Accounts of Strange Incidents

Thirty-Second Panel
Wagers
“Just make it worth her time!”


Takeshi and Yamamoto talk and the kami of the mountain suggests that the Hatamoto take Inari with him to the Winter Court in a portable temple. After all, the kami points out, the megami is in love with him, as if that were explanation enough. Takeshi demurs that it would be rude to wake her from her well-deserved rest to which Yamamoto retorts that all the Hatamoto has to do is make things worth her while.

Takeshi abruptly changes the subject, saying that he visited Hieiyama to do Yamamoto the courtesy of informing him that he would be away at the Winter Court for a while, and to ask the kami to help the Tensai should any trouble erupt, especially from the Nohebi. The kami of the mountain agrees to this and asks after Goro but Takeshi does not know who that is. Yamamoto recommends that the Hatamoto ask Akari. The kami adds that Soichiro should be reminded that the deal that Raijin made will expire when spring comes.

The kami and the Hatamoto part with the former commanding the latter to stay alive: apparently Yamamoto had bet half his mountain against the rice fields of his brother-in-law, Orochi, who just happened to be the patron deity of serpents and the Nohebi. Yamamoto learned that the performance of the Tensai Clan at the Winter Court would be of grace and courage, with Takeshi allowing the Shogun’s ashigeru to fire their muskets at him. Naturally, Yamamoto bet that takeshi | Takeshi]] would prove immune to musket fire and survive. Takeshi could feel a vein throbbing in his forehead; so that was why Akari sent him to Takuma to ask about bullet-proof armor!

Orochikamisama


It takes a week for Takeshi to track down Akari. The Oniwaban happens to be with Goro when the Hatamoto finds her so she introduces the tanuki to her childhood friend. The Lady Kumo, who was lurking nearby as a spider, asks the Oniwaban to introduce her to the Hatamoto as well, but Akari demurs. Takeshi then grabs his childhood friend and demands why she thought it was a good idea to set him up as target practice for the muskets of the Shogun.

The Oniwaban acts shocked and tells Takeshi to be gentle with her on account of her wound. Upon hearing this the Hatamoto backs off until he realizes that Akari’s wound had already fully healed a while back with the onset of winter. Akari looks to Goro for help but the tanuki is too busy rolling on the ground laughing. Of the Lady Kumo, the Oniwaban sees no sign.

Finally, after a lot of persuasion, Akari tells Takeshi that the musket fire stunt was Yugiri’s idea. The Hatamoto stomps off in search of the Onmyouji loudly comparing him to various foodstuffs, particularly mochi (since the Onmyouji has a habit of putting on a lot of weight during the winter months), and graphically describing what would happen to Yugiri once he catches up to him.

“Where is that walking mochi?!”


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Thirty-First Panel
Fortunes
“…taking refuge from the storm…”


Akiteru is with Yugiri as the Onmyouji casts the fortunes for the season, “The good host who cleans the tracks of mud left by guests seeking refuge from the storm will find his reward in a house filled with gratitude and joy.”

The Oniwaban then receives his reports: the activities of the Portuguese have ground to a halt because of winter and many of the foreign ships have left for the season. The settlements along the shoreline have settled in for the winter and their inhabitants look forward to spring. More and more weapons of foreign make have been sighted circulating among the shoreline garrisons, particularly firesticks. The Nohebi have doubled the number of men in their garrisons and these are proving to be a burden on the locals that host them.

The Takumi of the Nohebi has been overheard to boast that the clan will be the most impressive at the Winter Court with their presentation of Western Culture and sensibilities. While offered as mere novelties to entertain the court and the other clans, the Takumi believes that they are the future of Japan, especially their science as showcased in their firearms.

The audacity and presumption of the Nohebi stuns both the Oniwaban and Onmyouji of the Tensai into silence until Yugiri declares that the presentation of the Tensai will prove the claims of the Nohebi to be lies. The Onmyouji declares that Takeshi shall receive musket fire and survive. After all, the kami have given him the power to alter fate. Elsewhere, Takeshi suddenly sneezes.

“Takeshi shall take musket fire and survive!”


Akari suggests that her childhood friend visit Takuma the swordsmith and inquire about armor that could defeat muskets. Takeshi finds the suggestion reasonable and visits the swordsmith at his forge at Hieiyama. Takuma is glad to see the Hatamoto, saying that Yamamotokamisama had been recently talking about him incessantly, and that Takeshi should look the kami up.

