" The two remaining followers tumbled past Fukasu and Takashi, who in turn charged the leader.

Kakeru gasped as the first ninja's sword opened a gash across his belly, then howled in pain as the second one pierced his kidney.

While the ninja took turns shoving their blades into the young shaman's midsection, the half oni and the bald monk pummeled the leader. Takashi drove his fist into the woman's plexus just in time to see Fukasu slide her ninja-to between the woman's ribs. The assault was too much for the leader, who tumbled backward out of their reach.

Once she was out of their reach, she grabbed a bamboo vial from her belt and gulped down the contents. Kakeru followed suit. He staggered out of his opponents' reach and invoked the healing power of the spirits. A warm blue glow washed over his body, sealing the gash across his torso.

"I gave you a chance to surrender," Kyoji said sadly as he charged the first of Kakeru's attackers. Musashi followed, and the combination of the monk's fist and the samurai's blade sent the man crumpling to the ground.

Takashi closed the distance between himself and the leader, lowered his torso, and rammed his shoulder into her midsection. As his momentum carried him forward, he placed his hands behind her knees and yanked upward. The combination of the two forces jerked her off her feet, and she slammed onto the ground with a loud thud. Takashi landed on top of her, deflecting her weapon hand with one arm, and grinding an elbow in her face with the other.

Fukasu turned to see the remaining ninja facing off against Kyoji and Musashi. Realizing that he was distracted, she charged across the dirt road. This is what you get for attacking my cousin, she thought as she buried her ninja-to in the man's back.

He yelled in pain as the blade sliced through his chest, and then gasped for air as his lung collapsed. He stumbled forward, pulled out a bamboo vial of his own, and gulped down the healing liquid contained within. Fukasu glared at the man, and lunged again, yelling, "You get away from him!" He screamed again, dropped the vial and ninja to, and clutched at yet another hole in his chest.

Realizing that a blow from his katana could conceivably kill the man, Musashi sheathed his blade, stepped forward, and punched him in the face. The ninja wobbled for a moment, then his eyes rolled back into his head, and he crumpled.

Kyoji turned to see Takashi choke out the leader with her own arm, so he took a moment to survey the surroundings for other potential threats. Finding none, he turned back to his companions. "Is everyone ok?" he asked.

"Are you ok, Kakeru-kun?" Fukasu asked worriedly.

"I'm fine!" Kakeru said unsteadily. He bent over, placed his hands on his knees, and vomited. He looked up to see the spirit of his grandfather standing over him with a look of disdain.

"Too much sake!" his grandfather chastised him.

The five heroes bound the two unconscious ninja to a tree, then placed the other two bodies in a pile in front of them. "We've only got one head," Fukasu pointed out as they doused the bodies with oil.

"I found it!" Kyoji said, as he used a branch to fish the missing cranium out of the paddy. He gently set it down in the pile, and then Kakeru used a minor bit of magic to revive the unconscious saboteurs. A second later, Fukasu ignited the bodies. She found the warmth of the flames to be a welcome, if unexpected comfort.

The two ninja sat - bound to the tree - while they watched their companions slowly turn to ash. After the fires died out, Musashi turned toward them and spent a minute in contemplation. "Who hired you?" he finally asked the woman, confident that, as the leader, she would know more than her companion.

"I can't tell you that," she said defiantly, then spat at his feet. Her companion smiled smugly.

Musashi smacked her across the face with the back of his fist, splitting her lip, then repeated his question, "Who hired you?"

"A Kaga ninja never reveals the secrets of her employer," she said a little less confidently as blood poured down over her chin. Her companion stopped smiling.

Musashi leaned in close and drove his heel into her outstretched ankle. He was pleased to see tears well up in her eyes, so he repeated the action. This time she yelped, but said nothing. He frowned, stood back up, and drew his katana. As he raised it slowly above his head, the woman began to whimper, and her partner began to hyperventilate. As his blade reached the apex of his swing, he was fully prepared to cleave the woman's skull in two, but she finally spoke.

"It was Mieko-toji," she blurted out, then gasped for breath, "the woman from the brewery." She looked up at the young samurai as tears began to run down her cheeks. "Please don't kill me," she said as she began to sob, "Please, please don't kill me." Her partner's breathing was quick and shallow, and he was visibly shaking as he struggled against his bonds. She looked at the five heroes who stood in judgment of her, then looked at her partner before returning her gaze to Musashi, "Oh, gods, please don't kill me!"

