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Land of the Setting Sun (Legacy Topic) 
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The girl was excitable as ever. Her appetite no less voracious than the last time he met her. Best get her some medical attention before she overlooked her wounds.

"I'm sure you did." He assured her almost indulgently. "Sadly I do not have anything to offer you this time."

She then tugged towards what he assumed was the camp that she had set up. Oniwakamaru took in her travelling companions as the two of them broke through the tree line. The military escorts were barely worth a mention. No, it was the characterful cast of characters that surrounded and lurked about the campfire. He remembered the masked swordsman he had the fortune of fighting together with. Chatting with the swordsman was another woman bearing a eerily ripply blue scarf and who possessed only one arm. Closer to the campfire a trifling drama played about two other young women whilst their elders, a man and a woman, looked on. The former seemed apathetic, despite the ridiculousness of having a longbow strapped across his back. The latter was an old matron of some sort. She seemed the most likely to know how to tend to such things if her weathered features were of any indication.

Just as well that the girl led him to a seat by the campfire. Set upon a fire was some stew that was being served. While he was sure that the girl had no reservations with helping herself to a portion, he himself would not be able to partake. For one he was not initially invited and thus would be quite rude. Secondly, he had already had something today and while a fight worked up an apetite, he could have something later.

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Thu Jan 26, 2017 9:26 pm
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Mocha sat down to eat, watching the dragon returned to the jewel on the ring, first becoming small like a lizard before climbing atop the ring and hardening, and it's face began to glow green as it healed it's wounds.

She turned to look at Oniwakamaru. "So, where did you go when we split up?"

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Thu Jan 26, 2017 10:05 pm
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With Kaguya's swordsmanship, and the newcomer's own skill it seemed the battle was over for now. Umiko didn't know what these things were, and that troubled her greatly. A threat like this, in Kyuriko's borders no less was a problem that the emperor's spy net work should have picked up, at least in folklore if not something more tangible. But alas she had a more pressing problem, the newcomer. While his help was greatly appreciated, his ultimate intentions where not yet known. And yet as he approached he seemed almost familiar. It was when he spoke to the young princess it hit her. The man was Oniwakamaru, a monk and fellow relic holder. Like everyone else here he had been invited by the emperor to partake in this quest, but had not gave a reply one way or another so it was thought he wouldn't show. And it was still unclear.

She took the chance to slink away as the girl and monk decided to chat, apparently catching up, an interesting note. Once back she confirmed everyone was accounted for and made a startling discovery. The young gauntlet wearing man, Unmei was missing, and she didn't recall seeing him fight. Perhaps he was off sleeping or some such, hopefully. She wasn't feeling particularly in the mood to get yelled at for losing him since it was her one job. Nonetheless she'd bring it up in a moment. Moving over to Daiki she passed by Hitomi behaving strangely, but lively, and took the chance to casually reclaim her blade with a sweep of her scarf. With no small bit of irritation in her voice she began to deliver her report to Oshiro as Oniwakamaru and Mocha took a seat near to the fire.

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Sat Jan 28, 2017 1:19 am
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“Very good, Sasaki-sa-”

Before Oshiro could finish, or even start, really, the Haridan girl had somehow already managed to change the subject. In less time than it would take a rational person to sit down for a minute and think about the consequences of what they were about to do, Sasaki-san had not only whisked Takekawa-san off her feet ( freshly-poured bowl of stew and all ) but had also narrowly missed dumping the elderly woman’s entire meal on the samurai’s helmet. The sheer amount of preposterousness that this girl seemed capable of exuding on a regular basis was honestly rather bewildering.

Thankfully, a reprieve from the Haridan’s antics came in the form of Sekichi-san’s own report. To his relief, Oshiro’s suspicions that whatever was occupying the others wasn’t particularly dangerous were confirmed, though Hitomi’s description of the assailants intrigued him. The creatures being in any way related to the falling stars was a ludicrous leap in confirmational bias, but “hostile creatures” were the sort of thing one heard about in fairy tales and legends, not in nature; apart from humans themselves, the living things of the earth usually left well enough alone if one did the same.

“Fascinating. You say they were hosti-”

There she went again.

---

Large clouds rolled into the night sky as Chouko prostrated herself, the great grey forms recognizable only by the moonlight filtering through the edges of their silhouettes. By the time Umiko and the others had returned to the campsite, the fire was the only light left to greet them. By the time Umiko had finished filling Oshiro in on the details the others had missed, the first drops of rain were coming down. It was a boon to some - such as Yoko, who was busy trying to get the stew out of her kimono after being unceremoniously dropped by a wayward whirlwind - and a burden on others: the guards hurried to raise the tents.

Oshiro gave a short bow to Oniwakamaru as the monk approached, welcoming him to the group. The samurai hadn’t banked on the giant’s participation, but someone who could actually hold their own in a fight was a welcome addition to this unbalanced group of civilians. He briefly introduced the ascetic to the others, announced that everyone would be going to bed immediately and waking up in precisely eight hours, and put out the fire.

---

With military precision, a figure rose from one of the tents at the break of dawn. Or, really, what would have been the break of dawn had there been a dawn to break. Though the lasting night had brought many changes to the lifestyles of the inhabitants of Yoikoro, the idioms of their language had yet to get with the times.

In any case, Oshiro’s circadian rhythm was completely unaffected, his days of campaigning across the land having driven his sleep schedule discipline through the roof. Not a moment passed from the time he was up before he was already waking the other guards, who proceeded to wake the rest of the company with a great deal of “Up, up, up! There’s a long journey ahead of us and we had better be off soon.”

---

Rice was Kyuriko’s only major exported product, the rest of its economy being supported by the large markets of the capital city. The rainfalls captured by the Hikari mountain range rendered the plains of southern Kyuriko into rich and fertile land, an oasis in a province otherwise mostly devoid of agriculture. The hills of the group’s encampment site soon gave way to these great spans; as far as one could see in the light of the waning moon, grid after grid of neatly planted stalks grew in the dark air, the total symmetry on either side of the road broken only by the occasional footpath or the rare sight of an illuminated home.

Much of the second day of travel was spent among these plains, the group stopping exactly twice: Once to buy rice from a farmer, and a second time to camp for the night. There were no proper villages in this part of the province, and so apart from the lack of meteorite insects disturbing the peace, the group spent the second night in much the same way as the first. A fire was kindled, a song or two was sung, and a company of travelers fell asleep under the watch of the silent stars.

---

“Neither, neither, I assure you.”

Though Heiwa’s question had all but confirmed her identity, it had clearly caught the young man off guard; he looked nervously at his companions before continuing, seeking reassurance for himself in their own skittish expressions.

“We’ve simply heard, my companions and I, that Captain Heiwa is the greatest gambler to ever live, and there are those among us, certainly not myself, who do not believe it.”