The swordsmith tells the Hatamoto that he is aware of the predicament that Takeshi has been put in and offers his sympathies and assurances. When it becomes clear that Takeshi has no idea what the swordsmith is talking about, the swordsmith assures him that everything will turn out fine. Takuma then trots out a suit of armor that he had been working on alongside the muskets that he had been producing.

As he was designing the muskets, the swordsmith had started asking himself what would it take to defeat musket bullets and came up with armor with an unconventional design. The swordsmith describes in loving detail how the armor’s curves could deflect musket bullets oblivious to the alarm and mounting exasperation of Takeshi to the idea that he’ll be the one wearing the armor when it is tested. When Takuma starts wondering aloud what sort of bullet would be needed to defeat his armor, the Hatamoto storms off to look for Yamamoto. The swordsmith does not seem to notice Takeshi leave.

“What sort of armor could defeat musket fire?”


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Thirtieth Panel
Confessions
Takeshi and Kaisei are very happy for Akari


Akiteru approaches Kasumi’s door only to find Kaisei and Takeshi already there with bouquets in hand. With wide grins the friends of the Oniwaban press the flowers on him and then park themselves expectantly in the hallway as they watch their friend enter, close enough to be on hand should he need them but far away enough to ensure his privacy.

Feeling uncharacteristically nervous, Akiteru greets Kasumi, blurts out to her that he is really a she, that his…er, her…name is really Akari, and then, bracing for hysterics and rejection, asks the widow if she would agree to marry. Kasumi demurs and teases the Oniwaban a bit, but very quickly accepts. She however makes it very clear that she expects to accompany Akari and the other officers to the Shogun’s Winter Court, mentioning mysteriously that she may prove useful. The Oniwaban stumbles out of Kasumi’s room nonplussed and in a daze and is greeted happily by the Hatamoto and the Takumi, who expected nothing but success from their friend. The three then move off to see to the details of the arrangements they respectively are leaving behind.

Takeshi leaves instructions with his men regarding the security of the clan lands, particularly the recently acquired Chisu. He also tells them to keep an eye out for runaways and wanderers, especially if they are women since the Nohebi may be hunting them down for the slave trade. Should the ashigaru spot any runaways and wanderers, they are to be brought to the geisha house just within the Nohebi border where they will be kept safe. There are rumors of a peasant revolt brewing in Nohebi and the samurai there are preparing to put it down.

“Why didn’t you accept?”


Takeshi visits Kasumi bringing with him a beautiful wedding kimono as a gift. The widow admires the kimono but is reluctant to accept it because it is so beautiful. The Hatamoto tells her that the kimono is unused since it was given to him by a man as a wedding proposal. Appalled, Kasumi asks why he didn’t accept, and Takeshi is taken aback at the question: clearly, this woman is open-minded! They continue to talk and the Hatamoto comes to realize that this woman is more than she seems—for one thing, she seems at ease when it comes to dealing with men in power, and the resolve she shows is impressive, if not intimidating. Takeshi concludes his visit convinced that his childhood friend has made a good, if potentially dangerous, match. On his way out, he nods to Akita, a maiko sent by Setsuna to attend to Kasumi, as she enters the room of the widow.

When Kaisei calls on Kasumi, it is Akita who lets him in and attends to them while they chat. The Takumi suggests a friendly game of karuta which the widow gladly accepts. The maiko reads for them and she turns out to be surprisingly good at it. To his surprise, Kaisei wins against Kasumi by only the smallest of margins; he notes how focused and quick she is, and how she seems to know which card Akita is reading just by the maiko’s breathing. Clearly there is more to this woman than meets the eye. The widow inquires why the Takumi has not married. He simply replies that he has lost the love of his life and mentions that she left behind some clothes that the widow may like to use. Kasumi gracefully accepts.

Their conversation ends cordially with them talking about the children that the Takumi seems to be accumulating. Kaisei notices with admiration how subtly Kasumi had steered their conversation that way. He notices that Kasumi does not mention Kagami and when he mentions the tanuki child by name, she does not recognize her. This leads the Takumi to guess that the widow cannot actually see the tanuki child. On her part, Kasumi grills Kaisei about Kagami.

“Just who is this mysterious child?”


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Twenty-Ninth Panel
Arrangements
A memory of Tsukino


It is the first month of winter and, even though there is no snow, it is already bitingly cold. Kaisei feels particularly melancholic this time of year because it always reminds him of his lost love Tsukino who died in childbirth along with their daughter. Since she was the Takumi at the time, and he her assistant, their relationship was illicit and so was kept hidden. When he assumed the office at her death he felt a great deal of guilt because he was, in a fashion, directly responsible for her death. His parents wanted him to pursue another career but he chose instead to be Takumi partly out of a sense of duty, and partly out of a sense of obligation both to the Tensai Clan and to Tsukino herself.

