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"Seiga, by any chance have you brought a fishing rod with you?" asked Miko, ignoring the guards' loud laughter.
"Why would I bring a rod?" the hermit said. "And what do you want it for anyway?"
"To see if I could go fish for a f- ah, forget it," the Prince shook her head. "Looks like the only way to get past them is trying to convince them somehow."
"Are you sure? We could easily sneak around them and pass through the wall," Seiga took out one of her hair pins and spun it around her fingers with ease.
"That would be cowardly and unbecoming of us! No, I want to earn their respect back. Their help will be invaluable once we begin the counter-invasion," Miko frowned and covered her mouth with her baton. "And for that, we must beat them on their own turf, at their own game."
"I don't think earning the respect of those chumps will change anything, but..." the hermit put her hairstick back in her hairbun and rolled her eyes. "Well, you're the boss."
The Prince nodded, stepped forward and pointed her baton at the guards.
"If you are not intent to let us pass, then I shall prove my might and worth to you by the rules of danmaku bestowed upon us by-"
"Danmaku? Pfffft, dawg, you even mo' outdated than I thought!" laughed the tengu.
"Rap battles! Rap battles where the bling-bling at!" the oni waved his club in response to Miko's baton.
"Rap battles?", she asked, clueless, for she was truly behind the times.
"A special kind of verbal battle, very popular in the hoi polloi," informed Seiga. "Each competitor's goal is to insult their opponent with clever lyrics and wordplay; to dig up their past to bury them in the present. The catch is that it must be all improvised on the spot."
"Oh, like sword fighting without the 's', then?"
"More like flyting, in any case."
"Ah, flyting! I was quite good at it back in my days as an Emperor, if I say so myself," the Prince said confidently, "The battles in the court tables were as fierce as the wars outside the castle walls. I believe I will fare well if these 'rap battles' are truly the evolution of flyting."
"You were never an Emper-"
"Zip it, Seiga," Miko cut her off, and before the hermit had a chance to retort, she spoke to the guards. "Very well, I will challenge you to a 'rap battle' of yours, for the right of passage to your camp!"
"Oh ho ho ho, dukes' up, playas!" the oni laughed and clapped loudly, pleased with the Prince's response.
"Let me 'ave it first!" the tengu jumped eagerly, like the exicted dog she was. "Gimme a beat."
The oni smiled, and then put his hands up to his mouth, forming a cavity that, as Miko would find a few seconds later, served as a resonance box for the percussive sounds he started to make with his lips, tongue and voice. At her partner's beat, the tengu gave start to the rap battle between the Prince and the two Nomad guards:
"You see our swag,
Now you come and give us all this drag?
I think you better back, back,
Coz my fan is itching to give you a smack,
You ain't had enough after that shit,
After that nun buried you in the ditch,
tore ya a new one and made you her bitch,
Now look at 'cha, still think you're the one in the place,
It's 'bout time you catch another hand to the face."
The tengu gestured her palm downwards at the Prince - who had been listening with an impervious expression - in what Miko thought a sign to evince her "lyrical dominance" over her. She then patted the oni's shoulder and began beatboxing, picking up her companion's rhythm from where he left it. It was now the oni's turn to rap the second verse:
"Yeah, bottom line is y’all ain't fucking it right,
I beat you up until your fucking guts busting inside,
Cause you a what? A Prince? See, that woman a problem,
But ain't a muthafucka on Senkai that can't solve her,
Imma old prize fighter with da might of da pen,
Punchlines harder than my bat on yo' chin."
With a wave of his hand, and a full-stop of the tengu's beat, the Nomads' turn came to an end. Then they prompted into victorious laughs, handshakes, 'whoo's, highfives, 'oh yeah's and other verbal and physical expletives. The Prince found that incredibly unsporting; they still had to listen to her own verse before declaring themselves winners. In fact, they hadn't even agreed on any terms of victory!
