Accounts of Strange Incidents

Twenty-Sixth Panel
Infiltrators
The leader of the prisoners was willing to bargain.


Takeshi proceeds to interrogate his prisoners but discovers that they all had their tongues cut out. The leader, however, communicates by writing and is willing to trade information for his life and those of his men and for sanctuary from the Nohebi who had sent them. The Hatamoto agrees to this and is able to extract from the prisoners that they were sent out to scout out the mountain.

As the prisoners give details, Takeshi quickly realizes that all of this adds up to a plan to blow up the mountain. The prisoners are impressed into admiring the Hatamoto. Learning that the prisoners were expected back in a week, Takeshi decides that the prisoner be kept on the mountain and leaves Odan, the headman of Do-i to see to their resettlement. The Hatamoto sends a messenger pigeon to Akari.

Akari has gone into Nohebi territory with Goro in tow. She sets up base at a lowly geisha house and sends out the tanuki to seek out and sabotage the black power stores of the Nohebi. She waits for the return of her friend but time passes and he does not show up. Concerned, she goes out to search for him only to find him wounded and hiding by the roadside. It seems that there are youkai helping the Nohebi in the same way that there are those on the side of the Tensai. Goro claims that it was snake youkai that got him but they could not prevent him from fulfilling his mission: the black powder of the Nohebi has been ruined and they will have to spend a lot to replace what they had lost.

“They have snake youkai working with them!”


As the Oniwaban starts to take her wounded friend away, a haughty voice calls her attention. A young samurai, obviously high-ranking by the looks of the his garb, wants her to service him. Akari immediately adopts the guise of Kyoya and tries to suggest that the young samurai might find more suitable partners at the geisha house where she had come from and which was just down the road.

The samurai refuses to listen and makes a grab for her only to stumble as Kyoya nimbly and demurely dances just out of his reach while all the while cradling Goro to her bosom. He tries a second time, and then a third, this time falling flat on his face in the mud, much to the amusement of the tanuki. The samurai turns the air blue with curses as he tries to rise and gather the shreds of dignity about him. Kyoya takes this opportunity to beat a hasty retreat with the samurai vowing to hunt her down and make her pay for his humiliation. Goro replies to the threats with a raspberry and a silent vow of his own to get to the samurai first.

Back at Ranzan, the capital of the Tensai, the frantic search for the child Daimyo continues. Kaisei’s panicked search takes him to the less frequently-visited areas of the clan house, specifically, the sickroom of Misako, Raijin’s widow. The Takumi is one of the few people who visit her regularly, and she is glad to see him. He wearily asks her if she had happened to see Tenka, too exhausted by this time to be embarrassed at the thought of having misplaced the clan’s Daimyo. She teases him for a bit before telling him that Tenka had been hiding in her room all this time, and had been keeping her company.

The Lady Misako


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Twenty-Fifth Panel
Games
Busy officers of the Tensai


It is the last month of autumn and the temperature has turned cold and there are nights when people can see their breath mist in the air. The harvest has been brought in and it was more abundant than Inarikamisama had promised. Similarly, gossip from the peasants tell of many women being with child and many a parent wondering what names to give their newborns. Though the air is chilly, there is a distinct feeling of warmth emanating from many homes in both Teishou and Chisu.

Things are a bit different in the Clan House of the Tensai: plans and preparations are underway and the officers and their respective staff are busy. Defenses have to be set up in Do-i. The threat of the Nohebi has to be ascertained. The gang that enslaves women must be broken. The young Daimyo has to be prepared for the Shogun’s Winter Court.

But first, the young Daimyo must be found.

The young Daimyo has gone missing much to the consternation of the Takumi, the panic of the Karo, the worry of the Head Geisha, and the annoyance of the Yojimbo. Kaisei looks everywhere for Tenka: at Raijin’s rock, at the geisha house, at the tree where Iwao waits impatiently for his game of shogi. Natsumi, with whom he was playing hide and seek, also looks for him high and low, calling for him to come out. Soichiro has stopped acting like a court official and more like a grandparent who has lost a beloved grandchild. Setsuna too has started looking for a missing family member instead of a clan head.