One of the men standing behind chimed in. “We were wondering if we could interest you in a game. Drinks are on me. What do you say?”

---

Fields slowly fell to subtle rises and falls in the terrain, then disappeared entirely as the group entered the pine forest that stretched up from northern Shikame into the fringes of southern Kyuriko. The company’s heading had taken a turn from southbound to westward over the past two days of travel, and the journey’s third “morning” quickly saw the travellers past the border. Their heading held the southernmost peak of the Hikari range in its center, its permanent snow cap ever rising above the treeline as the group approached its base. “There is a village there,” Oshiro assured them. “A small one, but well-suited to accommodate those traveling around the mountains. We’ll reach it by the end of the day and spend the night there after replenishing our food stores.”

The pine forest was Yoko’s favorite part of the journey. The trees were old, with thick cragged trunks that reached the height of a dozen Oniwakamarus all standing on each other’s shoulders. The air was cool, though not overly so, the forest’s occasional cloud of mist being supplied by a raincloud that had been smuggled down from the east side of the mountains by some rebellious stream of wind. All manner of wildlife poked its inquisitive head out at the visitors, from songbirds in the trees to hares and squirrels along the ground. She even thought she saw an elk, once, though it had only been a fleeting glance.

---

The forest gave way to a bridged river, then a large clearing. A wooden panel reading “Kyokaiyama Village - Popluation ~150” was not the first sign of the nearby settlement: a collection of candles and lanterns danced in the valley below, villagers going on about their evening business. Oshiro spoke, giving orders to his company of travelers.

“We’ll be staying at Odorushi Inn. It’s not the fanciest place, but it’s low-profile enough for our needs. Speak only among yourselves if you can help it, and keep the nature of our mission secret.”

---

Rather than a regular “round” of posting, Deci and I would like to encourage all members of the traveling party to have one or more in-character conversations with another member of the party via slack direct messages. They can be short, since not all characters are talkative, but everyone should hold one or more. You’ve been traveling together for two days! Fetching water, gathering wood, waking up in the middle of the night, or just traveling on horseback, there are lots of opportunities to strike up a conversation. This is also good opportunity to ask Oshiro, Umiko or one of the guards any questions your character might have about the journey.

Before your start your conversation, pick a player to be the author of the post. Once your conversation is finished, it’ll be the author’s job to collect the quotes from both players and compose them into a polished post, with environmental details and such.
The Chouko/Hitomi post here is a good example.

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Sat Jan 28, 2017 9:03 pm
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Heiwa raised an eyebrow. She didn't really want to gamble again. The time he was speaking of she had used her powers to manipulate dice so she knew how they would land each time. Heiwa took another swig of her fire water before clanking it on the table. She raised her head and looked at him from under the brim of her hat. She cleared her throat before speaking to him.
"So I have two questions for you then. What kind of game do you have in mind? And are drinks on you regardless if I agree to your game?"

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Mon Jan 30, 2017 7:09 pm
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"So, where did you go when we split up?" the girl asked him.
"I wandered Shikame and her beautiful forests, reflecting on the truth of the world. It was then that I was summoned by his Imperial Majesty. With the darkness that has encroached upon the land it was only a matter of time. It is very much like a story I am familiar with." He paused before clarifying. "That of a troubled local daimyo beseeching a mystical wiseman for advice who must then embark on a journey to find the solution."

Mocharatte laughed to herself. {i}A daimyo,[/i] she thought. She placed her bowl on the ground and smiled at him. "Tell me the story!"

Oniwakamaru leaned back and tried to think of one in his travels.
"There was one daimyo in Toboe who I was well acquainted with. This was before I followed the mountains south to Shikame. He was a man gripped by paranoia who jumped even at the slightest shadow. Having heard of me, he sought me out to determine how trustworthy his retainers were. How did you think I solved it?"

"The same horrible things as everyone else?" She said.

"I"m not sure what you mean by that."

"Well, it's not something people talk about, for sadistic reasons." She brushed off her gown. "Anyway, finish the story."

Well she was a child, he mused. It was expected that she would use long fanciful words without truly knowing their meaning. It was irritating in that it obscured her meaning more than she had to. Sighing he got back to the story,

"I asked a retainer whether he viewed a glass that had been filled halfway was half empty or half full. He replied swiftly that it was half-full. His liege lord disagreed. 'The cup was obviously half-empty.' What about you, what did you think the answer was?"

"They're the same thing. It's both."

Oniwakamaru smiled.

"That you choose neither option that were presented speaks of a cunning mind, for good or ill. Imagine their face as I told them the exact same thing. Rather than argue about it being half-empty or half-full, I suggested they change the state of the glass so that one cannot argue about the state that it is in. Whether the daimyo saw the wisdom in it or not, well time will tell."

Mocha nodded in satisfaction, glad her choice appeared wise. She stood and rubbed her eyes. "Well, good talk. It's time I get this arm fixed." She went off to look for Hideki.

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Tue Jan 31, 2017 10:42 pm
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Day 1: Evening

The dust caking Hitomi's scroll came away easily as she blew on it, revealing the writing beneath. The ink had smudged quite badly, but it was still legible in most places. She was celebrating silently when she noticed that everybody had returned from the battle. Moreover, a light drizzle had begun, and the soldiers had begun to set up tents. The calligrapher sheltered the scroll with her body as she searched for a suitable place to duck away from the rain. However, her eyes landed on Kaguya first. He was kneeling by the fire, and sitting next to him was the body of one of the creatures from before.

Kaguya had pulled out a whetstone and was busily sharpening his katana when he heard a grunt behind him. He looked up and saw Tea-chan standing above him. In one hand, she gripped the insect body he had so thoughtfully salvaged. In the other, she held a rolled up scroll and a lantern. Lastly, in her mouth was a stick, one end of which was presently on fire. That explained the grunt. Before there was time to make any inquiries, she gestured with her head, beckoning him toward one of the tents. Curious, Kaguya followed her into the tent as she began setting her supplies on the ground. "Hitomi-san, what's this about?"

Hitomi stopped what she was doing and gave Kaguya an irritated look. "Mrph-" She looked down, then pulled the makeshift torch out of her mouth and propped it up in the dirt. "Don't address me with such familiarity." She said, then casually tossed the starbug carcass on the ground. "You're going to help me study this thing." She promptly knelt on the ground and pulled out the brush she had been using earlier, then began to grind fresh ink.

"Apologies, madam, but I do not believe I know your family name." Kaguya spoke as he squatted down next to the cadaver and drew his dagger. "How should I address you then?"

