Accounts of Strange Incidents

First Panel
Ceremonies
Cherry blossom viewing


It is spring and the officers of the court view the cherry blossoms and look on as the Karo, Soichiro, instructs Tenka, the young Daimyo, in the ways of life. In attendance, at the insistence of the Karo, are several young geisha.

Someone brings up the need to make preparations for the young Daimyo’s seven-year ceremony and suggests that perhaps it would be a good idea to hold said celebrations in Chisu, the recently conquered province. The court agrees: the peasants there must be made to understand to whom they now owe their loyalty. The Karo approves of the suggestion and leaves the officers to work out the details.

The officers make their way to Chisu, and along the way learn that the peasants there lack for food. They agree to look into the situation. After all, the Tensai have a reputation to uphold: ever are they kind to the peasants of their domain.

Yugiri the Onmyouji reluctantly agrees to inspect the shrine of Chisu even though he declares that he would rather wait for inspiration. He nonetheless makes his way to the shrine accompanied by Takeshi the Hatamoto and his personal guard, and is disappointed to discover that a neglected roadside shrine is all there is. Meanwhile, Takeshi, his memories of the battles of the conquest still fresh, orders his men to ensure that there are no traps in the area, telling them to turn over every stone if they have to, while he patrols a perimeter he had set up.

Overzealous ashigaru


His ashigaru take his orders literally and proceed with all diligence and much enthusiasm.

Before long, Yugiri hears a petulant female voice complaining at him about uncouth ashigaru tearing up the surroundings of the shrine. Recognizing the voice as that of a kami, perhaps that of the kami of the shrine itself, Yugiri tells Takeshi about the overzealousness of his men and soothes the invisible speaker by assuring her that he had brought her a playmate.

The Hatamoto castigates his men for being too literal minded and orders them to make amends. They do so with alacrity and zest by cleaning the area of the shrine until it sparkles. The Onmyouji directs the ashigaru and continues with his tasks, impressing the kami with his hard work and diligence despite his protestations to the contrary. The kami introduces herself as Inari and presents Yugiri with a little fox spirit as a token of esteem and to be his familiar and guide. Yugiri decides to name the little fox Kawa.

Meanwhile Akari the Oniwaban and Kaisei the Takumi hear rumors about a stock of rice hidden away by possible insurgents. Akari goes off to investigate these rumors while Kaisei stays to get a reading on the peasantry and cultivate goodwill with the crowds of curious—and apprehensive—-peasants who have gathered around the officers. He is able to not only to calm the fears of the peasants but is also able to gain their support and admiration as well on behalf of the Tensai Clan.

In the course of her investigations, Akari quietly spreads rumors that paint the Tensai in a positive light, making Kaisei’s work easier. Akari locates the storehouse which is guarded by soldiers formerly of the Su Clan and informs Takeshi. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches sight of a small creature scurrying away from the storehouse. Takeshi immediately goes to the storehouse, causes consternation among the guards, and orders his bodyguards to open the storehouse only to find it empty.

The sergeant who conveyed Akari’s report to Takeshi is dumbfounded while his Hatamoto impatiently demands an explanation. Akari realizes what the creature she caught sight of actually is and tracks it down. It is a tanuki. Meanwhile, Takeshi gives his men permission to literally turn over every stone in search of the missing rice.

A tanuki appears!


Akari haggles with the tanuki to show her where the rice is, certain that the youkai had something to do with its disappearance. The tanuki obliges the Oniwaban, apparently more interested in the game of haggling rather than getting any profit from it. Eventually an agreement is reached and the tanuki makes the rice appear again, much to the consternation of Takeshi’s ashigaru who end up under sacks of it. Takeshi, however, remains unimpressed and orders his men to see to the distribution of the rice. He then turns to the storehouse guards and orders them back to basic training not only to rid them of their bad habits but, more importantly, to make sure that they integrate properly with the rest of the soldiers of the Tensai Clan. When Takeshi announces that he would personally oversee their retraining, his bodyguard give the storehouse guards a look filled with pity and sympathy.

Takeshi decides that Akiteru and Kaisei also need to to train and sees to it that they do, much to their consternation.

During a break in Takeshi’s training, Akari hears a voice in her ear that introduces itself as Lady Kumo. It’s manner is familiar as it addresses Akari as a fellow weaver of webs and informs her that it will follow her progress with great interest. Just as mysteriously, the voice falls silent.

At long last the preparations for the Seventh Year Ceremony are complete and Yugiri and Soichiro prepare to receive Tenka in front of the roadside shrine of Inari. A lengthy procession shows off the young daimyo, escorted by his Hatamoto because the clan Yojimbo was killed in the conquest of Chisu. Inari sees the Daimyo and the Hatamoto and excitedly asks Yugiri if that’s the playmate that he had promised her. The Onmyouji nods cryptically and the kami exclaims how handsome her playmate is, mentioning in passing that the child he is escorting is not so bad looking either. At that moment, a chill ripples up and down Takeshi’s spine.

“Oh! How handsome my playmate is!”


The ceremony proceeds smoothly, but just as it builds up to its climax wherein the rays of the setting sun envelop the young Daimyo, as if to show that Amaterasu has favored the child, a fire breaks out ruining the effect and dispelling the glamour. The Hatamoto, the Oniwaban and the Takumi immediately spring into action, each one doing what each does best. Akari in the guise of Akiteru determined that the fire was set deliberately and sought out the identity of the arsonists, Kaisei draws the crowd’s attention away from the blaze and towards the Daimyo, and Takeshi and his men ensure that everyone at the celebration is safe. Yugiri calls down a blessing upon his fellow officers, granting them immunity from surprise. This proves timely as the fire turns out to be a ruse to lure the officers into an ambush.