“We were playing Hide and Seek…”


Meanwhile, deep in the domain of the Nohebi, Yugiri and Murasaki, traveling incognito and adopting the air of refugees, enter one of the towns. They draw attention to themselves by acting like they fear guns. Yugiri engages townsfolk in conversation and manages to gain their attention and sympathy by telling them of how the samurai in the region he and his companion had fled have abandoned their swords in favor of ‘firewands’ and how this was connected to women disappearing.

The Onmyouji watches the reaction of the townsfolk as he connects the disappearance of the women to gaijin who took them away, never to be seen again. The devastation that Yugiri reads in their eyes confirms for him that exactly the same thing is happening to the women of the town.

Closer to home, in Do-i, as Takeshi prepares the well of the mountain village for the battle he is sure will come soon, villagers come to him reporting that they have spotted strangers dressed as pilgrims on the eastern border. What caught the attention of the villagers was that the ‘pilgrims’ seem to be hypervigilant, as if expecting to be attacked at any moment.

As the Hatamoto and the villagers stalk the strangers, Takeshi voices out that he wants the strangers captured for questioning but is concerned that they may be carrying firearms. When he describes to the men of Do-i how these firearms work, the men make short work of them by drenching the ‘pilgrims’ with buckets of piss. Sure enough, the ‘pilgrims’ pull out pistols but the powder is wet and the guns don’t work, making the outnumbered strangers easy to capture.

“We spotted strangers at the eastern border”


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Twenty-Fourth Panel
Missions
Inari in Autumn


Takeshi goes to the rice fields and finds Inari there blessing the fields just before the harvest. She approaches him quickly, happy to see him and he tells her of the need of the court for a secluded spot where noisy experiments can be held in secret. Though a bit disappointed that she was not the main reason for the Hatamoto’s visit, she nonetheless agrees to help. She brightens considerably when Takeshi tells her that he will owe her a deep personal debt for her help and that he would grant her whatever she wants. Perhaps she could let him know if she finds anything by the next week? The kami promises to let him know within five days.

After picking up some light provisions and a few necessities, Yugiri and Murasaki head off and soon find themselves in Do-i, the village that the officers had established not too long ago. It is doing better and the use of natural resources are much more visible: there is an orchard, a vegetable garden, and a smithy. Some women from Ranzan have even taken husbands and settled down here. When the Onmyouji asked if there have been any visitors recently, Odan, the village headman, reports that the only visitor to Do-i since the visit of the officers was a traveling shaman who was collecting the “odds and ends of life”.

Yugiri warns Odan that the Nohebi have been selling women into slavery and buying firearms with the profit, and that Do-i should be wary of any stranger who should visit. As the Onmyouji talks to the headman, the women of the village surround Murasaki and give her gifts as tokens of their esteem and admiration.

“Our only visitor recently was a traveling shaman.”


When Odan and the other men of the village learn of the plan of the Onmyouji and the Kaishaku to enter the lands of the Nohebi, the villagers do their best to dissuade the pair from going through with the plan, but do not impede them. Yugiri writes a letter to the Hatamoto and asks the villagers to make sure that Takeshi receives it. The letter is written as if came from the gods; apparently, Yamamoto has not stopped talking about Takeshi ever since their meeting.

Akari has found the network of the slavers and been able to decipher their modus operandi. It is a long con with the slavers operating gambling dens that entice poor peasants—usually those with prepubescent daughters—to gamble themselves into debt with the hopes of winning big. When the gamblers start losing money, they are encouraged to keep on playing by being offered loans ‘on easy terms’. When the debts reach a certain point, the gamblers are cheated with loaded dice. Now deep in debt, the gamblers are threatened by the slavers until the gamblers agree to sell their daughters to the slavers. Rumor has it that the girls disappear into Portuguese ships never to be seen again. The network of gambling dens has spread to several neighboring clans.

On her way back from her investigations, the Oniwaban in the guise of Kyoya realizes that she is being tailed. She gets cornered in an alleyway by two thugs but is able to fight her way out, stabbing one and grabbing documents from him in the process. Later, Kaisei uses these same documents as proof in his reply to the Nohebi. The response that the Nohebi sends makes the Oniwaban and the Takumi suspect that the clan is in cahoots with the Portuguese.