"Very well," Musashi said as he lowered his blade. "You will go back to your clan, and you will tell them that the Kaga are not welcome in Kurosawa lands."

Kakeru untied the woman and helped her to her feet. She looked around nervously, then bowed to Musashi. "Thank you, Kurosawa-sama," she said between sobs, "Thank you. Thank you. May the spirits bless you and keep your clan safe." She glanced briefly at her partner, who still sat bound to the tree, then took off running into the cold, dark night.

Musashi paused for a moment as the remaining ninja looked up at him with wide, wild eyes - but only for a moment. A second later, he took the man's head.

"Well, then..." Kakeru said.

"Yeah," Takashi agreed.

The party burned the last body, and then quickly ran back to town. As they approached the kuramoto's manor, they spent several minutes discussing strategy. From what they had observed, Mieko slept in a room on the far side of the manor, and they figured it should be easy to march right in and subdue her.

"So we go in, grab her, and then present our evidence to Tsumago-san?" Takashi asked.

"Yeah, that's the plan," Kakeru replied.

"Ok," said Fukasu, "We just need to make sure that there aren't any more of those ninja she hired hanging around."

"Good point, Fu-chan," Musashi said.

Once they reached the manor, the five heroes became very cautious. Kakeru and Kyoji scoured the surroundings for signs of potential attackers, but found none. With Musashi in the lead, they crept down the hallway, trying to avoid awakening anyone who might get in the way. When they reached her room, the party fell into formation. Fukasu and Kyoji flanked the door, Kakeru stood back to the side, and Takashi hovered behind the young samurai, ready to tumble out of danger.

Musashi took a deep breath to steady himself, slid open the door, and charged forward. Though ready for a horde of ninja to jump out of the shadows, he was fully expecting to find the toji slumbering on her futon. Instead, what he saw chilled him to the bone: Mieko was standing on the other side of the room, in between two smoldering braziers. At her feet was an iron bowl that was emitting a sickly green smoke, and in her hand was a dagger.

As the young samurai dashed forward, she sliced open her palm with the dagger. Blood tumbled from her hand, cascading in rivulets toward the iron bowl at her feet. Musashi reached for his sword, but gravity was quicker. Mieko looked up at him and screeched as the braziers on either side of her burst to life, "I won't let you take Akira from me!"

Next: Blood magic, more blood magic, and an unexpected twist...
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So I just read the update, and I must say, Great!

One question though. Was it Kyoji and Fukasu who ran ahead, or Takashi and Fukasu?

See below:
"We can go catch him," Kyoji said to Fukasu as he knotted his belt. Then he turned to the Kakeru, Takashi, and Musashi, "You guys catch up."

The winged half-oni and the straw-haired monk took off into the night, leaving the samurai, the shaman, and the bald monk to hurriedly fumble with clothing and armor. After a few minutes of running and winging, Takashi and Fukasu caught sight of the peasant's lantern bobbing in rhythm to his step. They slowed their pursuit, and followed well out of sight as they waited for their companions to arrive.

I only ask since I can't clearly remember the entire gaming session.

Other than that, good job, keep up the good work. Now I'm gonna get back to work...ugh...


First Post
Kiwifudgechocobo said:
So I just read the update, and I must say, Great!

One question though. Was it Kyoji and Fukasu who ran ahead, or Takashi and Fukasu?

See below:
"We can go catch him," Kyoji said to Fukasu as he knotted his belt. Then he turned to the Kakeru, Takashi, and Musashi, "You guys catch up."

The winged half-oni and the straw-haired monk took off into the night, leaving the samurai, the shaman, and the bald monk to hurriedly fumble with clothing and armor. After a few minutes of running and winging, Takashi and Fukasu caught sight of the peasant's lantern bobbing in rhythm to his step. They slowed their pursuit, and followed well out of sight as they waited for their companions to arrive.

I only ask since I can't clearly remember the entire gaming session.

Other than that, good job, keep up the good work. Now I'm gonna get back to work...ugh...