The young woman raised an eyebrow, surprised at how quickly Kaguya appeared to have cozied up to the idea of cutting this thing open. Then again, he'd already done it once. She shook her head, jolting her attention back to the matter at hand. "That's awfully rude, Nakigame-sama." She scoffed, almost as if to show off her knowledge. Never mind that she only knew his name because she had peeked at his scroll back at the palace. "I guess it can't be helped. It's Sekichi. Don't forget it. Now make an incision from the thorax to the abdomen, right down the middle."

"Yes, miss Sekichi-sama." Kaguya smirked behind his mask. He was slightly surprised that Tea-chan knew his family name, but then remembered that his voting scroll had had his name on it, and he has been sitting near her at the time. Gripping his dagger in both hands he sliced along the indicated areas as cleanly as possible. "What do we hope to learn from this, Sekichi-sama?"

Hitomi began furiously jotting notes as her new research partner sliced into the insect. From up close, she could observe everything in much greater detail. The way its legs twitched, the brittle crackling of the exoskeleton, the viscous, goopy consistency of its innards. The calligrapher wrote down anything that jumped out at her. She never paused, even after Kaguya spoke. But she did respond. "I don't know! That's the beauty of it. All knowledge is treasure, so you should try to collect as much as you can." She looked up at the man, her eyes lit up like the night sky. It was like she was a completely different person from before. "Don't you think?"

Surprised at his partner's outburst, Kaguya took a minute to answer the question. "The last time I went searching out information, I ended up cursed and trapped behind this mask. Though I suppose it never hurts to know more about possible adversaries. Speaking of knowledge, Sekichi-san, I must ask, what was it you were trying to accomplish with all that writing during the battle?"

Hitomi cleared her throat, regaining her composure. "Same thing we're doing now, of course. Taking notes. Not that I'd expect an oblivious shut-in such as yourself to understand. Let's try cutting its head off next." She said, gesturing with her brush. Though her face didn't betray it, her mind was racing. Had he been serious? It occurred to her that this man could be an untapped fountain of information. He was easily the most mysterious of their little adventuring party, after all. As nonchalantly as she could, she spoke. "I guess... that mask is your relic, then?"

"Now theres no need to be rude, one should respect their elders." Kaguya reprimanded as he sliced off the head of the creature. "But yes, this cursed mask is my 'relic' as you call it. May I suggest that if you must take notes the next time we fight, you do it from somewhere safer. It would not do for you to be injured."

"I appreciate the concern." Hitomi smirked, crossed her legs and resting her head in her free hand. "Maybe I could've actually used that advice out there. What was it you said then? Ah, I believe it was 'keep doing whatever you're doing'. Besides, I can hold my own just fine." She paused for a moment before continuing. "Hey, don't change the subject. Tell me more about the mask. What's this curse you keep mentioning?"

Sighing, Kaguya put down his dagger and sat up, resting his weight on his heels. "I shouldve known that wouldn't work." He said in a dejected voice. "Tell me, Sekichi-sama. You are a well read woman. Have you ever come across the tale of the Demon Lord of the South?"

This got the calligrapher's attention. She stopped writing and placed her implements on the ground, then looked Kaguya over, sizing him up. Surely, he didn't mean to imply... "I'm familiar with the legend, yes." She reluctantly spoke. "He was a ruthless warlord, his ambition matched only by his success in battle. In the twilight of his life, however, he became so obsessed with obtaining immortality that he allowed his legacy to fall into ruin. Then he died, miserable and alone. That was hundreds of years ago. It's practically a cautionary tale at this point. Why do you ask?" She inquired, feigning disinterest.

"You are mostly right, young Sekichi. However, what history forgot was that he was successful in his quest. He traveled high into the mountains and obtained an artifact that granted him immortality, but at a cost. The gods were disgusted with his actions in life and thus tricked him by granting him imperfect immortality. The the artifact returned him to the peak of physical fitness and health, made him never thirst or hunger, freed him from the ravages of age and illness. But it also made him unable to enjoy even the simplest of life's pleasures. And to further the punishment, the gods took everything he ever loved from him, his land, his power, even his sons and his loving wife. So over the next thousand years, he wandered the land, seeking the honorable battle that would finally grant him death. The artifact that did all this was a crimson mempo, fashioned after the face of a demon."

"Ha. And that's you, right?" Hitomi shrugged. "A chilling tale, Nakigame-sama. For what it's worth, I think you make a decent storyteller. But fine. If you want to keep your relic's power a secret, I'm in no position to object."

"I have spoken only the truth, young Sekichi, whether you accept it or not is your choice."

Hitomi's expression soured. "I already said you don't have to tell me. You can drop the act. Gods, nobody told me I'd be travelling with a career liar."

"Calm yourself Sekichi-san." Kaguya said as he slowly rose to his feet. "If you're just going to accuse me of spinning falsehoods, perhaps I should make my leave." With that, Kaguya headed towards the entrance of the tent.

The calligrapher's brow furrowed as Kaguya turned his back to her. In only a couple of seconds, she had withdrawn her relic and marked out a character on a fresh sheet of paper.

[実] - Truth

Hitomi charged forward and pressed the paper against the samurai's back. The sheet dissolved as its effect took hold. Hitomi grinned. Victory was hers. "Let's try this again. Who are you?"

Kaguya began to respond when he suddenly felt a compulsion-- no, a need-- to tell the woman the truth. "I am Kaguya Nakigame, also known as the Demon Lord of the South. Everything I have shared with you this night has been truth." Though he had not lied before, he knew that he would not be able to now, even had he wanted to. That witch. I don't know how, but she must have used her relic on me. Kaguya felt anger boiling up inside of him, threatening to burst. He pushed it down and through great effort forced himself to speak. "Sekichi-san, I do not know how you did it, you foolish girl. But I know that I cannot lie to you right now. So know that this is absolute truth." Kaguya said, his voice dripping with both anger and disgust. "If you ever do anything like this to me again, I will end you." He then turned and stalked out of the tent.

For several seconds, Hitomi could do nothing but stand there, motionless. She'd just been threatened with death by a centuries old, immortal warlord. Fear and awe worked in tandem to prevent her from forming anything resembling a coherent thought. Meanwhile, the fury welling up in her gut took this opportunity to make itself known.

"Damn it!" Hitomi shouted, lashing out at the nearest object with a kick. The nearest object happened to be the firestick, which rolled across the ground and into the insect corpse, which in turn immediately released a huge puff of smoke. Coughing and hacking, the young woman bolted out of the tent, even as smog billowed out after her. She turned around and observed her handiwork, internally bemoaning that she would somehow have to sleep in this. And that she was now standing in the rain.

This was going to be a fun trip.


Wed Feb 01, 2017 2:25 pm
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Day 2: Evening

Roughing it was no new thing to Umiko, but all the rainy nights recently weren't pleasant. Every time the rain rolled in her missing arm caused her noticeable discomfort, eliciting more than a few "old lady"s from her students. Still she was looking forward to this being the last night they would be camping out before reaching a town. Still, at least this environment kept her alert, though she didn't let whomever was approaching catch on.