Takeshi is attacked first but the blessing allows him to catch the assassin by surprise and overpower him. Unfortunately, the Hatamoto is unable to prevent the assassin from taking his own life.

Akari has better luck because her assailant suddenly finds himself entangled in webbing and is unable to commit suicide. As the Oniwaban subdues her assailant, Lady Kumo’s voice quietly informs her that she now in Lady Kumo’s debt. Ever pragmatic, Akari turns to the task at hand. In desperation, the failed assassin pleads for the life of his daughter and reveals that she is being held hostage at the gambling den of the Su Clan by those who refuse to recognize the authority of the Tensai Clan over Chisu.

Held hostage in a gambling den


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Second Panel
Hostages
In the gambling den of the Su


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

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

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

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

“You drive a hard bargain, babe.”


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

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

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

Lady Kumo reveals herself


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

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

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

The gambling den in flames


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

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

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

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

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

Taking care of court business


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Third Panel
Ghosts
Yugiri goes wandering


It is suddenly Summer and the officers of the court assess what has been accomplished in the last season and what needs to be done in the current one. Soichiro, the Karo, points out that the clan has neither a Yojimbo for Tenka nor a Kaishaku for the clan. He also observes that the clan swords of both the Tensai and the Su have not been recovered after the conquest of Chisu. This prompts Yugiri to share that he has heard of a wandering swordsman bearing two swords, one of which fits the description of the Clan Sword of the Tensai.

Takeshi wonders aloud if the wandering swordsman had earned the right to those swords by prowess or had simply looted them off of the corpses of their wielders. Soichiro decides that there is only one way to find out: confront the swordsman. If one of the swords indeed turns out to be the clan sword of the Tensai, Soichiro wants it back. And if the other sword happens to be that of the Su, even better. As the Karo gets up, he charges Kaisei with the task of recruiting a replacement Kaishaku and Yojimbo, adding that it would be good if the Yojimbo developed a close bond with the Daimyo.

The wanderer with two swords


Akari and Takeshi choose to go after the wandering swordsman while Kaisei stays behind to figure out how to replace the fallen Kaishaku and Yojimbo. Yugiri, on his part, chooses to help the other officers by going wandering and seeing where the kami and unmei choose to bring him.

The Onmyouji finds himself led to a site that he senses is sacred and which he then realizes is the same spot that Raijin visited just before launching his attack on Chisu. Alerted by Kawa’s growls, Yugiri focuses his attention on the site and discerns a familiar shape: that of his late Daimyo. Raijin, now a ghost, seems surprised that Yugiri can see him and strides up in his usual brazen manner to the discomfited Onmyouji.

The shade of the late Daimyo seems desperate as he asks Yugiri for news about Tenka and is frustrated by the usual cryptic riddling of the Onmyouji. What is clear, however, is that Raijin is chained to the spot and is unable to depart. When Yugiri points this out, the late Daimyo retorts that the Onmyouji is in the same boat as he, except that the Onmyouji has a longer tether. The exchange ends with Raijin extracting a promise from Yugiri to serve Tenka to the best of his ability and, in return, offering whatever help he can give as a spirit. As the Onmyouji departs, the late Daimyo expressed relief that his fears had not come to pass and that Tenka had reliable allies.

Raijin’s ghost


Meanwhile, Akari, accompanied by Takeshi and his bodyguard, follow a trail of rumors that describe a swordsman bearing two swords and it doesn’t take them long to to catch up to the wanderer. Akari decides to go ahead of Takeshi and his men to ascertain the character of the wanderer and find out how he came to possess the swords. As she catches up to thewanderer, she hears him whistling a popular tune. Though the wanderer reacts in a friendly enough manner to Akari’s greeting and questions, he appears to be reluctant to talk about the swords he carries and seems to be overly possessive of them.

The Oniwaban decides to change tack and talks about the possibility of employment, which the wanderer seems receptive to, provided the circumstances are to his liking. When Akari inquires which circumstances he means, the wanderer counts off his conditions: a comfortable living situation, the freedom to enjoy fine, beautiful days such as this, and the company of people he can hold in esteem.

Akari pounces on this and says that her employer can easily meet such conditions provided that he can, in turn, meet the conditions and requirements of her employer. The wanderer confidently declares that he can meet any requirement put to him and the Oniwaban proposes that he demonstrate his prowess on her colleague. She continues that this will, in turn, demonstrate the quality of the people who serve her employer. To her relief, the wanderer agrees and she tells him of the troop resting nearby. He rests his hand on the swords at his hips and asks her to lead him to them, unfazed by the prospect of being outnumbered.

What was mercifully averted


The Oniwaban introduces the Hatamoto to the wanderer as an esteemed colleague and Takeshi pointedly asks if the wanderer knows how to use the swords he wears. When the wanderer nods, Takeshi calls for bokken from his men and demands that the wanderer prove that he does. The wanderer asks for a second bokken saying that he always fights dual blade style and Takeshi acquiesces. Akari hears a voice at her elbow betting against the Hatamoto: it is her friend the tanuki. She smiles and bets on her childhood friend, Takeshi. The stakes: everything she has paid the tanuki to date.

The duel is fast and fierce and in the course of it the wanderer is revealed to be female. While this causes Takeshi to raise his eyebrows, it does not catch him off guard, allowing him to defeat the wanderer, much to the disgust of the tanuki who pays up and slinks off. Takeshi concedes that the wanderer is indeed extremely skilled and is entitled to keep the blades she wears, even though one of them is the clan sword of the Tensai. But when Takeshi states that only the Kaishaku of the clan may keep the sword, the wanderer tenses up and asks the Hatamoto what he plans to do about it, to which the Hatamoto replies nonchalantly that he plans to offer her the post. The wanderer accepts and introduces herself as Murasaki.

