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Land of the Setting Sun 
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Atmosphere

Dark.

A gentle wind whispered through the conifers, the intermittent rustlings of needle and cone being the only sound that accompanied the steady clip of a half-dozen horses. It was a pleasant chorus, soft-spoken and wistful; the sort of soundscape that reminded oneself of the carefree twilights of a childhood’s midsummer, a breeze high above sweeping away the heat of a long day and at last welcoming the cool air of the night.

It was neither midsummer nor night, of course, though the sky and clement weather didn’t seem to care. The celestial canopy stood inscrutable and black, a face full of twinkling, cursedly dim eyes, laughing at the predicament of those far below whose whimsy it so inconvenienced. This had been its tune for the past several months, and it seemed wholly unconcerned with changing the status quo.

The sun that had deserted the world on the evening of February 19th had yet to rise again.

For the company of riders travelling under the veil of whistling pines, this posed a particularly aggravating problem: despite the fact that very few of them had served in the military or had any other sort of other qualifying expertise, the Emperor had seen fit to pluck them from their homes in the four corners of the continent and task them with returning the Sun to the sky before being permitted to return to their homes. Thankfully, the first leg of their journey was nearly complete; the mountains of Kyuriko had been left behind, their craggy, highland paths ceding to an evergreen forest straddling the border of Shikame and Harida. Unfortunately, this woodland they now found themselves in was the last hospitable place on the company’s path before they faced the lifeless wasteland of the Haridan coast. The looming desert was not large, but it was the point of no return: there would be no place to refresh the group’s food or water until they came back to the wood. Once through the wastes, however, the company would take a ship directly through the Domyaku channel and, finally, would land at the isle of Rakka, rumoured resting place of the hidden Sun.

---

Oshiro breathed in the afternoon forest air. Though the samurai had inhaled in concern, he exhaled in measured relief. Masked in the smell of pine dust and fir blossom, a layer of salty mist undeniably sat underneath; the sea was near. The original plan had them reaching the seashore today, on the second Wednesday of May, and despite all the delays, they would be only one day out of sync. Well within the margin of error they had accounted for. Finally, in this sun-forsaken time, a stroke of good fortune.

Rakka itself was some way off still - what with the winds in the Domyaku channel being notoriously capricious - but geographically, the island drew close.

Evening was growing close too though, and the choice of a campsite loomed in the samurai’s mind. Ideally, they would camp directly at the woodland’s tree line; the conifers would protect them from the western wind, and the desert would spare them unwanted visits from potentially hungry forest fauna. By his estimate, however, the end of the woods was still a quarter day’s ride away. Getting there would take them farther into night than he wished, but it was the only way to guarantee a safe campsite. Making the decision without the benefit of a second opinion was dangerous in this part of the world, but asking the whole company for their stance on the matter would serve only to elicit unnecessary panic. With a sigh, he turned to his only other option.

“Ryujin, I would speak with you.”

Umiko rode up to meet him. "You know you always start conversations that way. And I always reply the same too." She gave him a second to start the phrase but noticing it wasn't coming dryly said it herself. "Of course, I'm all ears."

Oshiro was not in the mood for cheeky remarks, but he was too deep in concerned thought to rebut them either. He let it slide. In a hushed tone - one he knew would immediately alert Umiko to the private nature of the conversation - he got to the point. “As I’m sure you have noticed, we are close, but not close enough to the forest’s end. Either we push our group into the dead of night and risk a tired crossing of the Haridan coast, or we make camp soon and face a long day of travel tomorrow. You’ve spent more time among our escortees than I; what do you think them best suited for?”

Umiko gave a puff of air to her bangs. Too serious for commoners, and too goofy for soldiers she supposed. "My professional opinion?" She had dropped to the same hushed tone. "If not for Yoko I'd be certain we could make the push just fine, and I'd even recommend it, under normal circumstances." She averted her gaze and tapped her pinky on her saddle for a moment before continuing. "I'm unsure now though with perpetual night on us. I'm a fan of the sun less than most I think I'd say, but regardless it can't be argued that crossing open terrain is better under the night's breeze rather than the sun's gaze, and that's a non factor now. In the end if the second leg of is not as much of a concern as the first I'd make sure the first went smoothly over the second, let us push on to a safe vantage, we can make up a few hours of sleep after saving the world." Her pinky had not stopped tapping.

The samurai nodded. “Well said. That was my initial impression; I am glad we have come to the same conclusion, for on-”

A terrible cry shattered the cosmos. Vast and deep, but with the shrillness born from horrendous pain. It lasted only a moment, quickly replaced by a blazing flash of grey-gold light that began in the southern-western sky before plunging into the forest, sinking past the northern horizon and returning the world to its darkened state.