Keiko, ever reasonable, ever rational, and ever reliable had to address him by his office twice and finally call him by his name before he snapped out of his reverie. The Takumi and his secretary were discussing the arrangements that all the officers had to leave behind when they left to attend the Shogun’s Winter Court. The invitation made it clear that all the officers of all the clans had to attend and it was worded in such a way that, no matter how creatively Kaisei tried to interpret the words, there was no way around it. This told him one thing though: the Takumi of the Shogun was not one to be trifled with; that one was almost as good as he is.

What the officers have set up so far is that in their absence Keiko will oversee the office of the Takumi, Setsuna will collect the reports of the agents of the Oniwaban, and Daichi will assist Kazuhira in managing the ashigeru of the clan. Soichiro leaves Misako in his stead as Karo.

Keiko and Kaisei making arrangements


Soichiro calls the officers for a briefing of what to expect at the Winter Court and has Misako attend. She shows up in older-style kimono, similar to what Lady Kiko prefers to wear. It seems that the courts of seven clans will be in attendance and Soichiro points out (perhaps needlessly) that everyone there will be falling over themselves trying to outdo each other. The old man decrees that Kiko and little Natsumi will perform their dance on behalf of the Tensai, and Kaisei follow up with something impressive and amusing.

A few items of note are brought up at the close of the meeting: snow is forecast to be heavy this year but will not fall until the third week, Akari’s wound has finally healed, Takeshi found out that Inari has gone into hibernation, and the spy network of the Oniwaban has discovered that the disastrous charge up Hieiyama was carried out on a prediction of success by the Onmyouji of the Nohebi Clan; said Onmyouji has since committed seppuku.

As the court continues to prepare for the Winter Court, Kaisei asks Akiteru to dig up any dirt he can on the Takumi of the Nohebi and send out agents among the settlements along the shoreline to look for and spy on any Portuguese activity. The Takumi of the Tensai wants to know what the foreigners are up to and, more importantly, how they are reacting to what has happened to their collaborators. The Oniwaban agrees but seems distracted. After hurriedly issuing the orders, Akiteru excuses himself. Realizing what is going on with their comrade and friend, Kaisei and Takeshi follow.

“I want to know what they’re up to and how they’re reacting!”


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Twenty-Eighth Panel
Words
A samurai of the Nohebi


As Yugiri and Murasaki make their way out of the town, they find their way into the countryside blocked by three samurai of the Nohebi. Even though the two disguised Tensai officers conspicuously make a show of making way for these men, and avoiding eye contact by staring at the road, the samurai do not move along. It seems that they have taken an interest in the couple, in particular, in Murasaki.

Murasaki tightens her grip on the bundle of sticks where she has hidden her swords just the men command Yugiri to go on his way and leave her with them. One of the men glances at her and addresses her as if she were his wife, commanding her to lay down her bundle. She feels the hot blood of rage rush to her face as she glances at the Onmyouji to warn him that there will be blood, but Yugiri has his eyes fixed firmly on the feet of the samurai and he uncharacteristically gestures in no uncertain terms for her to stay her hand. Then he speaks.

At first the manner of speech of the Onmyouji is casual and rough in the manner of all peasants, but as he continues to apologize for inconveniencing men of such high station, the words he uses and the sentences he casts start to take on the traits of lofty speech and until, eventually, Yugiri speaks eloquently in the idiom of the capital, Kyoto.

A fourth set of feet come into the field of vision of the Onmyouji, and he hears a commanding voice name the three samurai as fools, angry that they do not recognize a scholar of the capital when they hear one.

“He is a scholar from the capital!”


The fourth samurai, obviously a person of some authority, commands Murasaki and Yugiri to be on their way and leave the lands of the Nohebi, but not before telling the Onmyouji that he had better remind the Emperor that he has loyal subjects in the Nohebi Clan. Yugiri, as usual, gives no indication that he heard, but he does note the fourth samurai tell the other three that no one shall speak of this encounter ever again.

Back at Do-i, Takeshi, calls upon Yamamoto for an audience and is readily granted one. The Hatamoto warns the kami of the plans of the Nohebi to blow up the mountain which causes the kami much amusement. Nevertheless, Yamamoto agrees to help out with the preparations against an attack. Not long after, Takeshi receives a reply from Akari.