Nonetheless, the Prince had issued a challenge, and she was not one to go back on her words. Except when those words involved an eternity imprisoned on a parallel realm with many other exiled people, while the real world rotted under the neglectful hands of the Buddhists. But that was another story. On second thought, it is this story. But when there's a rap battle happening, those details are not important.
"Our turn, then," said Miko, grabbing her holy baton in a manner of a improvised microphone. "Seiga, give me... what did they call it, a 'beat'?"
The Prince almost choked at the hermit's immediate response, and turned, feeling betrayed.
"B-b-but why!?" it was not common to hear Miko plead like that, and Seiga was certainly enjoying the sight.
"I am not taking part in such a ridiculous activity," her response, however, was as serious as it got.
"Then how am I supposed to do my part?"
"I'm sure you'll figure something out."
The Crownless Prince rubbed her temples in frustation. It was true that the hermit was among the very few people who didn't obey every single one of her orders, even when she was a (regent) emperor in her prime, but surely she knew this was no joke! Did her bad reputation tarnish the confidence other people had on her so badly? Then if Seiga was not going to trust on her, she would certainly listen to reason, the Prince hoped.
"Seiga, do you truly want me to rescue that someone?" she asked, serious.
"That was our agreement," the hermit nodded.
"Listen, in that camp there's someone I trust, who can help us in that mission."
"I'm already aware of your plans."
"Then why aren't you helping!? Do you really care that less about your zombies?" By that point Miko was practically screaming at her.
"There's nothing else in this world and the other I don't care more than my jiang-shi. Don't you dare imply otherwise, Miko," in contrast, Seiga was hissing as cold as the ice covering her blankets.
"Well, better get started now. I am not having that bigoted classier-than-thou attitude of yours, and we won't be getting anywhere if we don't collaborate like before."
"Pshaw!" the hermit cackled. "Where did our previous 'collaboration' get us? In a parallel realm in the middle of fucking nowhere, full of snow and evil spirits and more snow! Do you really believe you can change a damn thing? You couldn't even prevent your own failure, even at your prime!"
"I do, and I will prove it to you! Starting from right here and right now!" Miko practically shoved her baton on Seiga's face. "But for that I need your help. So please. Give. Me. A. Beat."
The hermit and the Prince then engaged in a might stare contest, in which the former (regent) Emperor tried to establish an aura of dominance and leadership, while the necromancer woman defended her dignity. Such was the intensity of that battle of wills between supposed allies that they completely forgot about the cold, the snow, and the two Nomad guards, who didn't even dare to interrupt them.
"You still have a long way to go until you regain your former glory, Crown Prince," the hermit said.
"Same to you, Wicked Hermit," Miko smiled. "This is but the first step on the road ahead of us."
"In that case, won't you give me another piggyback ride so that I don't tire myself out?"
"Hell no!" the Prince complained. "But maybe my colleage at the camp can. If you ask nicely."
To which the hermit sighed melancholically. "Then I guess I should lend you a hand again, for the time being?"
"Like the old times," the Prince returned a smile. "It would be much appreciated."
And after their quarrel was resolved, the Taoist Duo went back in action, ready to bust up some killer lines and rhymes, old style. But before they began, Seiga felt it appropiate to throw a last caveat at the Prince:
"Just so you know, I won't help you in any more 'rap battles' from now on, we clear?" she said. "A lady has to maintain her dignity."
"Sure, sure," a knowing smirk appeared on Miko, which nobody could see.
With that out of the way, Seiga finally attempted to beatbox for Miko. The hermit, however, was not experienced in the art of making percussive sounds - or of any other kind - with her mouth, so she settled by imitating what the oni and the tengu did. The result was a rhythm akin to a stampede of buffalos all running towards a bathroom after eating a load of tacos. Not exactly the best beat Miko could improvise some verses on, but beggars couldn't be choosers. And so, with a couple of coughs, the Prince addressed the Nomads:
"Sorry to keep you waiting! Here goes:
Foolish oni, on whom do you think you throw your boast?
Of claiming to rhyming such scabrous verses?
Stank-mawed ribald, you fall down at the feast,
My wife's letters at you I'll... loose..."