The swordswoman Murasaki


The journey home is without incident save for when Yugiri catches up with the party and nearly uncovers Akari’s secret, much to her annoyance.

Back at court, Kaisei has decided to observe Tenka to better understand what sort of person would be fitting to be the Daimyo’s bodyguard. Despite the mystery surrounding him—seven years ago, Raijin suddenly presented Tenka as his heir and would brook no questions—the young Daimyo appears to be a normal child, interested in the things that interest boys his age. The Takumi watches as his Daimyo plays cat’s cradle with the Maiko and notes that one particular girl has taken on the role of ringleader.

Unlike the other clans, the Tensai have taken it upon themselves to provide their peasants with some sort of education, and thanks to the insistence of the Karo, this has taken the form of training Maiko. Because of this, the women of Taishou have developed a reputation of being both wise and wily. The ringleader appears to be wiser and wilier than her peers and seems to have captured the admiration of the young boy. The Takumi asks Setsuna the girl’s name and finds out that she is Natsumi and is one the foundlings that the Head Geisha has taken in.

Kaisei’s musings are interrupted by his Daimyo’s wanting to play cat’s cradle with him and the Takumi, naturally, obliges. As the Daimyo excitedly shows off what he has learned from Natsumi, Kaisei asks the boy his opinion of the girl. The boy positively gushes with praise and when the Kaisei asks who protects whom, the boy shyly admits that more often than not it is Natsumi that protects him than the other way around. After a while, the Daimyo takes his leave expressing his disappointment that his Takumi, though good at cat’s cradle, is nowhere as good as Natsumi is.

A game of cat’s cradle


Kaisei decides to speak to the girl and is pleased to find her agreeable and pleasant. He also discovers that she, in fact, is a kitsune, and he asks her what her intentions toward the daimyo are. The girl guilelessly expresses affection for the boy, saying that she would like to watch over him. When asked why she chose to become a Maiko, she confesses that it was the opportunity to learn new things that attracted her: the reputation of the women of Teishou was starting to spread.

The Takumi decides that he had found his Daimyo’s Yojimbo and offers the girl the post. She asks what this entails and accepts after Kaisei outlines her duties, saying that protecting Tenka comes easily to her. In addition, the Takumi offers to formally adopt her to place her under his protection and Natsumi also accepts this.

The officers gather and assess the situation of the clan. The posts of Kaishaku and Yojimbo have been filled, though the Yojimbo is actually still in training. The clan sword had been recovered as well as that of the Su Clan. The rumors that the agents of the officers have gathered point to a third party that had driven the Su Clan to attack the Tensai and what is worrying is that many gambling dens have been reported to be appearing in neighboring provinces raising concerns that the tragedy that befell the Su would happen to other clans. Closer to home, Akari’s agents heard rumors that one of the nobles of the clan is working with the resistance of Chisu but no names have come up.

The geisha school of the Tensai


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Fourth Panel
Ties
A vIsit to the swordsmith


Akari is sought out by a tearful and frightened Mariko who begs for protection for her father, Daichi: he woke up to find a blade embedded in his pillow. Akari promises to bring this situation to the attention of her superiors and takes the blade from the frightened Maiko.

Akari instructs Daichi to seek refuge with the Ashigaru of Takeshi and sends the frightened peasant with a letter to her childhood friend. Then, taking on the guise of Akiteru, the Oniwaban traces the blade to the sword smith who forged it, Takuma.

Once under the employ of the Su Clan, Takuma appears unimpressed by Akiteru’s demon mask, and is more concerned about the fates of his various blades which he refers to as his ‘children’. He is annoyed that the blade that Akari brings him remains undedicated and is used as a mere threat. He identifies it as having been made for the Oniwaban of the Su Clan which he thought was an empty office since he had never seen that Oniwaban in person, going as far as sardonically referring to the holder of that office ‘The Missing One’.

Takuma then wonders aloud about the fate of the family blade of the Su Clan and is informed by Akari that it has a new owner, Murasaki. The sword smith then voices his hope that the blade be rededicated to its new owner soon but does not elaborate why. Takuma then shows Akari around his workshop and the Oniwaban is impressed enough with his work that she commissions a blade for each of the officers of the Tensai. The sword smith accepts the commission and expresses his gratitude.

“The blade must be dedicated to its new wielder”


Meanwhle, Kaisei finds himself wading through a voluminous pile of letters from the nobles of the Tensai, many of which express veiled displeasure at having been relegated to the second seventh birthday celebration of the Daimyo instead of being invited to the first celebration. Helping the beleaguered Takumi is his equally harassed secretary and aide, Keiko. Kaisei’s patience is tried when he comes across several badly written haiku repeating the complaint of the nobles and nearly explodes when he comes across letters attacking Natsumi and her being assigned the office of Yojimbo.

Kaisei instructs Keiko to sort the letters into separate piles according to their content. He declares that he would use the ones that threaten or criticize his adopted daughter as fuel to roast corn over. As he does so, Natsumi walks in and, misunderstanding what she overhears, gets very excited over the prospect of roasted corn, forcing the Takumi to make good on his declaration.

Keiko, as efficient as ever, very quickly creates the letter piles that her Takumi ordered and Kaisei notices that there is a separate pile of letters from the nobles formerly of the Su. These letters are more respectful and restrained and more than a few are ingratiating. Some complain of not being treated as equals or of being socially excluded—typical, the Takumi notes, for the game of nobles. Still, Kaisei cannot help but wonder how many of the former Su would prefer to see their fallen clan rise up again.