Over the course of several days, perhaps a week, Akari had been visiting the main encampment of the Nohebi army as Megumi in the guise of a Maiko of the nearby geisha house. The watch had grown accustomed to her coming and going and entertaining the men. At least the men respect her being a maiko and do not lay hands on her. She watches the men train and she assesses their prowess. She learns that a plan to blow up the mountain had failed and the clan Onmyouji had been tasked to come up with an alternative plan.

Megumi entertains the troops


She overhears the Hatamoto rage over the plan which is to have the men charge up the mountain. She is unaware that the man who sent Yugiri and Murasaki on their way was the Hatamoto of the Nohebi himself. She tries to delay the charge in many little ways. There are many inexplicable accidents and misfortunes in the camp, the worst of which was the armor of a captain catching fire. Akari recognizes the captain as the one who had tried to accost her in her guise as Kyoya, and who turns out to be the son of the Hatamoto. When she questions Goro he just smiles and says nothing.

The day of the charge arrives and there is nothing Megumi can do any more to delay it without putting herself at risk. The Lady Kumo offers a suggestion that leads Akari to discovering that the Head Geisha of the house that took her in has feelings for the Hatamoto of the Nohebi. A few suggestions here and there and the Head Geisha and the Hatamoto meet in a tryst that causes him to miss the planned charge, and to allow Akari to escape for home with valuable documents.

The charge up the mountain is a disaster for the Nohebi with many lives and horses lost, and many hostages taken, among them, the son of the Hatamoto whom Takeshi personally takes charge of.

When the officers of the Tensai convene at the clan house, Takeshi presents his hostage to them. Soichiro surprises everyone by telling the hostage that the Nohebi will never reclaim the land of the Tensai, and by telling the other officers to prepare for war. The Winter Court is coming up and the Karo expects the war to start there. When the Karo leaves, and the hostage is taken away, the officers outline their plans. There is talk about sabotage, assassinations, murders, and the fomenting of uprisings. Kaisei tells the others what had transpired with Iwao.

“The plan was to charge up the mountain.”


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Twenty-Seventh Panel
Omens
“I would go outside if someone were to accompany me.”


Relieved that the Daimyo had been found, Kaisei quickly sends word out that the search is over, the Daimyo is safe, and everyone can calm down. It takes a while for the news to get to Soichiro who seems particularly affected. Misako on her part is happy to have visitors and feels that she is strong enough to walk around outside if someone could help her. Maybe the maiko could drop by and entertain her now and then?

The Takumi offers to help Misako walk around and, with Tenka in tow, eventually they end up by the tree where Iwao’s shogi board is set up. The oni greets the child Daimyo happily and the two immediately settle down to their game which Misako watches with interest. After Tenka defeats Iwao, the oni sets up the board again and demands a rematch. Before anyone can respond, Misako asks if she can play and the oni happily accepts. Kaisei quietly observes to his Daimyo that the oni really loves shogi. This makes the boy nod and observe in turn that the oni is actually getting better at it.

As the game between the oni and the widow progresses, the smell of burnt wood suddenly permeates the air and a young female oni steps out from behind the tree. She goes up to Iwao, addresses him petulantly as her elder brother, and tells him that he’s long overdue to come home. Without looking up from the board, Iwao tells his little sister, Ikkini by name, that he’s busy playing and to leave him alone.

Ikkini, Iwao’s little sister


But Ikkini persists and reminds her big brother of the errand he was supposed to run for their parents: he was supposed to bring back the ghost of someone-or-other because of a deal that that someone made with their parents seven years ago. Iwao replies gruffly that he has not been able to find someone-or-other or their ghost so he can’t go back yet. Besides, he’s busy playing. At this Ikkini pouts, stamps her foot and turns to leave, saying that their parents will not be pleased. Iwao just grumbles, and Misako puts his king in checkmate, ending the game.

Iwao, not for the first time that day, stares dumbfounded at the board while Misako thanks him for the game by bowing. Meanwhile, Natsumi has caught up and proceeds to scold Tenka. As he watches the scene before him, Kaisei worries what would happen should the parents of the oni siblings decide to appear and take matters into their own hands.

Back in the domain of the Nohebi, Yugiri and Murasaki approach a despondent woman. The Onmyouji manipulates the situation in such a way that the Kaishaku has to talk to the woman which flusters Murasaki because she’s not comfortable talking to strangers, and at the same makes her annoyed at Yugiri for some reason. The officers of the Tensai learn that the woman’s parents were forced to sell off her sister, and that half a dozen other girls in the town had suffered the same fate. The very next day, the ashigaru of the Nohebi began marching around with bright, shiny new matchlocks.

“The ashigaru began marching around with bright, shiny new matchlocks.”


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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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