Ah, good catch. It is, in fact, supposed to be Kyoji and Fukasu. I'll fix that in the post.


First Post
Takayama and Tsumago, Part 6

Mahou – the forbidden magic. Tainted magic. Blood magic. To command the all-consuming, primal forces of Yomi, a practitioner must make a sacrifice of life energy – most often her own blood. Even for those willing to make such a sacrifice, mahou carries a high price, for the negative energy that fuels the magic inexorably corrupts the user, eating away at the body and twisting the soul.

Because it had been outlawed by the Mikado – the penalty for practicing it is death – and because of the deleterious effects caused by its practice, mahou had always been the province of the evil, of the insane, and of the desperate. Standing before the party with wild eyes and a malevolent grin, blood pouring from the gash in her palm, the lovesick toji of Tsumago Sakagura appeared to be all three.

Fukasu was the first into the room after Musashi. She darted in ahead of Takashi, and, in order to avoid running into the samurai, had to tumble into one of the braziers. As she rolled up to her feet, she reached out to grab the iron plate, but the brazier slipped off the end of her fingertips. The flaming coals spilled out onto the tatami and set the rice paper wall behind Mieko ablaze.

The toji ignored the wall of flame behind her and began chanting in an unknown tongue. The effect, to Musashi, was like the drone of a hundred-thousand flies. The buzzing reverberated inside his head, drowning out the voices shouting around him. At the same time, his field of vision contracted, causing the room and his companions to disappear. The only thing he could hear, the only thing he could see, was Mieko.

"Get out of my head!" the young samurai yelled as he broke free of the woman's hypnotic spell. He stepped forward, drew his katana, and slashed at Mieko, who crumpled under the force of the blow.

"Sprits of water and rain," Kakeru implored as he dashed forward, "come to my aid." A second later, a gush of water burst from his fingertips and smothered the coals and the flames. Only once the last ember had completely faded did Kakeru allow himself to relax.

"Well...that was unexpected," Takashi put words to everyone's thoughts.

"Yeah," Fukasu replied.

"Hmm," Kakeru said, then bent down and checked on Mieko's condition. Her pulse was weak, and her breath shallow, but she seemed stable for the time being. "She's still alive," he said grimly.

"Should we finish her?" asked Fukasu. She looked around at her friends, but nobody volunteered an answer.

"I'll go get Tsumago-san," Kyoji said quietly.

After the straw haired monk returned with the kuramoto, the group spent several minutes relaying their encounter with the ninja and their attempt to confront Mieko, though they specifically avoid mentioning their encounter with the peasant and their subsequent reading of the love note.

"What should we do with Mieko-toji?" asked Musashi.

The kuramoto spent several minutes glaring at the unconscious body of his brewmaster. "She's a witch," he said, finally, "Finish her."


The fire burned with the fury of a woman scorned. After Musashi had removed Mieko's head, Tsumago's servants had hastily constructed a pyre in front of the manor. The five heroes had searched her room, finding a diary that chronicled her obsession with Tsumago, a contract with the Kaga ninja clan for the salting of Takayama's fields, a scroll inscribed with mahou spells, and a sheaf of recipes for brewing poison.

"Well, now we can tell Takayama-san what's going on," Kyoji had said. The other four pilgrims nodded their heads solemnly, then filed outside to join the servants, various kurabito, and curious townspeople to watch Mieko burn.

The blazing fire lit the night and cut the spring chill as it consumed the fallen toji's body. Her hair withered, her skin charred, and the fat in her flesh sizzled when it met the flame. Mieko's body was virtually unrecognizable when Kakeru noticed movement coming from within the pyre. He watched in awe as the woman's spirit emerged. Gaunt, translucent, and wearing the same wild expression that she when she died, Mieko's spirit clawed her way out of her carbonized body.

She screeched and wailed as she emerged, though Kakeru couldn't hear her, and once she was free from her corpse, she began floating up toward the night sky. The young shaman wasn't sure how to react, since he's never seen this sort of behavior before – indeed, he'd never actually seen a spirit leave its body. Is this because she was tainted? he wondered.

Suddenly, he had his answer, for out of the fire emerged two huge, black-skinned oni. His face blanched as he watched the creatures of the netherworld grab Mieko's spirit and drag it, clawing and screaming, back down into the burning pyre.