“Well. Yoko or not, it appears our hand has been forced. I do not want to know whatever that thing was, but I don’t think any of us want it sneaking up on us either. We ride for the treeline.”

Oshiro’s hushed tone roared into a commander’s shout.

“Make haste!”

---

Unsurprisingly, the flash of light took Yoko be surprise. She had been idly chatting with Chouko about the best way to eat rice pudding (it was in small bites, with dignity, no matter how many times the girl stated that “A bigger spoon don’t go to waste; cause twice the rice means twice the taste”) when her conversation (and every other conversation in a half-mile radius, probably) was interrupted by an overgrown pyrotechnic display. No sooner had the sky’s luster faded than their expedition’s leader had ordered everyone to pick up the pace and the elderly woman’s poor, poor, sore, sore rear was painfully reacquainted with the feeling of a cantering saddle.

As hard as it was to endure, however, Yoko had no intention of complaining about the hastening. Oshiro was obviously distraught about the consequences of the last celestial outburst, and was taking measures to ensure everyone’s safety. That was something she could get behind, even if it came at the cost of her own.

---

It was a tired, aching group that Oshiro addressed when the company finally came to a halt a short distance from the end of the pines. The journey since the sky flash had been relatively uneventful, but long and seeped in stress. The samurai seemed as relieved as anyone that it was over. After a moment to catch his breath, he began:

“We are now very close to the sea, one day’s ride. We camp here. I’m sure some of you are worried about what we saw and heard on the way here, but we have some experience as a group now, so I’m confident in your abilities. I want someone at the top of the tallest nearby tree relaying info on our surroundings as soon as possible, and I want a proper lookout post constructed around them in short order.”


“Put those relics of yours to good use.”

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Thu Feb 01, 2018 2:47 am
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Heiwa was tired and somewhat sore from the long ride but she refused to show any discomfort. No matter how tired she was she rode upright, she wanted to uphold the groups images of her being a powerful official. In truth her thighs were killing her. She was contemplating joining in the rice debate but then she caught it. She knew that smell anywhere. The crisp, fresh, energizing, salty air. It completely filled her with a new amount of zeal. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. The scent was so small but it still reminded her of her true home.

As she was lost in her trance the bright light pierced the sky. She watched it fall. She had seen a couple on her way to meet the group but never this near. Then she snapped back around to face Oshiro call out. She smiled she would right through the whole night if it meant getting to the sea faster. She clicked her tongue and began to speed up. Each step the smell got stronger.

She kept pace with Oshiro till he arrived at the clearing. Once he issued his orders Heiwa got off her horse. She was tired but the ocean was so close. She quickly choose a tree and began to climb it faster than any rigging she had climbed in her life. She sat on a branch higher up letting the wind blow in her face as she got the clearest scent of the ocean. It was to far to see but she knew it was in the distance. She looked up at the stars to judge where they were in relevance to the ocean. She held her hand up mapping out the stars. She pulled herself up on the branch and rested against the truck of the tree staring off into the distance excitement filling her lungs with each breath. After a moment of enjoying the air, she let out a sigh and looked around for anything out of the ordinary to report to the others.

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Sat Feb 03, 2018 12:53 am
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A crisp Western breeze welcomed Heiwa to the forest canopy. From her perch, there was much she saw that one could expect to see; the vast sands of the Haridan coast, an ocean of rolling trees to the South and East and… a… long trail of splintered trunks to the North. Some way off, a wide, straight path had been brutally hewn into the woodland. Full-grown pines lay shattered and strewn about, as if they were nothing more than dry blades of grass in the path of an avalanche. Stuck amongst the branches and leaves of the fallen trees were what appeared to be very large, luminous feathers, shimmering and quivering at the slightest wisp of the night’s wind. The plumes on the left side were of a lurid palor that pulsed and surged in brightness; blindingly beautiful, but very difficult to look at for any longer than a moment. On the right, with no gradation between the two sides, the feathers grew extremely dark. They too shone brightly, but their colour was somehow blacker still than the night sky itself. The radiant sheen seemed to pull the eye in, in, ever deeper into its void-filled constitution.

Where the trail ended was unknown: it extended farther than any point Heiwa could see from her place in the trees.

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Mon Feb 05, 2018 5:13 pm
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Hitomi rode silently, several paces behind the others. Eyes half closed, she allowed the sound of rustling branches and cicadas to draw her consciousness away from the task at hand. Having spent her entire life in Shikame, the ambiance was familiar and comforting, a nice change of pace from the inhospitable mountains of Kyuriko. That leg of the journey had been particularly taxing. Nevertheless, the group had come far. They'd crossed into Harida and were now traveling along its shared border with Shikame, just a stone's throw from her home province. In fact, if her figuring was correct, they were just a ways north of Ginten village.