Kaisei and Keiko sorting letters


Elsewhere, Yugiri unhappily reads a note from Akari (in the guise of Akiteru) brought to him by Kyoya (another of Akari’s disguises) regarding the task of rededicating the blades of the Su Clan to their new owners. The Onmyouji has Kawa return the note to Kyoya’s bag, making it seem that the geisha had forgotten to deliver the note. Yugiri then makes his way to the barracks where Kazuhira, Takeshi’s right hand, is overseeing Murasaki’s training. The Onmyouji asks the Kaishaku to accompany him to the shrine where he recently installed Inari and there he sets the young maiden to sweeping the shrine’s court.

Murasaki, while an accomplished swordsman, is surprisingly clumsy with a broom and she struggles with it, much to the amusement of Inari and Kawa. The little fox decides to manifest itself beside the maiden and tease her by running circles around her. Murasaki instinctively responds by trying to swat Kawa but misses. The game continues for a while with Murasaki gradually mastering her broom.

The Onmyouji observes that though she is a maiden, she does not seem to be familiar or comfortable with the chores that maidens are traditionally assigned. Murasaki responds with sadness and a bit of bitterness that she has had to live by the sword all her life. She had to learn to defend herself against the threats of slavery and rape that she was always subjected to.

The maiden’s story moves Inari to declare to Yugiri that she would gladly accept Murasaki as her Miko, her shrine maiden, should the Kaishaku be so inclined to relinquish her office. The Onmyouji, watching the maiden continue to play with the little fox and seeing her gradually gain confidence in the use of her broom, decides to leave the scene for a bit to attend to other matters.

Murasaki sweeping


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Fifth Panel
Whispers
“Can you read, write, and do sums?"


When Takeshi receives a note from his childhood friend Akari regarding Daichi, the first thing the Hatamoto asks the shaken peasant is if he knows his letters and numbers to which Daichi surprisingly replies that he does. Takeshi immediately assigns the peasant to the beleaguered Kazuhira who is struggling with the accounts of the Hatamoto’s personal unit, the Suzaku.

When Kazuhira learns that Daichi can read, write, and do sums, the Hatamoto’s right hand man enthusiastically welcomes the peasant and immediately sets him to work untangling the expenses of the unit and setting their records straight. In addition, he instructs Daichi to teach the other members of the unit to read and write. It is good to have someone else who is literate in the Suzaku!

Murasaki at her Chores


Takeshi wonders what Daichi would know that would be such a threat to his life that he needs protecting. Akari seems to know something but isn’t telling. As the Hatamoto muses on the cloud hanging over his new clerk, he hears Inari’s amused tittering causing him to command his men to search the barracks for hidden intruders. The Suzaku search thoroughly (it is what they have become famous for) but turn up nothing. This causes Takeshi great concern and prompts him to seek answers from the Onmyouji.

The Hatamoto finds Yugiri napping on the steps of the shrine of Inari with Kawa, visible on his lap and Murasaki, broom in hand, dozing at his feet. Takeshi makes his approach known, waking the three up. Kawa takes the time to comment to the Onmyouji before vanishing into the brush that the clan might lose a Kaishaku but gain a Miko.

Murasaki upon seeing the Hatamoto blushes furiously at having been caught in such an indecorous state causing Takeshi to suspect that the Onmyouji and the Kaishaku may have been up to something indiscreet. In spite of appearances, Takeshi grabs Yugiri and forces the Onmyouji to walk with him. Unable to resist the forceful Hatamoto, Yugiri meekly follows and listens to Takeshi as he rants about his suspicions that he is being stalked by a woman.

Crows Startled into Flight


The Onmyouji tries to brush the suspicions aside and deflect the questions of the increasingly agitated Hatamoto but Inari’s giggling and rejoinders serve to only add fuel to the fire, driving Takeshi close to hysteria. Yugiri, sensing this, suggests that the Hatamoto pray directly to Inari at her shrine. Desperate, Takeshi does as his fellow officer bids and Inari chooses to manifest before him. This causes the Hatamoto to let out such a yelp of consternation that it causes the crows take to the air in alarm, grabs the attention of everyone within earshot, and causes Kazuhira and Keiji to scan the sky in concern over their commanding officer.

Murasaki comes running with her broom and Takeshi rounds on Yugiri for making the clan’s Kaishaku sweep when she could be training with the Suzaku. With an enigmatic shrug, the Onmyouji brushes off the Hatamoto’s indignation, indicating that Takeshi should direct all his attention to the Kami in front of him instead of being concerned about the dignity of a holder of a worldly office. The Hatamoto quickly apologizes to the goddess and abases himself before her, declaring himself unworthy of her attention. Inari remains amused with Takeshi and decides to grant him the favor of watching over his new clerk who, it appears to her, is causing the Hatamoto a lot of concern.

Inari Makes a Promise


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Sixth Panel
Investigations
Ambushed by Ninjas!


Akari’s investigations seem to lead her nowhere because of the mystery of the one Takuma referred to as “The Missing One” who seems to sit at the center of it all—like a spider in its web, the Oniwaban finds herself musing. She decides to change tack and looks over the list surviving former Su nobles. From this she chooses to visit one who seemed to be the most suitable for her to approach, a widow named Kasumi who has a five-year-old son named Yoshirou.

Kasumi lost her husband to his gambling debts long before the war between the Su and Tensai started. The Oniwaban, taking on the guise of Akiteru, decides that the best way to approach the mother would be through her son. Akari befriends the and gets herself invited to tea.