"Good evening, Ryuujin-sama." A voice came from behind the ninja as the unknown party announced herself. The visitor's voice sounded distinctly like that of Hitomi. She gave a bow that went unwitnessed as she continued. "I take it your watch is going well. I must admit, I feel much more at ease knowing that one of the emperor's finest is keeping an eye out for us."

Ah, so it was Hitomi. Of course, if it had been Hideki the steps of his bare feet would have been even more muffled on the grass.

"Yes, well, after our last camp's..." Umiko grasped at the air with her hand as she looked for the word. "Curious encounter, I figure giving it my best would be helpful to us all."

She didn't bother turning back to look at the younger girl as she said this.

"R-right." Hitomi was quiet for a moment, but she shuffled forward and knelt next to where Umiko sat. "Look, I know that my behavior last night was less than optimal, and I appreciate your help. So I wanted to apologize, and thank you." The calligrapher fished around in her satchel and pulled out two small sheets of folded paper, holding them up for the older woman to see. They were shaped like a pair of four-pointed shuriken. "Folding paper is a hobby of mine. Um, I know it's not much, but I thought you might like them."

"Oh," Umiko quietly gasped as she took one of the trinkets in her own hand. "Actually, I like them very much. I've always been interested in paper crafts, but unfortunately I never learned them when I was younger, and now..." Her scarf folded out before her and the ice began to form on it, once again making claws. Up close like this Hitomi could see the spikes were very sharp, but the only articulation they had was from the waving fabric. "As you can see, when it comes to more delicate uses, my relic's power is significantly decreased."

"I see. That's a shame." Hitomi pursed her lips. She hadn't been expecting this from the stoic ninja. The calligrapher gave a sidelong glance at the older woman's scarf as it moved. Its frigid edges shimmered slightly in the moonlight. She'd seen the relic in action once before, the previous night, and thus had some idea of what it was capable of. Still, she didn't feel threatened. She wondered if that would hold true after what she was planning to say. "I know this will sound silly, but- Well, I was actually kind of hoping you could try throwing them?"

Umiko raised an eyebrow at the request, but began to test the trinket in her hand. "Hitomi, there is little doubt in my mind I could throw this, and at under ten meters maybe even wound someone, but it's simply too light to carry much power or accuracy."

Hitomi perked a bit at hearing this. It was true that she had spent days perfecting her technique to make the paper stars as balanced as possible, but paper was still paper and could only be expected to fly as such. Still, Umiko seemed so confident, and the younger woman had little reason to doubt her judgement. She opened her mouth to say something, but the ninja spoke first, turning away from Hitomi.

"If you were to take your horse right now, I wouldn't stop you. You could ride to the north or east and we wouldn't pursue you. We didn't with Unmei so that's how I know it would be safe for you." In just a brief moment, her tone had changed drastically.

Hitomi blinked a few times, gazing vacantly at the back of Umiko's head. Where did that come from? She pondered. A myriad of possible scenarios ran through her mind. Sure, this could be her chance to ditch this goose chase, but it could also be some kind of test. That didn't make sense, though; They really had just let Unmei leave. Could this woman be trying to weed out problematic individuals early on? The calligrapher couldn't help but feel slightly offended at the thought. Try as she might to ignore it, that inkling rapidly took hold. She wasn't sure what possessed her to do what she did next. Pride? Indignance? Perhaps it was doubt. Whatever the case, it was an unpleasant surprise.

"Is my family name truly that difficult to remember?" Hitomi's demeanor changed just as quickly as Umiko's had, her voice taking on an almost pretentious quality. What? No. What!? "I didn't ask for your half-baked appraisal, and I certainly don't require your pity." The calligrapher's hands moved on their own, reaching into her pouch and coming out with a scroll. Inscribed on it was a summary of their trip thus far. What am I doing? Stop talking, idiot! Moron! Baka! "Frankly, I expected better from the emperor's own subordinate. For someone who specializes in gathering information, you know remarkably little about me. Even so, you're willing to let me walk away?" Hitomi's finger ran across the paper for a few moments before coming to a stop. Why me? "Here we are. Just as you said, Ketsueki never returned after last night's battle. At first, I'd thought you had made him the same offer you're making me, but now it seems more likely that he just slipped out from under everyone's noses. A forgivable mistake. I doubt he would've proven very useful. But I'm not like him. As I'm sure you can see, I have plenty to offer this motley band of ruffians, even if my skill in combat is lacking. Letting me go... Why, that would be tantamount to treason. I'm afraid you're stuck with my, Ryuujin-sama." As she finished speaking, Hitomi returned the scroll to her bag and inhaled deeply. After a brief moment of silence, she prostrated herself.

Umiko let the girl have her rant. Things like that didn't bother her. Being sorry after the fact? Now that she hated. But that's how the world worked she supposed. If you spoke your mind but couldn't defend your beliefs with steel it was very possible you'd be killed. Umiko didn't bother to tell her to get up instead saying, "Actually no, I haven't seen much you can offer. Your relic, if you have one, has an unknown ability, you place your chores on others, and as you admit yourself, you are no good in a combat situation. Half the time you act kind. I can't tell if it's sincere or an act so you can use someone to your own gains. But I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt and offering to save your life. This quest, with so many relics in one place, we are creating a power vacuum so intense, the heavens themselves are falling in an attempt to stop us. What can you do against a power like that, Hitomi?"

The young woman rose to her knees, relieved that Umiko didn't seem angry. She decided not to bother complaining about the woman using her given name again. "I... I don't know." She breathed, barely more than a whisper. "But I won't let you sell me short. I won't. Not until I've had a chance to show you- show everybody what I'm capable of." Hitomi looked at the ground, clenching her fists until the color left her knuckles. "So please. Please don't give me an excuse to run away."

Umiko stood from where she sat as her scarf crossed like arms. However she put her real arm on the girl's shoulder. "If that is the case, I'll respect your decision to stay. But it won't be easy for you, so you better rest up. When we wake I will talk to Daiki about starting your physical training. Show me the resolve you so desperately want me to see."

Hitomi stood after the ninja, brushing off her kimono as she did so. She cleared her throat awkwardly, then turned to the older woman and bowed. "Thank you for this opportunity, Ryuujin-sama. You won't be disappointed." With that, she turned and began walking back toward the tents for some much needed shuteye. However, she made it no further than a few steps before she stopped. "I doubt you're still interested after all these years." She said, turning back. "But if you were, I'm sure there are plenty of origami figures you could make with only one hand. I'd gladly show you sometime. Just a thought." Without waiting for a response, the calligrapher continued on her way.