Portuguese Traders


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Twenty-Third Panel
Merchants
“Will the Ashigaru of the Tensai be keeping up with the times?”


At the meeting with the merchants, Kaisei discusses the matter of firearms starting to appear in the land. The elderly merchant who had sent him the blunderbuss, and who is known to everyone in Ranzan as ‘Uncle Ochi’, appears to have taken on the role of spokesman for the ones present. He brings up the rumors that he and the other merchants have heard about the other clans starting to equip their ashigaru with blunderbusses and voices the concern that all the merchants feel. Ochi then turns to the Hatamoto and asks him gravely if the ashigaru of the Tensai would be moving with the times.

The Takumi speaks for himself and the Hatamoto and informs the merchants that the ashigaru of the Tensai will indeed be moving with the times, starting with the Suzaku, the Hatamoto’s personal unit. Seeing the eyes of the merchants light up, Kaisei makes it clear that sale of firearms are to be made exclusively to ashigaru through their commanding officers. As he says this, the Takumi gestures to Takeshi. No sales are to be made either to the peasants or to the nobles.

The merchants try to haggle with Kaisei about relaxing the conditions when Yugiri, who has been keeping to himself this entire time, addresses Takeshi in a voice loud enough to be heard over the negotiations that perhaps the Hatamoto should take a stand and declare how ineffectual such weapons are against him.

Yugiri and Takeshi


Akiteru tells the merchants how the Portuguese use the money the merchants pay them to fund the selling of Japanese girls into slavery. The merchants are appalled at this and declare that they will not do business with the Portuguese ever again. Takuma enters the room, having been summoned by the Oniwaban. After examining the blunderbuss that Ochi sent Kaisei, the swordsmith declares that he can copy the firearms, releasing the Tensai from dependence upon the Portuguese.

The black powder is another matter however and the officers will have to search for an apothecary who can prepare it. They also need a secure place where Takuma can conduct his experiments in secret. Given that these tend to be noisy and smoky, finding such a place may be challenging. A lot of bickering ensues and the meeting concludes.

The officers part ways, each to handle their respective parts of the problem at hand: Yugiri declares that he will go into the lands of the Nohebi and asks Murasaki to accompany him as his bodyguard. The Onmyouji asks Akiteru to inform Soichiro of this decision since the two of them will be leaving immediately. The Oniwaban agrees. On his part, Akiteru will follow the trail of the slavers as Kyoya. Takeshi will seek out Inari and ask her to help him find a place where Takuma can conduct his experiments in secret, while Kaisei remains in his office and answers the complaint of the Nohebi. He will also look for a safe place where Takuma can set up his workshop where he will start manufacturing firearms.

Takuma in his workshop


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Twenty-Second Panel
Fathers
“Please take in our daughters!”


Later in that day, Setsuna, the head geisha of the Tensai, approaches Akiteru with a concern: several peasant fathers from the Nohebi have approached her and begged her to take in their daughters as geisha so that they will not be taken away as payment for the gambling debts their fathers had incurred.

The Oniwaban asks her if the mother geisha house would be able to accommodate more maiko and if the daughter house she is setting up in the former Su lands could handle the overflow. Setsuna agrees and goes to make the necessary arrangements. As she leaves, Akiteru reminds her that this is only a stop-gap solution at best and does not address the real problem. Furthermore, not all the daughters who are offered are to be accepted as geisha; only those who show obvious talent. The Head Geisha nods and departs.

In the office of the Takumi, Kaisei, concerned about the rumors and how this would affect his family, asks Natsumi what had happened to her natural father. The kitsune replies that her kitsune father had disappeared during the war between the Tensai and the Su. Saki and Soichiro have been taking care of her ever since until Kaisei adopted her.

Soichiro approaches Yugiri for an augury that would indicate the most favorable day to present Tenka to the Shogun. The Onmyouji asks why to the Shogun and not to the Imperial Court, to which the Karo replies that the Shogun is closer and therefore more dangerous.

“The Shogun is closer and therefore more dangerous.”


Yugiri says that he cannot see Tenka presented so soon, at which Soichiro says that he would appreciate it very much if the Onmyouji were to stay by the side of his Daimyo. Yugiri, however, successfully manages to deflect this task to the Takumi once again. When the Karo voices his concern that Tenka has been acting strange of late, Yugiri suggests that perhaps the Daimyo should become closer friends with his Hatamoto in order to have the favor of the gods rub off on him.