Over tea the Oniwaban makes small talk and does all she can to put the widow at ease, even to the point of doffing the mask that Akiteru habitually wears. Slowly, and by degrees, Kasumi warms up to Akiteru and lets slip certain details of her life. For instance, the widow and her son have not been treated very well by the nobles of the Tensai or even of the Su. The boy plays by himself, ostracized by his peers, and has more than once complained to his mother about feeling looked down upon by those he once called friends.

Seeing tears well up in the widow’s eyes, the Oniwaban suggests that they go for a stroll in the lanes by the shrine and Kasumi agrees, hoping to regain her composure. As they walk, Akari hints that she may be able to arrange for Yoshirou meet new playmates by having him study at the geisha school that the Daimyo himself attends.

Akari and Her Mask


Suddenly a group of peasants attack the Oniwaban and the widow and it seems that Kasumi is their actual target. Akari defends her and is injured in the process. It dawns on the Oniwaban that the movements of the peasants are too smooth and precise to be those of simple peasants: their attackers are ninja!

The attack occurs in broad daylight and is witnessed by peasants tending the gardens beside the shrine. They hurry to the officers nearby and report to them what has befallen the Oniwaban. Yugiri, Murasaki, and Takeshi rush to the scene followed by Inari and Kawa but all are too late to stop the attack. The assailants are able to escape cleanly, leaving Akari bleeding on the ground.

Helped up by her childhood friend, the Oniwaban checks on the widow and sees that she is tended to by the Onmyouji and the Kaishaku. Inari embraces the woman, calming her hysterics while Kawa allows the widow to hug her quieting the woman further. Yugiri raises an eyebrow as he notices Kasumi briefly flinch before accepting the comfort from the little fox. The Oniwaban and the Hatamoto rush to the house of the widow to check on Yoshirou whom Akari fears has also be targeted.

(At this point the table chooses to declare that Kasumi is actually none other than The Missing One, the Oniwaban of the Su. She had manipulated Akiteru into launching an investigation that would bring the plight of her family to the attention of the officers. So deft is her manipulation that none suspect her, not even her son, Yoshirou.)

Kasumi


Akiteru and Takeshi find Kasumi’s household in a panic: the ninja had also been there and had turned everything topsy-turvy. The boy is badly frightened and clinging to his nurse but is otherwise unhurt. The rest of the household are likewise deeply frightened but suffer no physical harm. Takeshi has his Ashigeru secure the area and the Hatamoto attends to his friend’s wound when the latter starts to feel its effects. The Hatamoto takes special care to ensure that his friend’s secret remains intact.

When the others catch up to Akari and Takeshi, they witness Yugiri pause, hesitate, and suddenly withdraw because of something that apparently only he can sense. Akari sees this, looks around the house, and sees Lady Kumo hovering nearby. The Oniwaban gets up and, against the protests of her friend, takes the Kami outside to talk. At the same time, Inari moves to Takeshi’s and warns him against the Kami that his childhood friend has gotten involved in. The two goddesses acknowledge each other but take no action.

The Lady Kumo turns her attention back to Akari and expresses her disappointment in the Oniwaban implying that the Kami had taken Akari on as an apprentice of sorts. When the Lady Kumo tells the Oniwaban that she may be missing something, Akari voices her suspicions about the ninja attacks since no one had been hurt and no lasting damage had been dealt. At this the Lady of Spiders seemed less disappointed, leaving Akari even more perturbed.

(The table establishes at this point that Kasumi’s only motivation is to secure the future of her son. She is not at all interested in moving against the Tensai.)

Kumo, Lady of Spiders


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Seventh Panel
Crises
Brunch with the Takumi of the Tensai


The officers convene in the office of the Takumi for a brunch of roasted corn and tea. Soichiro, the Karo, who has been gradually foisting his responsibilities onto Kaisei in order to better focus on Tenka’s training, makes one of his increasingly rare appearances. Murasaki, the Kaishaku, shows up dressed up as a Miko “just to see how it feels”, much to the bewilderment of most of the other officers except Yugiri who does not seem to notice. Natsumi, the Yojimbo-in-training, who is happily munching on a cob of corn, does not seem to notice the significance of the Kaishaku’s choice of clothing either. Akari shows up as Akiteru, having changed clothes and bound up her wound.

Kaisei tries to ignore his burgeoning migraine as he updates his fellow officers of the rumors and rumblings of discontent among the nobles of the Tensai who felt that they had been snubbed by not having been given a part in the first celebration of Tenka’s seventh birthday. A suggestion is floated that perhaps the nobles could be given a chance to show off at the upcoming summer festival.

Soichiro declares that he has complete faith in the ability of the gathered officers to resolve this issue and makes to leave but finds that he is unable to because Akiteru has deliberately put his entire weight on the hem of the Karo’s hakama, preventing him from rising. Peeved at this, but unable to scold his adopted grandchild, Soichiro chooses to vent his frustration on the Onmyouji who has been quietly hoarding corn cobs and trying his best to be inconspicuous. The Karo issues a direct order to Yugiri to oversee the summer festival and to see to it that both the nobles and the kami are pleased by it.

Yugiri and Soichiro


The Onmyouji tries to deflect the task put to him but the Takumi seconds the motion, eager to pass the problem of the nobles onto someone else. The two officers start haggling about minutiae with the Karo regarding the summer festival when all of the sudden the Oniwaban collapses in a faint into her adopted grandfather’s lap, a red stain in her side visibly growing larger.

The meeting dissolves into confusion as Takeshi, Soichiro and Keiko all move to aid the fallen Akari. Takeshi orders Keiji to carry his childhood friend to his room. The Hatamoto’s left-hand man obeys with the alacrity that the Suzaku have become (in)famous for and moves with speed, carrying the limp form of the Oniwaban out of the room. Soichiro and Keiko follow close behind.