Having concluded, Umiko made a little nod, unnoticed by the calligrapher, and returned to her seat. She noticed the second star laying on the ground, apparently becoming a casualty to Hitomi's groveling. She tried her best to smooth it back out and added the pair to the pouch on her leg.

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When my eyes be rollin'
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Thu Feb 02, 2017 11:07 am
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As the group, and Oniwakamaru refused to call it a caravan or a party, traveled westward the familiar sights of Shikame's fields came in to view, in as much as the perpetual darkness could permit anyway. Most were mounted. The unfortunate few who had been rotated from riding marched. He preferred to walk and spent much of his time among them. The ground was even but it could not stop the clattering of loose equipment nor the steady rhythm of footfalls or hoof-beats. His march was not silent either. The alms-bowl clanked as it hung from his yari. Small clinks of coin the only evidence he had any currency on his persons at all.

Despite this their pace seemed languid, lethargic without a piece of life about. He supposed the lockstep march of the military induced such things. The present company could do with a song to make the march much shorter. He recalled that the eldest among them was a musician of some skill and advanced up the line to speak with her. The elderly woman rode, as age had taken its toll on her.

"Oba-san," he greeted her, "Might I trouble you for a small ditty?"

"Certainly, no trouble at all," the elderly woman replied.

Yoko reached for the saddlebag slung on the horse's left flank, barely able to contain the excitement that quivered through her hands. Though she had performed many times for the inhabitants of her village back home and was used to playing for others, this was the first time in all her years that someone else had taken the initiative. It was exhilarating. A few moments of shuffling later, the long black staff was set across her lap, ready to bring a new series of notes into the world.

"What did you have in mind, Sō-san?" she asked.

Her weird appellation aside, Oniwakamaru was glad that he was not dismissed out of hand.

"Have you had a chance to play any marches oba-san?" he asked, "A cadence that we can match our stride? It will not just make this a pleasant walk but lift our spirits up in song as well."

Overhearing Yoko and the monk, Hitomi slowed her horse's pace until she was riding next to them.

"How dull," she interjected, "If a simple rhythm is all it takes to entertain you, just listen to the sound of your own footsteps. Why waste Takekawa-sama's talent on something so trivial. Besides, I can't properly enjoy a march from up here. Horses aren't particularly good at keeping time, I would imagine."

The calligrapher's steed gave a whinny and shook its head vigorously. She responded by giving it a disapproving glare, then continued,

"I think she should play a soothing melody instead. I've had a trying couple of days, and some relaxation would do me good."

He turned his head down the line, almost ignoring the girl, to look at the men trundling along behind, having been rotated out of riding. Sure they kept up a mask of indifference but even careless words would leave a mark. The monk turned back to the horse whose whinny surely indicated that it was fed up with its rider.

"A good march is a good melody 'jo-chan. I simply asked for a song. Takekawa-san will play as she prefers and I will have a spring in my step either way."

Hitomi frowned halfheartedly as the monk spoke, more frustrated at how reasonable he was being than anything else. It was no fun not having a good excuse to decry someone who disagreed with her. Fortunately, Yoko had intervened before the younger woman had a chance to say something even more regrettable.

"Now, now, children, behave yourselves," the elderly woman replied, her tongue pressed as far inside her cheek as it could possibly be, "There's a long road ahead and it won't do you any good to make each other miserable for the remainder of it."

She turned her attention to the monk before continuing,

"I'm afraid I don't know any marches, Sō-san. They're... they're, ah..." Yoko paused.

While she didn't know any marching songs herself, she certainly knew of them: her departed husband had taught himself a few for his own encouragement before being swept off to war. It was a painful memory, but she soon seized control of herself.

"They're not part of my repertoire, you see. I'll play the next best thing, however. It's a rhythmic piece, a song for singing when picking berries in the fields. I'm sure you'll find it quite calming too, Sekichi-san."

For the next few minutes, a folk song in rondo form filled the dark air. Each variation on the theme was a steady evolution of the last, the perfect backdrop for the continuation of a repetitive task. The faint green flow of the flute accompanied the piece, adding a touch of light to the group's forward march.

Hitomi tried to hum along with the tune to calm herself, learning it as she went. Or so she thought. Actually, much to the calligrapher's surprise, she recognized the song. She had heard workers singing it frequently in the country surrounding her master's estate. Granted, opportunities to venture out had been relatively scarce, so she didn't know the lyrics by heart. Still, after a minute of remembering, she had recalled enough to begin singing along with Yoko's playing.

The party's pace surged like a wave. While not a full out run, everyone was moving a faster clip, buoyed by the rhythm. The treeline started to thin and so did Takekawa's song. Its final notes gave way to the burbling of a river ahead.

"That was a pleasant tune oba-san I thank you for it." He thanked the flutist before turning to the younger, more impertinent young lady. "I take it was a song you recognised? I certainly did not and I've traveled much of the mainland."

"Hm? Oh, I see. An interesting coincidence." The calligrapher looked at the monk. "Or do you intend to imply that I was making it up as I went? I'm afraid that even I'm not that talented. I remember it from my time as a lady in waiting, though I see now that I didn't fully appreciate it back then. You were right about the invigorating properties of music, uh-"

Hitomi grasped, but for the first time since this trip had began, she was drawing a blank. That's right. This man wasn't present in the palace, so she hadn't had a chance to learn his name.

"My apologies, I don't believe we've been introduced."

Forgetful or easily distracted, Oniwakamaru could not quite decide. Instead, he settled on answering her question.

"Musashibo Oniwakamaru, or the Demon Child of Musashi if you were to get literal, at your service." He lowered his head instead of bowing since he was walking. "It was what the laymen call me anyway. I would rather they think me no more than just a helpful ossan (uncle)."

"Thank you, Musashibo-san," Yoko replied, not-very-subtly switching to the monk's proper name once he was kind enough to remind her. "It was my pleasure."

With a twinkle in her eye, she added, "I'm surprised you knew the song, though, Sekichi-san. I wouldn't believe it for a moment if you told me you had experience picking berries."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Hitomi inquired melodramatically. Though she'd never admit it, however, Yoko was actually mistaken.

One of her more... traumatic experiences over the past year had involved a pile of berries large enough to feed a village for five years, a natural disaster comprised entirely of berries, and a lot of angry, torch/sickle-wielding townsfolk.

"I'll have you know that I'm a very hard worker. For you to take a jab at me like that. For shame. And after I sang for you, no less! Perhaps I should keep different company. Hup."

The calligrapher gently snapped her reigns, causing her steed to give a small hop. Unprepared, Hitomi was lifted out of her saddle and landed hard on her stomach, draped over the horse's back like clothes hung to dry. With that, the creature picked up its pace, leaving the older woman and the monk behind. As the calligrapher scampered off, Yoko shook her head, chuckled, and made her own final remark as she turned towards the monk,

"That girl still has a lot to learn, hasn't she... Sō-san?"

