Accounts of Strange Incidents

Thirty-Sixth Panel
Loopholes
The fifth scroll


Yugiri looks over his books and scrolls that he brought with him and notes that a fifth scroll—which he does not quite remember bringing with him—contains omens and prophecies that eerily seem to apply to the situation that the clan seems to be facing. Yugiri looks around, deliberately avoiding eye contact with Koushi and sees Murasaki standing at a discreet distance with her twin swords. For some reason, the Kaishaku seems to be avoiding his gaze, but that could just be his imagination.

The Onmyouji turns back to the fifth scroll and takes notes on the prophecies he can deal with, and which omens he can turn to the advantage of the Tensai. The Onmyouji says aloud to no one in particular that it is fortunate that the clan has a Hatamoto who can defy fate. Koushi laughs quietly at that and says that there is someone who is interested in preserving the interests of the clan but the ghost neglects to say exactly who this benefactor is. The former Karo does mention that Saki was instrumental in setting up this situation. The ghosts adds cryptically that Takeshi is the loophole but does not elaborate further.

Back in the geisha house, the Hatamoto suddenly sneezes and Setsuna immediately offers Takeshi a dose of Iwao’s medicine. Takeshi gags at the smell and declines.

“Takeshi is the loophole.”


Meanwhile, Akiteru handles the logistics of Soichiro’s care and Misako’s security. As the roles of the officers are reassigned, it is suggested that Keiko remain with the office of the Takumi and help Misako. Keiko acquiesces but is obviously unhappy at this an looks longingly at Kaisei. The latter panics at the thought of having juggle all the paperwork as Karo and he begs her to stay by his side. Keiko joyfully accepts.

Kaisei introduces Kasumi to Goro since they will be traveling together. Keiko shyly asks Kaisei if he had though of looking for a wife but Kaisei misunderstands and reiterates that he is glad to have her by his side. He does not notice his secretary blush furiously. But the Takumi does notice that Setsuna seems stressed by Soichiro’s illness and decides to have tea with her to allow her to breathe and calm down.

Seeing that the preparations for the journey to the Winter Court are quickly taking shape, Takeshi decides to go off to a quiet corner of the clan house and call upon the mysterious kami that his childhood friend seems to be harboring. The Hatamoto waits silently for a while and is about to give up with Lady Kumo appears before him.

Takeshi talks to Lady Kumo


After a bit of small talk (as small talk goes with kami) the Lady of Spiders reveals that Takeshi has been performing admirably as a herald, and as such, has become her favorite plaything. When Takeshi bridles at this, Kumo hastens to add that she and he have the same objectives and thus are on the same side. The kami also adds that she would finally be able to discharge all her debts thanks to the Hatamoto, saying that Akari would know the relief that comes with finally being thusly unburdened.

The clan has until the spring to decide how to deal with the contract its officers had made with the other side. Meanwhile, blackness has come to the land: black sails fill the bay, black robes walk among the people, and black powder fills the air with its stench. All these are ushering in a black world.

Takeshi, however, remains on his guard and, as he ends the audience with the Lady of Spiders, he tells her that he will watch his back. Later, he has a heart to heart talk with his childhood friend about Lady Kumo. The conversation lasts long into the night.

When Akari goes to bed, she dreams of her grandmother, Saki.

“You have until spring to decide how to deal with the other side.”


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Thirty-Fifth Panel
Debts
“Soichiro had been poring over this document for more than a week.”


Kaisei arrives at the geisha house with the oni medicine in time to hear Yugiri explaining that Soichiro may have fallen ill because he had been poring over a supernatural contract for the past week. The Takumi gives the medicine and the instructions of its administration to Setsuna who immediately takes steps to administer the medicine to the old Karo. Oni medicine being what it is, everyone is no longer as panicked over Soichiro as they were before, but the worry is still palpable.