Meanwhile, Murasaki gets flustered at the growing amount of attention attention she is getting from the Suzaku, all of whom style themselves as her elder brothers and have sworn to watch over her even though she can easily best any dozen of them all at once. Kazuhira is particularly vocal. She seeks out and finds Takeshi, who, along with the other officers, has summoned all the merchants in Ranzan who are known to deal in firearms to a meeting in the Takumi’s office.

Only three answer the summons and the officers recognize them as trusted merchants and men of good repute in Ranzan. Keiko is present as the Takumi’s secretary while Setsuna, Susume, and Mariko serve refreshments at the meeting, all the while listening in on the conversation which very quickly turns somber.

When the officers get confirmation that it is the foreigners, the Portuguese, who have been buying the women, Akiteru quietly and discretely instructs Setsuna to start a whispering campaign among the Ranzan women to prevent their men from gambling, if they value their livelihoods and daughters.

“Have the women warn their men against gambling.”


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Twenty-First Panel
Rumors
“They are selling their daughters into slavery”


It is a month after the officers established the village of Do-i at Hieiyama to protect the supply of iron sand there. Just as things begin to settle down for everyone in the Clan, an ugly rumor begins to make the rounds and finally reaches the ears of the officers: families in the villages of other nearby clans have been selling their daughters off into slavery as payment for debts the family has incurred. Upon learning that nearly all of these debts had come from gambling, each of the officers set out to deal with the gambling problem in the domain of the Tensai in their own respective ways. Yugiri, for the most part, foists his portion off onto Kaisei.

When Kaisei gets to his office, he finds Keiko waiting for him and Natsumi curiously examining what appears to the Takumi to be a short wooden staff with a metal tube fixed to it. Keiko tells Kaisei that the item was delivered while he was out and that the one who delivered it was one of the merchants that the Clan deals with regularly. She recommends that the Takumi call in the Hatamoto because to her the item looks and feels like a weapon.

When Takeshi arrives, he confirms Keiko’s suspicions and identifies it as a blunderbuss, and notes that peasants used such weapons in the past to defeat the Samurai. Upon hearing this, Keiko tells the officers that more and more of these weapons have been appearing in the port where the Portuguese traders are allowed to do business.

“Peasants used them to defeat Samurai in the past”


The Hatamoto decides to investigate the firearms and Akari, hearing of this conversation through one of her agents, decides to investigate the merchants as well as look into the gambling problem. Before Takeshi leaves, Keiko gives him the blade that Takuma had forged for him and which was commissioned by Akari.

After the Hatamoto leaves, Soichiro comes in with a letter bearing a Mon that belongs to the Nohebi Clan, the clan that owns the domain on the other side of Hieiyama. It seems that the Nohebi Clan have taken offense at the officers for trespassing on “their” mountain. While the letter makes no mention of Do-i, and contains no indication that the Nohebi Clan are even aware of the existence of the village, the Soichiro makes it clear that Do-i must be protected.

Akari approaches her grandfather when he is alone, comments that he seems to be more stressed than usual, and inquires what the matter is. The Karo replies that on top of all the concerns that have suddenly arisen to trouble the court, he has to present Tenka to the Shogun at the Winter Court at the Capital and there is much to be done to prepare the young Daimyo for this. What’s more, all preparations need to be carried out properly. Sensing that her grandfather finds the reports of the blunderbusses particularly worrying, she suggests that he make a proclamation banning the use of the firearms against the subjects of the country. This catches the old man’s attention and he replies that he will consider doing exactly that.

The Shogun’s Winter Court


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Twentieth Panel
Warnings
Akari by the stream with the iron sand


Akari sneaks off to the stream that has the iron sand in its bed to see what Takuma the blade smith is so particular about. She scoops up a handful and examines it closely. It has a bluish sheen that she has never seen before. Takeshi looks for Yugiri but is unable to find him, not knowing that the Onmyouji had made his way back to the base camp. Frustrated, the Hatamoto stomps to the stream where he finds that Akari has built up a pile of the blue sand and stuck a stick of incense on top of it.