As the thought crossed her mind, the callgrapher's wits returned to her. She looked around briefly, but her inspection revealed only trees and shrubbery. She absentmindedly stroked her horse's mane as her eyes continued to flick back and forth. Though nothing had changed, whatever sense of ease she'd felt had fallen into unrest. Torn away from her dreamlike trance, Hitomi was hit by the full effect of the fatigue that had accumulated during the ride. She looked up the line to see if the others were beginning to tire as well. Yoko and Chouko seemed to be doing just fine, chatting away like this was this was business as usual for them. Probably about food. Heiwa gave no sign of wear, though that was to be expected. Further ahead, Oshiro was talking to Umiko, which the young woman could only hope meant they were discussing whether to stop for the night. She focused intently on their faces, and the truth of their discussion became known to her.

"Honorable Ryujin-san, what think'st thou? Shall we make our rest forthwith, or wouldst it beseem us to press onward through the e'en?"
"I am but a servant to the emperor, Lord Oshiro-sama, then that my humble opinion count for less than dirt."
"Beest nary so modest, Ryujin-san. Hark; thine word, 'tis the word of the emperor himself."
"Very well, Lord Oshiro-sama. Then let us press these lowly wretches to the limit of their bodies- nay, their very spirits."
"Thine words doth resonate with my heart, Ryujin-san. I didst think the very same."
"O-Oshiro-sama..."
"Ryujin-san..."
"SKKREEEEEEEEEEEEEE-"

Hmm, that wasn't right. Umiko couldn't make a noise like that. Hitomi cast a scornful glance skyward to see what had disturbed her imaginary dialogue. The silvery light she saw there was about as good an answer as she was going to get, but her eyes widened in anticipation regardless. This was just like those creatures that had fallen from the sky before. She watched the streak of light intently, hoping to catch a glimpse of what it was or maybe see where it would land. However, any investigation on her part would be rendered impossible as a cry of "Make haste!" sounded from the front of the line. Sumi didn't even wait for Hitomi's command to speed up, matching pace with the other horses. The calligrapher could do little more than hold on while she watched the light disappear behind the trees. So, making camp would have to wait then.

***

When the party finally came to a stop, it was accompanied by relieved moans. Even as Oshiro began giving orders, as he was wont to do, he had to raise his voice over the buzz of exhausted grumbling. Hitomi attempted to dismount at the earliest opportunity, but found that her right leg wasn't responding to her commands. She tried twisting her torso to get some leverage and was rewarded with an uncomfortable pop in the base of her spine. This is what she got for spending several consecutive hours riding side saddle. Releasing a low, pained whine, she shifted around until she managed to get a foothold and let herself onto the ground, where she promptly collapsed. As pleased as she was to be reunited with terra firma, she knew Oshiro wouldn't allow her any quarter. It was time to set up camp. The calligrapher did her best to pry her body out of the dirt and get to work the only way she knew how.

"Sasaki-chan~," Hitomi half-groaned as she wobbled toward the younger girl, lacking enough energy to even make an attempt at being cordial, "You know how to make a look-out post, right?"


Last edited by Shrapnel on Mon Feb 12, 2018 2:58 am, edited 1 time in total.



Mon Feb 05, 2018 9:03 pm
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It had been months since the sun had disappeared, and weeks since Hideki had set out on this expedition with the motley, unqualified crew that surrounded him. Despite his low expectations from the onset, it was all going surprisingly well. The few obstacles they had encountered had not yet brought their endeavour to a premature end. The company was... tolerable, as long as Hideki didn't directly interact with them too much. He had even found himself becoming almost accustomed to their assorted quirks as time went on. True, the journey was boring, but Hideki far preferred that to being faced with the 'excitement' of danger. He was used to monotony and routine; knowing what to expect made him much more comfortable. Besides, being reminded of how useless some of the others were in combat only served to aggravate him.

The highlight of the trip by far was the horse. Hideki appreciated horses as much as he did any other animal, and he became quite fond of the chestnut mare he'd been given. She, in turn, became quite fond of the vegetables Hideki would give her when he had the opportunity. It was a fair arrangement. As of yet, Hideki had not once fallen off of Akane's back when he occasionally dozed off due to boredom or exhaustion. Whether or not this was because she liked him was undetermined, but giving her snacks certainly couldn't hurt.

