Accounts of Strange Incidents

Second Panel

Hostages

In the gambling den of the Su


After dealing with the assassination attempt, the officers of the Tensai Clan convene and come up with a plan to rescue the hostages in the gambling den. It was decided that Yugiri would remain with Tenka and Soichiro and oversee the celebrations at the end of the ceremony while Akari, Kaisei, and Takeshi rescue the girls.

Deciding that the direct approach is best, the Hatamoto and the Takumi choose to march straight into the gambling den and declare the ownership of the Tensai Clan over it. Backed by Takeshi’s ashigaru, they prove to be an intimidating presence causing even the samurai among the gamblers to freeze in fear. Takeshi looks over the pathetic crew and singles out two samurai who had formerly served under the Su Clan.

The apprehension in the air thickens as hands reach for swords and eyes harden, waiting for someone to draw their blade first. Kaisei, normally a voice of reason and calm, simply remains quiet but takes on a stern demeanor, adding to the tension in the air. Everyone freezes, becoming a tableau out of a Noh drama, and all is silent save for the quiet rattling of dice in a cup by a nervous, lowly gambler.

This provides Akari with the perfect distraction as she goes around the back in search of the hostages. Who does she run into but the tanuki from the incident of the storage house! She asks the tanuki if he knows of any girls who are being held against their will in the gambling den and he nods. When the Oniwaban asks to be led to them, the tanuki holds out an open paw: it is playing the haggling game again.

“You drive a hard bargain, babe.”


Akari holds up a shiny coin and the tanuki takes on an injured expression: too small a compensation for what is at stake. Knowing that she does not have the time to waste, she makes one offer after another. The haggling goes back and forth until she is able to force the tanuki to settle for two shiny coins. Clearly unhappy with the outcome of the haggle but forced to accept it, the youkai nonetheless complements the Oniwaban’s haggling skills, telling her that she drives a hard bargain and calling her ‘babe’.

The tanuki leads her quickly through a maze of passages to a small windowless room where the two girls are. They are bound in a manner that suggests that they had been used sexually, but the first thing they ask about upon being freed is how their fathers are. Hope and fear mingle on the faces of the girls, Mariko, and Susume as Akari tells them the unvarnished truth of what brought her to them. She however gives the girls very little time to digest this as she bribes the tanuki with another shiny coin to lead the girls to the safety of the feast of Tenka and into the care of Setsuna the head geisha of the Tensai Clan. The tanuki seems to be especially eager to leave the gambling den and hurries off with the girls in tow.

The main mission accomplished, Akari must now find a way to get Kaisei and Takeshi out. She finds her way to the kitchens and rummages through the supplies for something she could use. She discovers that she can concoct something that makes anyone who imbibes it drowsy and, hopefully, sleepy. As she prepares it, she is startled by a familiar voice behind her. Akari turns and is taken aback not so much by the sudden appearance of the speaker as the speaker’s regal bearing. The speaker introduces herself as Lady Kumo.

Lady Kumo reveals herself


The woman announces to Akari that she will help the Oniwaban cleanse the filth that stains the land. Akari can clearly hear the distaste in Lady Kumo’s voice but is unsure what the object of Lady Kumo’s hatred really is. Nonetheless, the Oniwaban senses that it would be unwise to refuse such an offer and signals a tacit acceptance. Akari adjusts her clothing to appear as a serving girl of the gambling den and when she looks back up, the regal woman had vanished.

Moving quickly, the Oniwaban enters the main gambling hall and quietly offers everyone there a cup of tea, in an apparent attempt to break the thickening tension. By then, only the samurai remain, everyone else having chosen discretion over valor. As she gives out the tea, she warns the Hatamoto and the Takumi not to swallow what they drink and she makes it a point to ignore the ashigaru. The stand off continues and the former samurai of the Su Clan unconsciously sip from their cups. Kaisei pretends to take a sip and starts to explain in long winded and elaborate court language why the gambling den is now under the control of the Tensai Clan. Takeshi nods in support, now and then nudging awake an ashigaru who had started to nod off.

Before long, the concoction takes effect and the samurai fall asleep, much to the relief of the Hatamoto and the Takumi. But just as the Oniwaban opens the doors to the outside, a crashing sound is heard followed by the roar of fire. Flames spread preternaturally quickly and the Tensai are forced to beat a hasty retreat. Takeshi orders his ashigaru to pull out the unconscious samurai but the flames are too intense and Akari screams for everyone to leave. Uncertain of what to do, the ashigaru turn to their Hatamoto who reluctantly agrees and orders everyone out. As if on cue, the gambling den collapses into a heap of raging kindling. As everyone takes one last look before leaving Akari, becomes uncomfortably aware that she has incurred another debt.

The gambling den in flames


When the officers return to the celebration, they find it in full swing. Susume however, is mourning her dead father, Yuichiro, with Setsuna offering what comfort she can. Mariko meanwhile is celebrating her reunion with her father, Daichi who then pledges his life and that of his daughter to the service of the Tensai. When Susume voices her apprehension that she has no longer anyone and has no place to go, Setsuna offers to take her and Mariko under her wing as her new Maiko.

Once the celebrations die down and Tenka and Soichiro have withdrawn, Yugiri turns to the business of burying the dead. The attendants in charge of Yuichiro’s corpse bring it out for the Onmyouji to attend to, perhaps to divine more of the plot that nearly took the lives of the Hatamoto and the Oniwaban. As Yugiri protests that such a task is too much work and that the dead should be allow to keep their peace, Yuichiro’s corpse starts speaking. The voice is hollow and distant and Yugiri has to strain to understand what it is saying. He relays what he hears to Kaisei who dictates everything to his scribe.

The corpse reveals itself to be that of Yuichiro, a peasant of the Su Clan whose daughter, Susume was held hostage to compel him to carry out his attempted assassination. His suicide was to demonstrate that he had done his best and he implored the Tensai Clan to forgive him and his daughter and look after her.

The corpse finally laid to rest, the court takes stock of what has come to pass and lay out plans for the coming season. They spend the last month of Spring attending to the (thankfully!) mundane task of administering Teishou and Chisu, and ensuring that the peasants are happy and productive.

The work proves gratifying and engrossing and the officers wake up one morning to find that Summer had indeed arrived.

Taking care of court business


end of the Second Panel
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