She'd forgotten his name again.

"Less to learn and more to reflect I would wager oba-san," he replied, "Unlike the little girl that is traveling with us."

He gazed upon the bridge that was coming up.

"I remember crossing this bridge with her, as we headed south." His head turned to follow the river for a bit. "But Sekichi-chan, unlike the child, is grown enough to know how to save face, regardless of how meaningless it is."

It was then that the captain, Oshiro, started to speak. They had arrived at another stop on their journey after all.

"We’ll be staying at Odorushi Inn. It’s not the fanciest place, but it’s low-profile enough for our needs. Speak only among yourselves if you can help it, and keep the nature of our mission secret."

Kyokaiyama was a small village with only a hundred fifty or so inhabitants. Oniwakamaru didn't expect extravagant accomodations, or any at all. His tenets stated that he would not have such luxuries so long as he sought the Path. Should a resident offer him a place to stay the night however then he was free to accept. That he was in the company of soldiers didn't make it likely however. Many a family knew what it meant for a monk to accompany soldiers. They would fearfully look to him and ask him, "Will there be war? Will our lords ask us to take up swords and send our fathers and sons off to die?" as was usually the case. It chafed that he had no satisfactory answer to that question.

As the group headed for the inn, Oniwakamaru instead wandered the village instead. He was well fed as part of the party and thus there was no need for him to beg for scraps. Instead, he looked for things he could help with instead.

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Tue Feb 07, 2017 7:14 pm
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It was the second day since the group had departed the Emperor's palace, and already Yoko was beginning to feel as though she was slowing the group down. She had heard more than one account of "rock bugs" or somesuch floating around, and had even seen Kaguya carrying what appeared to be the husk of a strange creature the likes of which she’d never seen before, but the woman still had very little idea of what anyone was talking about. The elderly woman was resolved to find out what was going on, however: the world lacked enough light as it was, staying in the dark about the events of the previous night wasn’t going to help any. Unfortunately, the company members closest to her in age - those she would have been most comfortable asking - were all busy doing one thing or another. Asking the young adults was out of the question, and so it fell on the young bundle of attitude that was the princess from Harida to bear the brunt of Yoko’s questioning. Bracing herself for an abrasive conversation, she gave her horse a nudge, setting it on a course to match the pace of the young girl’s dragon.

"Hello, Dai-hitto-san. We haven't talked much, have we? I am Takekawa, but you can call me Yoko if you like."

"Ahh, hello Yoko-san." Mocha said. "It's good to finally speak with you."
The dragon walked leisurely down the path with a grace that most wouldn't notice.

"Likewise, likewise, Dai-hitto san.”
Yoko was taken aback. Where was the ferocity, the outlashing? The few glimpses of the princess’ behaviour that the elderly woman had caught up to this point suggested a girl nearly as savage as the dragon she commanded, but here she seemed to be in a thoroughly pleasant mood. It was a welcome, if surprising, change.

“Tell me, is your arm any better this morning? It looked awful last night."

"It's much better today!" Mocharatte said cheerfully. "Hideki-san healed me with his relic."

"Oh, how wonderful!" Yoko replied, matching the princess' cheer. There wasn’t any point in steeling herself for a difficult conversation if the girl was going to be so easy to talk to. This might have been a better idea than she thought. “If you don't mind me asking, how was it injured? I'm not exactly up to date on the events of last night."

"I was speared in the arm by those creatures," the girl explained. "Their arms were long and sharp, and they pierced my armor."

"My, that sounds terrible."

As the horses sauntered along, a number of things ran through Yoko’s head. Those creatures? Just what had they been up against last night? Had the group really been attacked by wild animals? Perhaps more importantly, what on earth was a young girl doing fighting them and getting injured? It all seemed ludicrous, the type of tale a child makes up to impress their friends. Surely, there had to be an exaggeration or two sprinkled in there somewhere.

"I take it your dragon protected you?" Yoko gave Ryuu-chan a smile as she delivered the line, a subtle prodding. She’d play along with the princess’ antics for now.

The dragon exhaled modestly. "Yes..." Mocha said. "Until we were ambushed and overwhelmed by a swarm of them. Luckily the captain and Hideki-san came to help."

With this, the elderly woman was now quite sure that Dai-hitto-san was, for all her cheerfulness, simply making things up on the fly. The captain certainly hadn't come to help her, though it was true that he hadn’t been entirely unpresent from a battle. He’d dealt with a verbal tirade and a blood ghost, after all: that had to be worth something. Even so, the princess’ story wasn’t adding up, and Yoko decided she would gently suggest an opportunity to come clean.

"I believe you're mistaken, dear. Oshiro-san was sitting near the fire the whole time you were gone. I don't think he even ventured near the creatures you're describing."

Mocha made a jovial expression. "Of course. It was Kimura, my mistake." She suddenly threw her arms around Ryuu-chan's neck. "But we all know who my hero really is!" The girl said with a laugh.

This girl really is something else, Yoko thought. She hadn’t outright dodged the elderly woman’s correction, but she had subtly changed the subject nonetheless.

A moment of consideration later, however, Yoko found herself revising her impressions. This girl wasn't something else, she was just a girl: She couldn't be expected to behave cohesively like the adults in the group, and the unknowable nature of her mood and the truth of her stories was much easier to attribute to her age than to any inherent quirks of her personality. Though it was frustrating that the girl had elected to spin a yarn rather than tell her elder the truth, Yoko was admittedly excited to see her develop; as the youngest member of the company, she would no doubt have the most opportunities to learn and grow.

"We certainly do know who your hero really is, Hime-sama, we certainly do."

Yoko would get her answers elsewhere. Eventually. For the moment, she’d try to get as much of a nap as she could manage in a saddle. Her back was killing her.

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Having eaten his fill, Hideki remained sitting by the fire, staring towards nothing in particular and thinking to himself about the events of the day. Mocha walked towards him, and tugged at his arm, bringing him out of his thoughts. "Hideki-san," she said. "Do you know how to treat wounds?"

Hideki looked down at Mocha, somewhat surprised she'd decided to approach him. "Oh, this is about your arm, isn't it?" He took the Spring Arrow from his quiver and beckoned the girl closer. "I don't exactly know how to treat wounds, but I should be able to help you. Just sit down for a moment and stay still."

Mocha took a step back, eyes widening in confusion. "W-what are you doing with... That strange arrow?" Hideki paused, then realized that for most people, pulling out an arrow would be seen as a threat. He'd simply wanted to get the interaction over with and forgotten entirely.

"I'm not going to shoot you," he assured her, placing the arrow in his lap as he explained. "This arrow is one of my 'relics.' It can heal wounds, to some extent."