From what Hideki knew of the group's travel plans, they were approaching the coast, which would signal the conclusion of the first segment of their journey. It seemed absurd that they had almost completed the first part of that inconceivable task of retrieving the sun—though of course, the traveling was the easier part. Hideki couldn't help but wonder what would be waiting for them when they came to Rakka. Surely the emperor wouldn't just let them go home if they arrived there to find no sun and no clues as to how to retrieve it?

Hideki was drawn out of his thoughts as he noticed Umiko speed up slightly to arrive at Oshiro's side, but he watched with only mild interest as the two conferred at the head of their entourage; as usual, they were likely making decisions about their travel plans, and Hideki never really cared either way. The day was shaping up to be much the same as most of their days had been, a cycle of riding on horseback, setting up camp, eating, and—

That noise was a surprise. Both Hideki and Akane startled (Akane with a snort), and Hideki struggled briefly to maintain balance as he turned his body just in time to see light fill the sky. This was an uncomfortably familiar sight. Though the light was a different color this time, Hideki doubted that would make much difference in the outcome of the event. Something unnatural had happened. Whether or not there were bugs made out of rock this time, Hideki wasn't very interested in finding out.

Echoing his thought process, he heard Oshiro issue the command of "Make haste!" and gladly complied, urging his steed on as the light faded behind them.

----

Hideki was exhausted. Typically, due to having to account for Yoko, the group traveled at a brisk, but measured pace. Describing the pace they had set today as 'punishing' was an understatement. Hideki's relief was infinite when they finally drew to a halt and he slid from the saddle, giving Akane a pat on the neck as he did so.

Any other day he would've been glad for the opportunity to scale a tree and play lookout, but today he was perfectly happy to let Heiwa took the opportunity before he could. How the woman managed the energy to climb at that speed was beyond him.

His arrows could hardly play a useful role in this situation, unless perhaps Heiwa fell from the tree—though, looking up at her, Hideki doubted the Spring Arrow would do much for a fall from that height.

Well, if Oshiro wanted something from him, he would have to ask Hideki himself. For the moment, Hideki was content to sit down beside Akane and catch his breath.

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Mon Feb 12, 2018 1:55 am
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Surprisingly to the ninja, it was Heiwa that managed to get to a tree and hoist herself up, a role she normally took upon herself. It wasn't a complaint, just odd to have someone capable and willing to follow commands. She guessed it was because of the woman being a soldier herself, even though she had heard the captain to be quite rebellious and one to do things her own... Umiko quickly dismissed the train of thought about how closely that mirrored her and took a seat against an adjacent tree to Heiwa's.

They had fewer soldiers now than they started with and it showed. They had been doing most of the heavy lifting, and it was evident now more than ever as the materials to build Daiki's requested platform were slow coming without the relic holders’ help. How they were meant to even turn what they found into planks or what tell where to use as nails she didn't know. It would probably be best if she tried to stop them. Not by getting up of course, her scarf started to wrap around her shoulders as she started to get snug.

"I appreciate the concern Daiki, but I think between me and the captain we'll be fine. We both know I've never needed a proper platform before and it doesn't look like she does either. Besides, unless Hitomi's relic is a bag of nails, I don't think any of us have relics that will help that much in construction, besides being an extra hand." She tried to shrug with her scarf but realized she'd already preempted that action and just c*** her head to the side instead and used her shoulders like a normal person.

Oshiro gave a dismissive grunt to the ninja, he wasn't pleased she had already resigned herself to a comfortable position without even trying to follow through with his orders. "Ryuujin, with yet another strange happening, do you really think now is the time to be dismissive instead of prepared? Do you not recall what happened last time? Vigilance is the most important thing we do right now."

She glared at him. She hadn't done it in a while, and quickly softened her gaze when she realized. "I don't disagree with that, but look at this crew. Even those of us used to hard journeys are tired and we are already going to have to make short camp by your own admittance. It's going to be hard to be vigilant if we spend half of that time constructing a platform, not to mention the noise it would make. Trust me, drawing the least amount of attention as possible and resting our minds and bodies is going to serve us much better in the long run. Let Heiwa take first watch from above and have a man on the ground and let me and the other soldier take second. I don't plan on letting you down, nor am I trying to contradict you. I'll be your vigilance, it's my job after all."

"Very well, hold my previous order." The samurai was tired himself, though he'd experienced worse. "That does mean we'll have to forego a flame as well though, so that sight is quashed with sound, with my apologies Takekawa. Ryuujin, I'll be taking the first watch on the ground, and I will wake you when it comes time for your watch." Still loathed to idleness he began to address at least one person he could see actually doing something. "Hideki, please continue to care for the horses and see they all are tied before turning in."

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Wed Feb 14, 2018 4:32 pm
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