Kaisei turns on a bewildered Kazuhira and demands to know how the Oniwaban incurred such a serious wound and what the meaning of this was. The only thing the right-hand man of the Hatamoto could offer was an account of how the Oniwaban incurred the wound. When the Takumi tries to get details from Yugiri, the Onmyouji deflects the matter so deftly that Kaisei is turned around and finds himself apologizing to Yugiri instead of getting any details.

When Kaisei’s attention is turned to the Onmyouji, Kazuhira takes the opportunity to speak to Murasaki concerning her contemplating becoming a Miko. He tells her that the Suzaku see her as their little sister and will support her in anyway they can. The Hatamoto’s right-hand man assures her that he would even talk to Takeshi on her behalf if need be.

Murasaki’s Choice


Keiji moves quickly to carry the unconscious Akari to the room of the Hatamoto. Unfortunately, the room that he knows is in the barracks. It doesn’t take Takeshi long to realize this and quickly steer his left-hand man to his room in the main clan house. They get to the room ahead of Soichiro and Keiko and shut the door. Takeshi instructs Keiji to let no one in except the physician that Keisei had the presence of mind to summon.

When the healer arrives, the old man finds Akari laid out with only her wound visible. As the physician tries to examine the Oniwaban, Takeshi intervenes, preventing the healer from stumbling over the secret of his childhood friend. Though the physician persists, the Hatamoto manages to bully the old man into focusing solely on the wound. The healer relents and treats Akari, noting that though the wound is grave, the patient is in no danger but would have to rest for at least a season, ideally two, lest the wound re-open. The blade that caused the wound was particularly vicious, having pierced several organs.

All this time, both Soichiro and Keiko chafe at being kept from entering the room. Kaisei, having adjourned the meeting, soon joins them and demands to talk to Takeshi. The Hatamoto emerges from the room escorting the physician out. After being assured that his adopted grandchild is safe, Soichiro takes his leave and makes his way to the geisha house. Kaisei sends Keiko on an errand and he and Takeshi speak privately. The main concern of the Takumi is that with the Oniwaban laid low, the clan has lost a resource. The Hatamoto counters that this is not so because Akari is still able to think and that is where the real resource lies.

Akari Bedridden


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Eighth Panel
Webs
The Buddhist Monk


A Jesuit, a Buddhist monk, and a Shinto priest ask for an audience with the Onmyouji, the first to pay his respects and the latter two to report serious news. Yugiri chooses to meet with the latter and postpones meeting the foreign priest for later…much, much later.

The two holy men share news with Yugiri that there have been disturbing reports of people seeing dead loved ones come back to life. Among those who reported this was Susume who had reported seeing her deceased father, Yuichiro. When the Onmyouji presses his informants for details, he realizes that a majority of the reports come from those who were once under the Su.

The Onmyouji thanks his informants and sends them off, choosing to deal with an immediate concern first. He lays out the corn that he had filched from Kaisei’s brunch earlier and calls out to any tanuki that may be nearby to partake of them. Goro, the tanuki Akari had befriended, shows up and inquires what the Onmyouji wants in return for all the lovely corn that he had supplied. Inari also makes an appearance, curious as to what Yugiri has in mind.

Yugiri describes, in his usual roundabout way, the problem with the nobles and how he has been tasked to please both the kami and the nobles at the upcoming summer festival while managing to humble the nobles without them losing face or incurring shame. Goro concludes that these nobles need to grow a sense of humor and is delighted with the challenge. The tanuki starts to rapidly count off the ways he plans play with the nobles of the Tensai to make them laugh with each other and gleefully thinks about calling in the rest of his extensive extended family to lend a hand.

Inari is delighted at the prospect of a full blown summer festival since the Su never really put any effort into mounting one but voices her concern that the tanuki may go overboard. Yugiri remains silent on the matter.

The Lady Kumo Comes A Calling


Akari wakes from sleep to find Lady Kumo dangling mere centimeters from her face. The Lady of Spiders warns the Oniwaban of trouble to come and hints that there are a few things that Akari has failed to notice. The kami also encourages her to learn more about the weapon that inflicted her wound because knowing how to use such a weapon might be useful in the future. Having said that, The Lady of Spiders departs, leaving the shaken Oniwaban feeling that she has stepped off the deep end.

Takeshi and Kaisei decide to look in on their injured colleague and see how she is doing. The Takumi is particularly worried about Akari’s injury which she tries to downplay. Kaisei vents about the bullies who appear to be after his dear Natsumi and asks Kyoya to be assigned to him as an agent. Takeshi immediately jumps in at this and states that it would be impossible for the Oniwaban to grant Kaisei’s request. When Kaisei asks why, the Hatamoto blurts out that the girl is pregnant before Akari can form a reply, forcing her to play along with him.

Kaisei relents and takes his leave to summon the nobles, both Tensai and former Su, to an assembly where Soichiro will announce the competition at the summer festival that is open to all the nobles. The prize for the most impressive display put up by a noble house is recognition from the Karo along with unstated privileges that accompany it. Kaisei spends his time giving out the invitations personally, intimidating those that he dislikes.

Kaisei Handing Out Invitations to the Nobles of the Tensai


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Ninth Panel
Changes
Lady Kiko dancing


As Kaisei and the long-suffering Keiko make their rounds among the nobles handing out invitations, they decide to take a break and stop by the geisha house where they are greeted by Setsuna, the Head Geisha.