Near the cave where the caravan is hidden, Yugiri has a conversation with Yamamoto about where the torii and the steps leading up to it are to be laid. Takeshi tries to contact Yamamoto to ask for permission to take some iron sand back to the Clan House of the Tensai, but gets no response. However, Odan is at hand and he takes it upon himself to gather up some iron sand in Akari’s sack and hand it to the Hatamoto with his compliments and assurances that the kami would not mind.

The former Takumi shares his thoughts with Takeshi saying that he is actually looking forward to a life of peace and quiet, to be remembered even in humble circumstances, and to work towards growing the settlement, which may include finding wives for the ronin. Akari asks about the former Oniwaban of the Su Clan but Odan knows nothing, saying that he has never even seen the Oniwaban in person.

“I have never seen the Oniwaban in person”


Kaisei and Takeshi finally catch up to Yugiri and pounce on him. Their business at the mountain concluded, the officers plant a banner by the stream, charge the ronin with the responsibility of protecting the domain as part of the holdings of the Tensai Clan, and make the journey back to Ranzan. The three-day journey back is uneventful but the officers return to find that Keiko has been coming down hard on the ashigaru for wolf-whistling Murasaki while she’s been teaching Tenka swordsmanship. Takeshi is doubly displeased.

The Onmyouji is joyously welcomed back by his acolytes who have been mourning his passing and Yugiri proclaims that the Hatamoto has the favor of the kami because he alone was able to change the fate of the a lowly and worthless Onmyouji. For good measure, Yugiri proclaims Takeshi as someone who can defy fate and protect someone marked by death.

The Lady Kumo visits Akari in the evening and expresses pleasure at the Oniwaban’s progress. The Lady of Spiders seems particularly pleased when Akari makes mention of Saki, saying that the Oniwaban’s adoptive grandmother would be particularly proud of her. Then, turning somber, the Lady Kumo advises Akari to be more alert still for her foes are subtle. The gambling dens may not be spreading physically, but the corruption that they breed is. The Spider kami says that the corruption originates from the West, and she foresees a time when black sails will darken the bays of Japan, like some grim omen from a foreign land. Akari thanks her and gives her some of the iron sand as a gift, which the Lady Kumo is happy to accept.

Later still that evening, Inari appears before Takeshi and asks about his trip to Hieiyama, revealing along the way that Yamamoto is her uncle.

“So how is uncle…?”


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Nineteenth Panel
Villagers
Ronin at the ready


Kaisei and Takeshi are revived and they declare that they are from the Tensai Clan. The Tensai ashigaru show themselves and a standoff between them and the ronin ensue. Yamamoto calls his men to him and diffuses the situation. The Hatamoto then reveals the Tensai have come to the mountain to ask permission to gather the iron sand that can be found only here.

The kami seems pleased with Takeshi and sets down the conditions where he will allow the Tensai to gather the sand: Yamamoto wants more people to worship him, a tori to be erected at the foot of the mountain, a burnt offering, and to be welcomed at the Tensai Clan shrine. Takeshi notes that many of the conditions are vague and indefinite so while he accepts them, he makes no promises.

Akari produces a box of incense and Yugiri proceeds to light them. Yamamoto adds that he wishes a shrine to be constructed at the stream where the iron sand is to be gathered and offerings to be placed therein each time iron sand is taken. Kaisei offers to take the kami’s ronin in and make them part of the Tensai Clan.

“I wish a shrine to be built”


After enumerating his requirements, Yamamoto fades away, leaving the ronin to deal with their societal issues on their own. For this, they turn to an elderly gentleman who seems to act as their leader when the kami is not around. This gentleman identifies himself as Odan, once the Takumi of the Su, and he looks very distressed and uncomfortable.

Odan explains that he and the ronin would rather live in the mountains, alive, hidden away, and forgotten rather than be called dishonorable for their refusal to commit seppuku when their clan was defeated, and he would not have the Tensai contaminate themselves with this dishonor. Nonetheless, Takeshi, remembering his humble roots, insists on taking the ronin in and making them honorable once again. The former Takumi relents and agrees to discuss terms with the officers, leaving the ronin under the care of Eiji, one of his sub-lieutenants.