Fukasu looked over to see her cousin's ashen face. "Kakeru-kun, what's going on?" she asked.

Kakeru shook his head slowly, "You don't want to know." He grimaced as the woman's spirit disappeared from view, and he looked away.

To his surprise, a small, blue-skinned, childlike spirit stood next to him. He was watching the spectacle, and Kakeru could see that his large, black eyes were filled with tears. What? Oh, it's a house spirit. He leaned over, "Why are you crying, little one?"

The spirit looked up at Kakeru, who was easily twice his height and ten times his weight, and sniffled as a tear ran down his cheek. "It's very sad," he said in a voice like a butterfly whispering.

"Why is it sad?"

"She was very nice to me," he said, bashfully, "She would always feed me some of her natto at breakfast."

"Oh." Kakeru paused for a second as he began to second-guess himself, "Did you know she was using bad magic?"

"Yes," he said as a tear ran down his face, "It was a terrible thing. But it is still very sad."

Fukasu watched Kakeru talk to the empty air and frowned. Is he ok? From what little of the one sided conversation she could overhear, it sounded like he was talking to a spirit. A spirit? She shivered, those spirits are everywhere!

"Yes, it is very sad," the young shaman reached out and patted the little, blue spirit on the head.


The next morning, the five heroes left to return to Takayama. "Welcome, Kurosawa-sama," the kuramoto greeted them from behind the table where they had shared a number of meals. "Forgive me for not standing, but I'm feeling unwell this morning."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Takayama-san," Kakeru said diplomatically as he and his friends took their seats around the table.

In truth, he looked like a different person than the man they had left the previous morning. His face was gaunt, his skin sallow, and his eyes sunken. He turned and coughed violently for a minute into a silk handkerchief, then motioned to Kakeru, "Please, have you found something?"

"Yes," the young shaman looked over at Musashi, who shrugged, "Well, there's no easy way to say this. It appears that Tsumago-san's brewmaster, Mieko-toji, was the one who hired the ninja."

"Really?" Takayama looked stricken.

"But Tsumago had no knowledge of her activities," Kakeru added quickly.

"I see. Do you know why she might have done this?"

"It appears that she had an extreme infatuation with Tsumago-san, and was doing this to try to improve his station."

"I had no idea."

"Well, neither did Tsumago-san, which was the problem."

The kuramoto launched into another coughing fit, and this time Takashi noticed him wipe a trickle of blood off his lip when he finished. "Are you ok, Takayama-san?" the young monk asked.

"I'm fine, really," he waved off Takashi's concern. Turning back to Kakeru, he asked, "What is to be her fate?"

At this question, everyone fell silent. After a moment, the young shaman took a deep breath, then exhaled, "Well, it turned out that she was a mahou user. She tried to cast some sort of tainted spell on Musashi-san."

"By the spirits!" Takayama exclaimed.

Musashi entered the conversation, "She was dealt with as the Mikado has commanded all mahou users be dealt with."

Takayama nodded soberly, "That's very unfortunate."

"Indeed," said Kakeru. "At least, though, you won't have any more problems with your fields being salted."

"Well, I thank you for that," Takayama half bowed from his sitting position.

"Oh, by the way," Kakeru added as an afterthought, "we discovered that Tsumago-san is having an affair with one of your servants."

"Really?" Takayama raised an eyebrow.

"Yes, he's been paying one of his peasants to deliver love notes to her on a regular basis."

"Well, well," the kuramoto said with a half smile, "that's an interesting, if ironic, bit of gossip." He chuckled to himself, which initiated a bout of coughing, but then continued, "Just out of curiosity, did you find out which servant it is?"

"Matsu, I believe it was," Kakeru looked to Musashi, who nodded in agreement.

Takayama's smile immediately disappeared, "What was that?"


The kuramoto paused for a long moment before continuing, "Are you certain about that?"

Musashi nodded, "I saw the note myself. Why?"

" my wife's childhood nickname," Takayama sputtered as his ashen face turned red. He pounded his fist on the table, and the room fell silent. Kakeru looked at Musashi with eyes wide and mouth agape.

Uh oh, thought Fukasu.

Oh crap, thought Takashi.