She stepped forward and observed it. It certainly didn't look like anything special--while its arrowhead had an interesting design, it seemed just as deadly as any arrow might be. "That's useful," she said. "Should I, umm, hold out my arm?" It still seemed a bit uncertain, but she doubted Hideki was going to try to stab her, and he had no real reason to lie.

"Yes, that would be convenient." Hideki reached out to hold her arm with one hand, picking up the arrow with the other hand and gently touching the side of the arrowhead to her injury. "Now just stay still, it takes a few moments to do its work."

Mocha nervously looked away, then at the ground, as the wound slowly closed. Closing her eyes, she felt the pain fade away after a few seconds. After seeing the wound had closed, Hideki let go of her arm and removed the arrowhead. "There," he said. "It should be totally healed. Do you have any other injuries?"

"Ummm, I have a chest cold, does that count?" She asked with a smirk. Hideki gave her an unimpressed look. How childish.

"I am afraid not." Now that Mocha was healed, Hideki lost interest in continuing conversation, returning the Spring Arrow to his quiver.

She stared at him for a moment. Hideki tried to hint as clearly as he could without outright stating it that she ought to go, but Mocha either didn't catch on or didn't care. "Oh... would you like to pet my dragon?" the girl asked.

Surprised by the question, Hideki took a moment to respond. He looked at the dragon, uncertain if that was a good idea. "He doesn't bite?" The creature certainly hadn't had any issue chomping down on the insects.

She shook her head. "He's smart. He won't bite you unless you're mean to him, or if you try to wear the ring."

Hideki cast a glance at the ring, which he'd thought had been strange. So the ring must be the princess's relic, Hideki noted to himself. Still a bit doubtful, he nodded, and hesitantly reached out to pat Ryuu-chan on the head. The dragon nodded it's head politely. Mocha laughed. "He likes you!"

Hideki was pleasantly surprised by the dragon's reaction and couldn't help but give a slight smile. He supposed the dragon was just an animal, in the end, if one that had a higher chance of killing him than most. After giving the dragon a few gentle pets, he leaned back. "Thank you," he told Mocha. "Now, since your arm is dealt with, you should probably get some stew before it's all gone."

"I've already eaten," Mocha explained. "Why don't you have some?"

He didn't recall seeing her eat, but it was possible she'd just escaped his notice somehow. "I ate earlier as well," Hideki replied. "But I do think our conversation should come to an end. The tents have been set up, and we should get to sleep early to continue our journey tomorrow. Good night, princess." He stood, and inclined his head respectfully before walking off to one of the tents to sleep.

Mocha nodded sweetly and found an untaken tent. She talked with Ryuu-chan until she grew tired, and then laid down to rest within the tent, with the dragon sticking it's head through and resting it by her feet.

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Wed Feb 08, 2017 8:37 pm
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Kyokaiyama, despite being a small village was a clearly divided one. To the east a district of noise, where in the local bar and businesses of craft were settled, and at the western side, a more serene town full of residencies and shrines. Odorushi Inn was placed just far enough in the eastern side that you might just be able to sleep when "night" fell. This made it quite easy for Oniwakamaru to slip off to either side before being identified as part of the group.

The monk had barely departed when Kimura tumbled off of his steed. Within moments Umiko and then his fellow soldiers were at his side, and Oshiro had half dismounted, but stilled himself as his subordinates had already beaten him to the punch as he waited, unmoving, for a report.

"He's burning up!" Umiko offered as she removed her hand and replaced it with a lightly frosted scarf arm. A moment later one of the other soldiers pointed out a small discolored cut on the sick man's shoulder. Sniffing it Umiko added, "No odor I'd associate with poison, but this is clearly infected. When did you get this?"

"During the fight." The young soldier answered with labored breath. "I had Hideki-san use his strange arrow to heal the larger wound like you said, but I didn't want to bother him with every little scratch."

Oshiro nodded before readjusting himself. "I see. Well consider yourself lucky we are so close to a village so that we can get you treatment. And next time, be less foolhardy, a simple mistake like that again could endanger more lives than just your own."

The soldier made motion to reply, but was quickly hushed by Umiko before she let her helper do most of the work to get Kimura horse bound again.

---

"Well," the young man had grown a bit more red than just what drinking would had caused in the time, but nervously continued. "We only know the common dice games, but yes of course, just your company alone would be enough for us to treat you."

"Yeah, what my buddy here said. Of course let me reiterate when he says us, he still means me since I've almost cleared out these guys' spare change for now. Always do, I'm a bit of a local legend myself." The other man had decided to add, almost as if issuing a challenge.

---

Noting the sign for travelers posted in front of the inn Oshiro and the crew let themselves in the front door and the samurai rung the small gong for service. The older woman that answered the call shared his same calm demeanor, nodding as she recognized the group, offering up the whole top floor and the two back most rooms by the stairs were made up and theirs to use. Of course the soldier that was being supported by a pair of his fellows did not go unnoticed by her. "Is that young man doing alright, Oshiro-sama?"

"Yes, my foolish subordinate just got a small cut during chores and it got infected. Luckily we caught it while he's still strong, so it should be nothing the local doctor can't fix if you'd be so kind as to tell Ryuujin-san here where we can find them."

Oshiro's gaze only hardened as the woman's serenity faded. She looked back and forth between the samurai and ninja a few times, unsure who she should tell before settling on the man in front of her. "I'm sorry to tell you this, but our doctor is not in town right now. A farmer's boy from out of town became very ill so they fetched the doctor just yesterday. I doubt he'll be able to return for a few days, but I'll send someone as soon as I can to fetch him or ask him what to do. For now please, take him to bottom back room on the left as I go to fetch a towel and some cold water. Please excuse me." And with that the inn keeper was up and out of the room.

Oshiro turned slowly and looked at the people that had stayed to overhear. The orders he gave to Umiko and his men didn't even needed to be said as they rushed Kimura to the designated room.

_________________
When my eyes be rollin'
The haters get goin'
The seeds I'm sowin'
With a smile I'm flowin'
And if I be trollin'
Ya never be knowin'
'Cause when the haters get goin'
My eyes just start a-rollin'


Mon Feb 13, 2017 3:38 pm
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Mocharatte looked about the tavern, before turning towards Oshiro. "What room am I to stay in?" She questioned politely, although it was clear she didn't trust the man. She briefly wished Oniwakamaru were here, but was distracted by Kimura being rushed into a separate room. She followed tentatively and sat at a bed across from him. "Kimura, thank you for saving me. How bad does it hurt?"

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As Oniwakamaru left, Hideki looked quizzically after him, but didn't raise a question. Whatever was his business was his business--and in any case, Kimura was the center of attention. Hideki had noticed that Kimura had had a few smaller scratches, but he'd figured if Kimura didn't bring them up he had no reason to either. He watched the scene unfold, making no move to help Kimura. The guard's condition was entirely his fault. If Hideki felt anything, it was annoyance at the commotion and the inconvenience Kimura was causing. Thankfully, Kimura was returned to his horse and the group continued on in short time.