Meanwhile, Yugiri walks among the ronin and engages them in conversation, all the while pretending to be oblivious to the situation. The various ronin he speaks to generally tell him the same story and air the same concern: that their former masters would demand that honor be satisfied with blood. The Onmyouji suggests that the men offer themselves as the guardians of the mountain, specifically of the source of the iron sand. They could build a formal settlement and not have to worry about matters of honor any longer because they would be but humble villagers but under the protection of the Tensai. The ronin are happy at that idea and many nominate Odan as their representative.


“You would be humble villagers but alive”

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Eighteenth Panel
Waves
The first day out


The first day of the journey starts early with everyone in good spirits save for Yugiri whose morose mood not even sunshine and the smiling greetings of peasants can lift. It takes a couple of days to move through Ranzan, the town just outside the Clan House, and the officers note that the town is growing prosperous and is gradually spreading out into the countryside.

By the end of the third day, the officers and their entourage find themselves at the foothills of Hieiyama which are steep and thick with hardwoods and fruit trees. The scouts Takeshi sends out locate a cave that is well-hidden and large enough to accommodate the caravan but is not defensible should the site be discovered. The officers choose to rely on stealth and make it their base, and then they, along with a small contingent of ashigaru, make their way cautiously up the mountain, following the landmarks that Takuma had described to Akari, eventually locating the stream that has the iron sand in its bed. The caution of the officers costs them time though: by the time they find the stream, it is late in the day.

Another of Takeshi’s scouts returns with a report that there is a camp of men upstream. The scout describes the men as unkempt, undisciplined, and apparently near to mutiny, but a large man exerted his authority over them and calmed them down. As the officers discuss their next move, the Hatamoto takes the precaution of sending a runner back to the main contingent for reinforcements. In the heat of the discussion, no one notices Yugiri slip away and change into his white burial clothes.

The men of the mountain


Akari also manages to slip away while Kaisei and Takeshi are distracted by the reports of the returning scouts, and she makes her way to the camp upstream, creeping in close enough to eavesdrop on the men of the mountain. She overhears them talking about having tracked a caravan up to the foothills only to have lost it somewhere in the lower forest. The big, well-built man that the mountain men defer to is addressed by them as Yamamotokami-sama, the kami of the mountain, and he appears to be displeased that the are uninvited guests in his mountain.

The kami suspects that the caravan is from the Tensai Clan that he had recently revealed himself to. He addresses his men who are revealed to be the ronin who are all that are left of the defeated Su Clan and tells them that he has just recently begun enjoying the feeling of being free and being under the jurisdiction of no mortal. Because of this he is reluctant to have yet another group of mortals stake a claim on him.

It is at this point that Yugiri stumbles in looking like someone searching for a place in which to commit seppuku, but not before writing his nature-inspired death tanka. Yamamoto makes this observation to the Onmyouji and tells him that the mountain he is in is for those seeking life, not death. Yugiri asks Yamamoto what he and his men are doing, and as a reply the kami sends his men off to search for other uninvited guests. At this Akari rushes back to where Kaisei and Takeshi are and reports what she has heard, all the while maintaining the masquerade of being Megumi.

Yamamotokamisama


The Hatamoto immediately instructs his runners to return stealthily back to the main caravan with an order to ready their defenses. Upon hearing about Yugiri’s antics, Kaisei loses his patience with the Onmyouji sparking a loud argument between the Hatamoto and the Takumi. Akari chooses to quietly slip away as this happens and, just as she does, witnesses some of the ronin capture her fellow officers and knock them out.

Yamamoto answers Yugiri and in the course of the conversation reveals that what he as the kami of the mountain wants is worshippers, not owners. He also adds that he has become cynical of temples and shrines because the kami within them have become more like pampered pets rather than honored deities. The Onmyouji on his part reveals that he has decided to die because a peer and he had an argument. As if on cue, the ronin appear dragging Kaisei and Takeshi with them.

Akari has followed her fellow officers and led a contingent of soldiers with her. She is barely able to restrain the soldiers from attacking the kami and the ronin.