After an awkward minute, Takayama stood up from the table. The heroes could see that every muscle in his body was clenched, and though he was shaking with anger, he managed to bow politely. "Excuse me, Kurosawa-sama," he said through clenched teeth, then turned and left the room.

Kakeru held his head in his hands as the sounds of an argument issued forth from the hallway. Fukasu groaned, and slumped onto the floor. Musashi remained stoic, but the two monks simply shook their heads at one another. Takayama, his wife, and his son yelled at each other for nearly half and hour, while the group became progressively more uncomfortable.

Finally, the rice-paper door slid open, and the five heroes composed themselves. Each expected Takayama to re-enter the room, but instead, his wife stormed in. "You have ruined everything!" she screamed as she pulled a tanto from beneath her robe.

"Whoa!" Takashi said as he jumped up from seiza, "There's no need to do anything crazy."

Takayama Keiko, the kuramoto's wife, glared at Takashi and then sliced her palm with the blade. The temperature in the room dropped ten degrees as a crackling, black bolt of energy appeared in her hand. "I will kill you all!" she screamed, and then pointed at Musashi.

Next: the final resolution...
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First Post
Takayama and Tsumago, Part 7

A shorter update this time, since I'm running the Spring 2005 Iron DM tournament over in the General Discussion forum.


The bolt of black, cracking energy leapt from Takayama Keiko's hand and sailed through the air toward the young samurai. Musashi was too stunned to move, so he watched in horror as the tainted magic arced toward him. He gasped as it narrowly missed his face and then shivered when it slammed into the wall behind him.

Kakeru vaulted the table, scattering teacups, bowls, and chopsticks as he dashed toward Keiko. He slammed down on the tatami on the other side of the table, and used his considerable momentum to smash his fist into her face. Her nose crumpled from the force of his blow, and she tumbled backward, landing unceremoniously on the back of her head.

The young shaman remained on guard for a moment, though the blood gushing from her nose and her glassy eyes indicated that she was no longer an immediate threat.

"What in Yomi?" Takashi exclaimed, "Are all women evil, magic-using witches?" He looked sidelong at Fukasu, who frowned.

Well, at least I didn't set the house on fire, this time, she thought to herself.

Kakeru looked up to see Takayama and his son watching from the hallway; the kuramoto was slumped against the wall, his son was crouched beside him, and each had a look of horror on his face. The young shaman hurried over to the elder Takayama, and, as he knelt down beside him, realized that the kuramoto appeared to be paralyzed. "Takayama-san?"

"What did she do to him?" Takayama Ichiro implored, "He's cold, and he's not moving."

Kakeru reached out to touch the man's shoulder, and recoiled in horror, for his flesh was nearly as cold as that of a corpse. Paralysis, frigid must be hadazawari gaki, the ghoul's touch. The kuramoto's breathing was short and shallow, but he was still alive, for which Kakeru was thankful. "Hang on, Takayama-san," he said as he placed his hand back on the man's shoulder, "the effects of the tainted magic will fade quickly."

Musashi remained sitting in seiza, shocked by what had just occurred. How could I have just sat there? He replayed the scene in his mind a dozen times in the space of a minute. I should have been able to react to that! Why did I just sit there? Damn it!

Finally, the mahou keeping Takayama broke, and the kuramoto was free to speak again. "My wife," he stammered, "a witch." A tear rolled down his cheek, and he gasped, "How could I have been so blind."

"She deceived us all, father," Ichiro said bitterly, "It's all Tsumago-san's doing."

"Ichiro!" the kuramoto bellowed, "You are not to take any action against Tsumago-san."

"He brought dishonor on our family!" Ichiro yelled as he rose to his feet.

"No, Ichiro!" the elder Takayama yelled, "Your mother, my wife, brought dishonor on our family!" The animated exchange caused the kuramoto to fall into another fit of coughing, and Kakeru waved the young man off.

Fukasu watched the younger Takayama's eyes blaze with anger as be bowed curtly. He turned and stormed off, without so much as a second glance toward his mother's unconscious body. There's something very strange about him, Fukasu thought.

"Perhaps we should take a look at your wife's belongings," Kakeru said quietly, "while your servants prepare a fire."

Takayama nodded between coughs, and, as Kakeru helped him to his feet, said, "Once you are done, burn whatever you find. I have no more need of it."