There is still the matter of the strange supernatural contract and what it means for the clan. When Takeshi offers to have a kami look the contract over, Yugiri voices his reluctance to incur any more supernatural debts. He proposes that he remain in Teishou to watch over the old Karo while the rest of the officers attend the Winter Court. The roles would have to be shuffled, of course: Kaisei will stand in as Karo and Misako will take over as Takumi. Yugiri will do his best to catch up with Soichiro but if they fail, Takeshi will have to stand in as Onmyouji.

After outlining his proposal, Yugiri withdraws to perform the rituals of his auguries. He goes to the courtyard, blindfolds himself, takes up his bow, spins around and lets the arrow loose. Tearing off the blindfold he tracks the arrow’s flight and sees that it lands in the graveyard. The Onmyouji sets off to fetch his arrow and to draw his auguries there. Takeshi sends off Keiji to escort Yugiri but Murasaki waves him back, making it clear that she’ll be the one escorting the Onmyouji.

The arrow landed in the graveyard


Yugiri sits in the graveyard and starts reading his books and casting his auguries. He becomes aware of a ghost manifesting behind him, and even though the Onmyouji cannot see who it is, he somehow knows that it is the shade of of Koushi, the former Karo who was killed in the pyrrhic war that gained the Tensai the lands of the Su. Koushi was the only son of Soichiro and the late lamented Saki. The Onmyouji pretends not to notice the spirit and continues with his work.

Koushi starts recounting the events that led up to the war with the Su and how the corruption in Chisu, spurred by the Nohebi, threatened to spread into Teishou. The war was a defensive war. It was to purge the land of a pestilence that threatened to engulf it.

Yugiri starts to write out his divinations, reading them aloud as he goes. An onlooker would think that the Onmyouji were replying to the ghost and asking Koushi questions. But that could not be the case since the Onmyouji had not acknowledged the ghost and is acting as if the spirit were not standing directly behind him.

Yugiri, strangely enough, senses Koushi’s amusement, and can swear that the ghost is smiling behind his back. The former Karo continues his confession: the pestilence—what some kami had taken to calling the ‘spreading of all things black’—had supernatural roots and the Daimyo, along with the other officers had to take on debts to certain kami—debts that about to come due in spring.

The late Karo, Koushi, son of Soichiro and Saki


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Thirty-Fourth Panel
Contracts
Takeshi demands that Yugiri explain himself


Kaisei and Takeshi reach Misako’s chambers in time to see Akita entering with tea. The officers see Yugiri halfway out of a closet discussing a document with Misako. The Hatamoto pounces on the hapless Onmyouji and demands that he explain himself. Yugiri’s bewildered attempts to explain the document he and Misako were studying only seem to aggravate Takeshi even more.

Kaisei steps in and diffuses the situation by asking if the document makes any references to the oni. The Onmyouji and the acting Karo pore over the document again and find no mention of oni specifically but realize that the terms are precise: the land will literally be moved to another world. Yugiri begins to offer a suggestion but demurs about competing the thought, much to the frustration of Kaisei, Misako, and Takeshi, and to the amusement of Akari who has been spying on the four all this time and relaying what she sees to Kasumi who is at once both impressed and envious at the methods of the Oniwaban.

Akari’s amusement is cut short when Setsuna suddenly enters her chambers and frantically demands that the Oniwaban follow her. Soichiro seems to have fallen faint from fever in the geisha house. The old Karo seems to be delirious and thinks that he is discussing a certain document with Saki, his wife and former Oniwaban, now long deceased. The Head Geisha sends maiko to summon the other officers.

“What do you think of the fine print, Saki?”


Akari is joined by the other officers as well as Misako, Natsumi, and Tenka. The Oniwaban hurriedly sends Kaisei out to ask Iwao for a tincture that would break the old man’s fever. The Takumi rushes out with his assistant Fuyu in tow to look for the oni and finds him, bruises from Ikkini still fresh, pondering the shogi board that he had set up under the oak tree, unsure what his first move should be. Kaisei get’s the oni’s attention by suggesting a move. The oni happily moves the piece as the Takumi explains the urgent need for oni medicine. When Iwao says that he will take a look at Soichiro after the game, Kaisei quickly checkmates him.