On seeing the unconscious Hatamoto and Takumi, Yugiri comments off hand that some of the kami’s worshippers appear injured. To this the kami replies that he does not know who they are. At this Yugiri reveals himself as an Onmyouji and declares that he would be willing to accept Yamamotosama as yet one more among the many kami he already worships. This appears to please the kami.


“…as yet one more among the many kami that I already worship.”

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Seventeenth Panel
Preparations
Hieiyama


(I proposed that the table switch game systems from Blood and Honor (B&H) to Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) because the former could not support the kind of game that the table wants to play. B&H is all about tragedy and has a strong Player vs. Player bias whereas FAE allows the players more freedom in exploring their respective characters. The table accepted the proposal and Erich provided invaluable help to our transitioning game systems.)

It is the first month of Autumn and the officers are deep in discussion about traveling to Mount Hiei and securing the iron sand that Takuma the blacksmith says he needs to forge the swords that Akari had commissioned for the officers. The iron sand is of such quality that an army equipped with steel made from it would be formidable indeed. Soichiro, the Karo, is noticeably absent from this discussion, and for some reason more and more of his paperwork seems to find its way to the desk of Kaisei who seizes upon this fact to excuse himself from the trip.

Yugiri, on his part, claims to have cast an augury that warns of doom and death befalling those who travel to the mountain. In spite of this, and after much pressure and even much more cajoling, both the Takumi and the Onmyouji are persuaded to go.

Takeshi, ever mindful of the condition of his childhood friend, decrees that Akiteru be carried in a palanquin on the trip. At this the Oniwaban declines and announces that he will concentrate on the disturbing reports that he has received during the Summer Festival and will send an agent in his stead. He proceeds to lock himself in his quarters. Not long after, a slender maid in a mask appears, presents her credentials as an operative of the Oniwaban, and introduces herself as Megumi. Takeshi is not fooled, nor is he amused.

Megumi


When the officers go off separately to prepare for their trip to Hieiyama, Akari seeks out Soichiro to apprise him of the situation and update him of the excursion to the mountain which is scheduled to depart the next day. The Karo updates the Oniwaban of the progress that Tenka is making with the sword in keeping with the wishes of the boy's father, Raijin.

At that moment Yugiri enters the room and announces that the young Daimyo should also know how to use the bow, of which the Onmyouji happens to be an accomplished practitioner who humbly offers his services and would be most eager to start giving the boy lessons the very next day. Soichiro, having learned about Yamamoto, the kami of the mountain, insists on having Yugiri go to find out what the newly-revealed kami wants. Forced to go to the mountain, the Onmyouji goes off to make preparations and loudly proclaims how he would like his remains to be disposed of when he dies on the mountain.

Kaisei enters shortly after to speak to the Karo about the growing mound of paperwork appearing on the desk of the Takumi only to be given a direct order to make allies of any stragglers who may be hiding in the mountain or to eradicate them. This is the first time the Karo has been so direct and the Takumi finds that he has no choice but to obey.

"Make them our allies…or eradicate them!"


The officers take steps to make sure that their respective areas of responsibility are in good order and they lay down contingency plans should anything happen in their absence. Kaisei has Keiko rearrange his calendar so that no sensitive talks or negotiations are held when he is not around and agrees to have her help Daichi, the barracks clerk, oversee the training of the ashigaru that Takeshi is leaving behind. To this end, Keiko is given charge of the sake ration of the soldiers.

Soichiro has taken back some of his paper work and continues to oversee Tenka's development with the help of Natsumi. Yugiri leaves behind eight weeks worth of auguries of auspicious days for his acolytes to administer, telling them not to grieve at his departure and comforting them as they go about their assigned tasks. He gathers up the books he has mastered and bequeaths them to Murasaki should she need to take over the shrine.

Akari, with the connivance of Setsuna, spreads the rumor that Akiteru the Oniwaban sits at the center of his web, meeting with his agents, and keeping an omniscient eye on the comings and goings of all things in Teishou. With all the preparation in place, and with an auspicious hour of departure chosen by the reluctant Onmyouji, the officers and their entourage set off. Everything proceeds smoothly except for the incident where Megumi scares Keiji into not touching her which Yugiri, naturally, interprets as an ill omen.

Just before departure


End of the Seventeen Panel
to the Sixteenth Panel
to the Eighteenth Panel

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