Hideki had no interest in hovering over the sick man; once he heard which rooms the group was permitted, he slipped out of the inn and took a look around. Already, the chattering and movement of the eastern district grated on him. Eager to find somewhere more quiet, he wandered to the west, in search of a shrine.

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Second day of travel - Mid-day

***

It was dark. No surprise there, it was always dark. But it was also lonely. And boring. Lonely and boring, yep. That was the life of Harida’s number one messenger as she trudged alongside the caravan. Some amazing mission for the emperor this was turning out to be.

By the sixth hour, Chouko was desperate for a conversation. She hadn’t dared approach Onna-sama since the blood ghost incident – probably best to allow more time for her to forget about it – so it would have to be someone else. The dragon-riding girl was just up ahead, and she seemed nice. If they could be friends, it might even be like having a little sister! That would be great!

It took a while for Chouko to work up the courage to approach the girl – she was riding on a dragon, after all, but eventually her curiosity pulled her through. What was a kid doing on a super secret mission from the Emperor, anyway?

"Hello Warrior-chan. Your dragon is very cute."

Mocha looked to the side and saw Chouko. "Hello!" She said. "You like Ryuu-chan? I think he looks really cool."

"Heh heh, yeah! Look at those leg muscles! I bet he's real fast!" It occurred then to Chouko that she still did not know the dragon girl's name. She saluted and presented herself. "I'm Chouko! Chouko Sasaki, Harida's number one messenger. Pleased to meet'cha!"

"Mocharatte Dai Hitto, princess of the Dai Hitto dynasty." She made a polite gesture as they strode down the path.

Chouko gasped. Princess? This girl was a princess? Wow! "Oh my! Forgive my rudeness, Hime-chan-sama!", Chouko said, bowing deeply. (As deeply as she could while keeping pace with a dragon, anyway.)

Mocha giggled and nodded her head. "I forgive you," she said.

She was glad to be pardoned, but Chouko was now also invested in feeling important. After all, royalty though she might be, Mocharatte was younger than her. As her elder, it was important that Chouko be someone that the young princess could rely on and trust. Thankfully, Harida’s number one messenger had an informational ace up her sleeve for just such an occasion.

"Hime-sama," she started, gravely. "I feel that there is something vittles that you should know about this mission." She glanced behind her shoulder, but it didn't seem as though whoever was behind them was paying much attention to the girls.

"I'm listening," said the princess.

Chouko turned around and locked her gaze forward, glancing to the side every so often as though she were checking for spies. After a few moments of this charade she continued, her voice now barely above a whisper.

"There are some people on this mission, Hime-chan, some people with very powerful treasures. Dangerous treasures. They are called..."

Chouko glanced behind her again.

"They are called... relics."

"Ryuu-chan is a relic, Chouko-san."




...what?

Did she...? Did the dragon? Did... did everyone besides her know about this? In her shock at this great revelation, Chouko had failed to realize that she had stopped dead in her tracks, a fact which was reminded her only when she was nearly bowled over by the horse of whomever was travelling behind them.

No. Clearly the young princess was confused. Relics were things like... like... she really had no idea. But they definitely weren’t things like dragons. How could a dragon be a powerful treasure? He was just a dragon! Chouko caught up to Mocharatte and addressed her again. "Hime-chan-sama, I think you may be confused! A relic is a magical treasure, not a powerful beast like Ryuu-chan!"

Mocharatte laughed. "Normally, you would be correct. However, Ryuu-chan's spirit and power are bound to this ring." She showed Chouko the ring. "I suppose you could say that the ring is the true relic, and the relic's power is to manifest Ryuu-chan. What's your relic?"

"Huh? Oh, I don't have a relic, Hime-chan. I'm just a messenger. But I am the fastest messenger alive!"

"Well, they only summoned people who have relic's. Maybe your relic is what makes you so fast."

"Psh. No way! That's just good ol' fashion trainin'!"

Mocha had a quizzical expression on her face. Perhaps the older girl didn't know what her relic was. "That's odd. I was certain they'd only call upon those with a relic."

"I guess they just had need of Harida's number one messenger! Y'know," Chouko raised her hand to one side of her mouth and made her voice low again, as if she were on the verge of revealing a secret of even greater significance than the existence of supernatural artifacts. "Y'know, "I am a bit of a local legend myself."

Something clicked in Mocharatte's mind. She looked at Chouko with a puzzled expression. "You're that girl who sends messages for Imperial troops in Harida!"

"You got that right! But I mostly help out with the farms n' stuff. It's funny, y'know. The Imperial guys always have a message for me to take away as soon as I get there. Always somethin’ real important so I have to leave right away, that it is! Come to think of it, they never did let me try those army-style onigiri..."

"I've heard you're faster than a horse, and our soldiers have stories of you soaring over battlefields and treetops."

Chouko's eyes widened. "They say that about me? How amazing!" She chuckled modestly. “But, uhm, I think they're exaggerating, heh. I just run is all."

Mocharatte grinned, resisting the urge to laugh. "You've caused so much trouble for our soldiers. I had pictured you looking much different."

"Oh! Well, uhm, sorry Hime-chan. I don't mean to cause anyone trouble. What is it like to have soldiers?"

"It's like having a bunch of rabid dogs listen to your commands, when really they're just waiting for you to be caught off guard so they can eat your flesh." She patted Ryuu-chan lovingly, glad he seemed to be intent on protecting her purity.

Chouko ground to a halt. Had she... had she heard that correctly? There was no wax in her ears (she had checked a short while ago), and there were no sounds in the eternally black landscape other than the skittering and occasional call of the local fauna. She had to assume that what she had heard was correct, and if it was, come to the conclusion that the little dragon princess was a very strange person indeed. Strange and positively terrifying. She gave a nervous laugh. "You say very strange things, Hime-chan-sama, that you do. Heh heh." I, uhm, I think I will be going now, that I will."

Chouko excused herself with a bow and allowed the caravan to file past her until Oso, faithful and lazy as ever, came plodding along behind them. Chouko caressed the horse and hopped on, for once glad to be swept forward by the train of travellers rather than run alongside it. "Dai Hitto-chan is a frightening child, Oso, that she is," she informed the horse as she lay on its neck. "I think you should stay away from her dragon. I haven’t seen her horse since this morning."

***

Mocharatte looked disappointed as Chouko trudged off. She sighed and felt a bit sick. Perhaps this is why her parents told her to avoid the peasants.

_________________
Image @SavvyEh Image

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9


Mon Feb 20, 2017 3:53 pm
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