Grumbling under his breath, the oni gets up and makes his way to the clan house choosing a path that would take him straight through the center of town. Panicked at this, Kaisei stops the oni and leads him back to the shogi board to start another game. The Takumi send Fuyu to the geisha house with the instruction to bring Soichiro to Iwao instead. To the credit of the oni, he asks Kaisei about the symptoms that the old Karo is manifesting as he and the Takumi play. Kaisei draws on his photographic memory to describe the symptoms as best he can and is grateful to see the oni scratching notes on the ground. He also notes that Iwao’s game has suddenly gone to master level. Then suddenly the oni excuses himself to prepare the medicine.

After some time, Iwao returns with medicine and instructions how to administer it. The Takumi starts wondering what is keeping the officers from bringing the old Karo over when Fuyu returns and tells Kaisei to return to the geisha house instead. The Takumi finds a way to checkmate the oni and takes his leave. Apparently Yugiri was against moving Soichiro suspecting that the illness may have a supernatural component. Knowing that the Onmyouji may be inscrutable but never stupid, Kaisei hurries over with the medicine, dragging poor Fuyu behind him.

“Make sure that he takes this medicine on a full stomach.”


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Thirty-Third Panel
Revelations
Murasaki doesn’t understand how she feels


Takeshi finds Murasaki sweeping the shrine yard and demands from her the whereabouts of the Onmyouji, but she responds with a cryptic answer, sounding almost like the Onmyouji himself. The Hatamoto paces back and forth in front of the Kaishaku-cum-Miko hurling invectives and accusations at the absent Onmyouji, not bothering to hide his annoyance and irritation. He barely registers Murasaki’s timid protestations that this is all a misunderstanding and that the Hatamoto doesn’t understand what’s really happening. Takeshi picks up on her tone and when he accusingly asks her if she is in love with Yugiri, blushes furiously and murmurs that she doesn’t understand. The Hatamoto backs off, and instead wearily and politely asks to be pointed in the direction where the Kaishaku last saw the Onmyouji. Eyes downcast, Murasaki points out the direction and Takeshi goes on his way.

Yugiri has hidden himself in Misako’s quarters which has, in a surprisingly short amount of time, become filled with documents. She is puzzled by a document that she is looking over. It bears Raijin’s seal and appears to have been written by his hand. It appears to be a contract, but it contains a lot of celestial legalese so she passes it to Yugiri to decipher. Onmyouji takes the document and decides to read it in the closet. He finds the language familiar but the contents puzzling. The document is a legally binding contract that specifies that Raijin had agreed to cede the land to an underworld god whose name Yugiri does not recognize. What is even more puzzling is the clause that says in no uncertain terms that the land is to be physically transferred to the under (other?) world.

The Under (Other?) world


Instead of finding Yugiri, Takeshi finds Soichiro instead and decides to relay the message of Yamamoto to the Karo that he will have to make a decision come spring. Soichiro who already looked like he was under the weather to begin with, looked even worse after receiving the message. When the Hatamoto asks the Karo if he’s okay, the old man says that the cold never agreed with him. He takes his leave of Takeshi saying that he needs to consult with Yugiri and discuss matters with Misako. The Hatamoto wryly comments that he too has business with the elusive Onmyouji but will give way to the Karo’s concerns. The two part ways to conduct their own respective searches.

Takeshi’s search leads him to the oak tree by the clan temple where he finds Kaisei beating Iwao at shogi (again!). Just as the Hatamoto arrives, Ikkini, the little sister of the Oni, shows up again and pesters her older brother to return home. Iwao, as usual, ignores her as he sets up the board for another game. Ikkini is more persistent this time and even sounds a little frightened. She says that their parents have started talking about some debt to the gods, but they never go into specifics and always go silent when they realize that she’s listening.

The Hatamoto and the Takumi sense the frustration of the female onl growing and decide to make themselves scarce. Kaisei motions to Takeshi to follow him as he heads to Misako’s quarters. Since it is one of the most remote places of the clan house, they should both be safe there.

Ikkini is upset at her big brother Iwao


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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.”


End of the Twenty-Seventh Panel
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