Setsuna takes Kaisei aside and discreetly asks him for a favor: it seems that ever since Soichiro announced the competition at the summer festival, the nobles have been tripping over each other in an attempt to out do one another. While the are all earnest in their efforts, not all of them bear sweet fruit. Just as the Takumi has started wondering why the Head Geisha has started talking like the Onmyouji, she leads him to a room where he sees an elderly noble woman doing…something.

Kaisei watches in horror as the old woman carries on and is brought back to his senses by Setsuna’s explaining that the old woman had suddenly burst into the geisha house demanding to be taught how to dance. But she is so bad at it! Even a tree writhing in a typhoon has more grace! What’s more, the old woman clearly puts her heart into her efforts that the geishas cannot help but feel like cheering her on, which leaves them all feeling very confused and conflicted. So, after that lengthy preamble, the favor the Head Geisha asks is this: please tell the old lady that she has no hope of learning how to dance!

Mariko, Susume, and Setsuna provide musical accompaniment


As the Takumi contemplates the task before him, he hears the hurried shutting of a sliding door and the muffled guffawing of Keiko. His normally stoic and impassive secretary had finally cracked, Kaisei decided. Off to a corner of the room, he spies Mariko and Susume on the Koto and Shamisen respectively, desperately trying to keep straight faces as the old woman, whom Setsuna identified as Lady Kiko, directs them to accompany her dance.

The Takumi also notices Akari (disguised as Akiteru) enjoying the scene. That the Oniwaban seems to be making bets with a tanuki doesn’t register as strange to Kaisei for some reason, even when the tanuki seems to be betting on him. Finally, the Takumi catches sight of Natsumi who apparently has been following him and Keiko all this time. The little kitsune seems to be fascinated by the elder lady’s attempt at dancing and imitates the movements. In contrast to those of the old woman, the little fox’s movements come across as cute and Kaisei gets an idea.

The Takumi talks to Lady Kiko to ascertain what her reasons are for wanting to learn how to dance and she confirms what Setsuna said about wanting to win the contest. But Kaisei senses something behind the old woman’s words. She seems to have her own reasons for wanting to win, as if to show someone up. As the old woman replies to the questions of the Takumi, she does not interrupt her movements, as if trying to remember a dance that she had performed so, so long ago. Kaisei looks around and notes that the other geisha have put up screens to prevent their patrons from laughing at the old lady’s efforts.

Natsumi


Natsumi continues to imitate the movements of Lady Kiko and has started adding flourishes of her own. There is a look of concentration on that little girl’s face, as if trying to remember the steps to a dance that she had once memorized but had forgotten. Kaisei suggests to Lady Kiko that she might consider sharing the stage with his adopted daughter and implies that he would be in her debt if she agreed.

The old woman pauses and looks skeptically at the Takumi, wondering what the catch was to his offer. Then she looks at the little fox as she dances and the eyes of the old woman light up in recognition. Lady Kiko joins in the dance with Natsumi eliciting a gasp of admiration from Mariko, Susume, and Setsuna. There may have been some fox-magic involved but the performance of the musicians improves in quality and the other geishas and their patrons started turning their screens to watch the pair perform.

Silence falls upon the room save for the music of koto and shamisen and the chiming of the tiny bells that both dancers wear in their hair. A stillness reigns as the audience seems to hold their breath so that only the hush and swish of the hems of the kimonos of the dancers and the fans in their hands could be discerned. When the dance ends, quiet applause ripples across the room, as if the audience was reluctant to disturb the calm that the dance had summoned.

Lady Kiko and Natsumi dancing


A chirrup of delight from Natsumi breaks the spell as she unselfconsciously hugs Lady Kiko. The old woman, on her part, kneels as she returns the hug with tears in her eyes. She glances at the Takumi and nods her assent, much to Keisei’s the relief: this one, at least, would not lose any face at the festival. Indeed, she might even amass honor and esteem.

Akiteru notes that Kaisei had resolved the situation well, even though the Oniwaban had lost her bet to her friend Goro. The tanuki happily pockets his winnings and regales Akari with his plans to liven up the summer festival at the invitation of Onmyouji no less. Goro even adds that even the goddess Inari seemed to be willing to play along. However, the tanuki made it clear that neither he nor his kin would touch Lady Kiko because she seems to be under the protection of a kitsune.

Akari can only smile at the enthusiasm of her tanuki friend as the wound in her side begins to bother her. She needs to doff the guise of Akiteru soon and return to her sickbed. It would not do to have Kaisei discover her secret now. That would be most inconvenient. But first, one last task to carry out.

The Oniwaban talks to Mariko and Susume confirms that they are both willing to be her agents. Akari makes it clear that there is no shame or loss on their part if they refuse. Should they agree, their duties would be limited to information gathering for the moment while their training is still at an early stage.

Both Maiko agree to be agents and both voice the desire to be trained so that they may be useful. Pleased at this, Akari, entrusts them both to Setsuna for their initial training. The Head Geisha welcomes the new additions to her stable. She then updates the Oniwaban about the state of things but soon notices Akari’s wound and inquires about it with a degree of concern. Akari reassures her Head Geisha that it is a minor inconvenience caused by a horse’s kick. At that, the Oniwaban makes a hurried exit.

“I was kicked by a horse”


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Tenth Panel
Visitations
Yugiri, Murasaki, and Raijin


With the preparations for the summer festival in full swing, Yugiri visits the barracks in search of Murasaki. The Onmyouji finds her helping the Suzaku try on the fox masks and costumes that they will wear as they ensure that everyone at the festival is safe. He asks her to walk with him and he leads her to the place where he last had a conversation with Raijin. Murasaki accompanies Yugiri as the Kaishaku because of the rumors that ninja are abroad. She watches in dismay as the Onmyouji seems to stumble and blunder his way to their destination but is comforted and assured by Kawa who has tagged along because the little fox has noticed how sad she seems in the garb of her office and bearing the two swords and feels pity for her.