At the oni and the tengu's dissapointed look, the Prince interrupted her rapping, and Seiga's beat slowly died down as well.
"What?" exclaimed Miko. "Am I so good I left you speechless? But I haven't even star-"
"Dawg, are you even tryin'?" said the oni.
"Yeah, yo' lines don't even rhyme, dude," pointed out the tengu.
"Have you illiterate goons not heard of the free verse?" the Prince retorted.
"Miko, um..." Seiga called the Prince. "Free verses are generally frowned upon in rap battles."
"Oh?" the Prince looked to the guards, who nodded in confirmation.
"Apparently they denote lack of imagination and inspiration," the hermit shrugged. "Therefore, if you're truly intent on 'beating them on their own turf' as you said, I recommend you bust out your best rhymes."
"Oh, alright, alright, I get it..." the Prince sighed. "Seiga, give me a beat, one more time."
The blue-haired woman chuckled, covered her mouth with her hands again and began "beatboxing" a second time. Thus, Miko's verses started anew:
"Boisterous devilkin, master but in scorn,
Thrice-shown trumper with one threadbare gown,
Cry for God's mercy before I strike you down,
And leave thy rhyming, ribald, and thy rolls.
And you ask, tengu, if I dare with you fight.
Yeah, ill-mouthed dastard, thereof have no doubt,
Wherever I go, there my hand I pledge,
To rid your ribald rhyming with a rout.
Through all Senkai it will be blown out,
How that you, dumwit pooch, for your words,
With a holy baton I made you shout,
And neither to you take knife, axe or sword."
Miko starts to toss her baton-microphone to Seiga and change turns, but the hermit simply shook her head without ever stopping beatboxing.
"What? But this is a dual battle! I cannot-"
Seiga shook her head again and pointed at the Prince with her forehead, telling her to go on by herself. Miko threw at the Nomad guards an inquisitive side glance, but got no response save for the same indecipherable expressions.
"Okay, guess it's my turn again..." she shrugged, and began a new verse:
"But wonderous loath would I be to bard,
Rhyming to pass, right greatly ashamed,
For in its neither winning nor reward,
But tinsel of both honor and fame.
Increase of sorrow, slander, and ill-name,
Yet might you be so bold in your backbiting,
To spur me to rhyme and raise the fiend with flyting,
And through all countries and kingdoms you'll proclaim,
That Prince Shotoku had your pride slain."
In contrast with the Nomads, the Prince refrained from doing any kind of gesture or victory expletive, for she knew she had absolutely no need for them. Without another word, the Prince walked towards the Those two had been completely and utterly beated, even if they themselves didn't knew - and judging by their clueless and dumbfounded looks, that was the case. In spite of that, the tengu still had the gall to meekly raise her voice:
"H-h-hey, what are you doing? Stop right there!"
To which the Prince simply flicked her black cape dramatically, and without even looking at her stated:
"You are already beaten."
The tengu was completely abashed; the Prince's statement was absolute, and there was not a single thing she could complain about, even if Miko was in the wrong. The only thing she could do was to slump in her chair along with her oni companion and watch as the Prince and the hermit crossed the gate to the camp.
"Okay, we're inside," said Seiga. "Now how do we find your "mysterious" colleague?"
Check the communal tent. She'll surely be there.
Ask hut by hut until you find her tent. She'll surely live in one of those.
Ask the "lovely" guard couple. They'll surely answer your request.
Introduce yourselves loudly to the whole camp. She'll surely come to look.
Shoot everything until it's all engulfed in flames. She'll definitely come to look.
On second thought, there's no need to search for here. Besides, 'tis a silly place.
>I spent too much time writing the rap lines. I suck at poetry, and I think it shows. So please do not ask me to do it again, because I won't do it again. Fo' real, mo'fockas.
>Reference? Pfffffft. Listen, copying japes straight out of older famous works is no basis for a story trying to be funny. True comedy derives from original jokes by the author, not from some references of silly English k-nig-hts and their shenanigans. In my case, I think I excel at hypocritical humor.