While Takayama Keiko's funeral pyre was being constructed, Musashi insured that she would never cast another spell again. The rest of the party searched her room, and found a collection of love notes from Tsumago, a spellbook, and a diary.

"Hey," Fukasu said quietly as she flipped through the notes, "Did any of you notice something odd about Ichiro-san?"

"Other than the fact that he's crazy?" Takashi replied as he paged through the diary.

"Actually, yeah, there's something bothering me about him, but I can't put my finger on it," Kakeru replied as he gingerly examined the spellbook. Let's see, hadazawari gaki, datsuryoku no kashikousen, and densenbyou. Densenbyou? Ah.* "Did you find anything?" he asked the others.

"No," Fukasu replied, tossing her stack of letters on the floor, "It's all pretty lovey-dovey."

"These are as well," said Kyoji, as he dropped the stack of letters he had been riling through on top of Fukasu's.

"Well," Takashi interjected, "How does, 'My poor, innocent Akira-chan. How horrified he would be if he knew what I was up to. All the more reason to love him. He's not like that impotent old fool I had the misfortune to marry. Soon, I will be rid of him, though, and my Akira-chan and I can be together forever. Let's see how he likes a bout of kekkaku.**'"

"That explains this," Kakeru said, pointing to the spellbook, "The spell, densenbyou, looks like it causes disease."

"Ick," said Fukasu as she wrinkled her nose, "So that's why Takayama-san is sick?"

"I think so."

"We should go tell him what's going on," said Kyoji.

After explaining to Takayama that his wife had been planning to kill him (an explanation that, considering the circumstances, he took fairly well), the group added the evidence of the affair to the funeral pyre.

The senior Takayama stood behind his son as the fire was lit. The amber flames illuminated the men, and everyone in the party could see the tears in the elder man's eyes, and the hard, bitter stare of the younger man.

What is it about him? Fukasu wondered as she looked at the younger Takayama. She shifted her gaze to his father, and then quickly back to the son. She looked intently at Ichiro's eyes, and then at his father's. Oh no, she thought, as she finally figured out what had been bothering her about the young man. Oh, no, it couldn't be.

She turned to Kakeru, and, by the look on his face, she knew that he had just come to the same realization. Her heart sank, and she turned to whisper her observation to her friends. Kyoji grimaced, Takashi silently cursed, and Musashi simply shook his head in dismay. The five heroes looked at Takayama Ichiro in shocked silence, for each could now see that he looked far more like Tsumago Akira, than like the man who called himself his father.

"I think we should go," Kakeru whispered to the others. "We've done enough damage here."


After defeating Takayama Keiko, the group quietly loaded up the sake for the offering and rode to Tsumago, where they filled the kuramoto in on the recent events. He took the news that his love was not only dead, but a mahou practitioner, considerably less well than Takayama. After handing over the sake for the offering, he quietly retired to his room and did not reemerge.

The party availed themselves of Tsumago's hospitality for the evening, and the next morning piled into the cart. On the 17th day of Yongatsu, the five heroes resumed their pilgrimage to Hi no Tsuru, the great spiritual guardian of Tanayari.

Rice paddies gave way to fields of wild grasses and flowers as the group neared the northern border of Kurosawa's lands. They followed the winding road through the fields and into a grove of trees. Kakeru was contemplating how long it would take him to drink through the sake they had just picked up when he saw something that caused him to pull hard on Yagi's reins. The cart skidded to an abrupt halt.

A lone samurai, who was easily ten years older than anyone in the cart, was striding down the road toward them. He sneered when he saw the young pilgrims. "You there! Move aside and let me pass," he gestured to the side of the road, "for I am Namakura Uzumaki!"

Next: Uzumaki!


* The contents of Keiko's spellbook included the mahou spells hadazawari gaki (ghoul touch), datsuryoku no kashikousen (ray of enfeeblement), and densenbyou (contagion). Datsuryoku no kashikousen was the black, crackling ray of energy that she threw at Musashi.

** Kekkaku is the Tanayaran term for tuberculosis.


First Post
For those of you who enjoy visual representations, the following is a commissioned portrait of Fukasu. It's an anime-styled interpretation by the immensely talented Messa. Enjoy!



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