Raijin, on the other hand, is vexed at Yugiri for what the Onmyouji is doing: the deceased Daimyo does not appreciate his old friend and companion dragging outsiders into their conversation. There is so much that the former Daimyo has to let the Onmyouji know, particularly about how the living seem to be calling out to the dead and how the dead cannot help but respond. Yugiri, however, steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the shade of his former master and proceeds to explain the duties of a Miko and the demands that the role places on those that follow such a path.

When the Onmyouji brings up the duties of the Miko towards the dead and how the temple maidens are expected to provide vessels for the deceased to speak through, Raijin barks out a short, sharp laugh of comprehension. The former Daimyo decides to play along with the Onmyouji’s plan when he tells Murasaki that there is a spirit here that he wishes to speak with and that he wishes her to facilitate the conversation.

Murasaki and Raijin


When Murasaki nods her acquiescence Raijin possesses her and addresses Yugiri. The former Daimyo expresses admiration for the girl and is impressed that she has what it takes to excel at what she chooses to do, be it Miko or Kaishaku, but it quickly dawns upon him that taking the mantle of the latter would break her. The Onmyouji wisely keeps silent, allowing his old friend and former master to come to the realization on his own that it is the nature of giri, of duty, to break the one that carries it. Duty is a burden, regardless of how pretty its trappings.

Whether or not it was Yugiri’s intention to lead Raijin to this insight is unclear but the result is undeniable: it breaks the fetters that bind the deceased Daimyo to the spot, freeing him to go where he would. Naturally, he chooses to return to the clan house to see for himself how things are. He does this immediately, leaving Murasaki shaken. She tells the Onmyouji what she had seen while Raijin possessed her: him defiant and laughing at the gates of Hell, having made an enemy of the Akuma, and the demons, in turn, screeching in a terrible voice that they would tear down the clan.

Raijin takes pause at this and, unapologetically states that he had a good reason for everything that he had done, especially since he got Tenka in the process. Murasaki is more confused about what role she should play in the clan, and voices this aloud adding that all she ever wanted was a home. Once again, Yugiri remains silent though there is sympathy in his eyes.

Raijin visits Takeshi


When the three return to the clan house, Raijin takes to talking to the officers one by one starting with Takeshi. The Hatamoto excitedly and proudly informs his former Daimyo that the ashigaru of the clan are undergoing rigorous training and are being taught to read, write, and do sums. Raijin praises Takeshi’s efforts but reminds him that the essential virtue of any soldier is to say “I do”, that is be willing to take on any mission and see it to its completion. This virtue, the deceased Daimyo notes, is in great abundance in Takeshi’s men.

The conversation moves on to other military concerns: the ashigaru of the Su have mostly been integrated into that of the Tensai though the training of the former is still lacking. Raijin expresses confidence that the Hatamoto will rectify this quickly. The former Daimyo ends his visit with a request to Takeshi to start Tenka on the sword.

Raijin visits Akari next and he finds her just coming back from her escape to the geisha house and making her way back to her room through the floorboards of Akiteru’s closet. The two talk a while, and Akari is more candid and direct than usual as she reports on the recent year to her former Daimyo. She then audaciously tries to get him to act as one of her agents while he’s around. This brings a smile to the ghost’s face and he commends her learning well under Saki, Soichiro’s deceased wife and former Oniwaban to the Tensai.

Raijin leaves the current Oniwaban with a promise of aid and hints at troubles upon the horizon which he refuses to elaborate upon, no matter how much Akari badgers him to. As he departs, she asks him to scold the Karo for paying more attention to the ladies than his duties. The puts even a larger grin on the ghost’s face.

Soichiro is fond of the ladies


Kaisei is next but this time the former Daimyo decides to visit his Takumi in a dream. It is set in a pleasant summer day with Kaisei delivering his usual weekly report. This time around, the report is full of concerns about the nobles being too full of themselves and unnecessarily difficult. Kaisei’s worry and concern is written all over the report along with his anxieties regarding the well-being of his recently adopted daughter, Natsumi.

Then there are the duties of the Karo that Soichiro, Raijin’s father-n-law, have been foisting on Kaisei with increasing regularity. This man bears the burden of two duties on his back and yet he does not break, and the deceased Daimyo realizes that this is not the time for criticism, no matter how good natured or dire warnings, no matter how urgent. Raijin goes over the reports as he used to and ends the audience with his usual praise and says that he looks forward to the next report.

The ghost returns to his Onmyouji and feels compelled to explain himself regarding the akuma. The akuma had threatened the clan so he bought the clan time by challenging them, in the process rescuing Tenka who in some way is vital to the safety and future of the clan and must be protected at all costs. Yugiri listens to all of this with half an ear as he prepares a lantern with Raijin’s name on it: the Onmyouji intends to have the young Daimyo send off his father to his rest after the festival. Raijin notes this and sighs. There is no stopping Yugiri once he has set his mind on something. But ghost has one more errand to run…

In the geisha house, Raijin possesses one of the geisha in order to talk to Soichiro, who shrieks in surprise but manages to regain his composure. After making sure that his deceased wife Saki is nowhere near, the Karo gives his former Daimyo a report. Raijin is pleased with what he hears and chides his father-in-law for foisting the duties of the Karo on an already harried Kaisei. When Soichiro offers the excuse that he is personally overseeing the training of Tenka, the former Daimyo sighs and accepts what Soichiro says, admonishing him that Tenka must never be left alone and unattended.

Raijin visits Soichiro at the geisha house


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