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File 140116421545.png - (292.10KB, 566x800, db2243815a29152793d2ca5881f9da736187a046.png) [iqdb]
28550
Horeki 5
A wooden cart rattles down the cobblestones, metal-lined wheels singing a grinding song against the rock. A youkai pushes it, eyes cast low beneath her mask, ears dropped low in constant vigilance. Her cub curls within the cart, the mute pup who whittles away time in games with his tail. A yellowed paper banner rises from a pole on the cart; in messed ink it declares "Sword for rent, cub for rent. Inubashiri Momiji, wolf-style tengujutsu."

I walked the south road into a human village, rice paddies slowly turning to their ramshackle, crudely-shingled homes. By then, I had grown quite used to human stares. Humanity and youkai kept to our borders and our ancient pacts, so rarely did a foolish man or woman cross into our territory. Most humans never venture beyond their village, beyond their rightful lands. For years I had guarded that border, and yet now I broke the laws brazenly.

I also came to know their stink. A tengu nose could pick up every drop of sweat on the rice-farmers back, every soiled diaper of his offspring, the blood on his whipped livestock's back, and the disease in a beggar by the roadside. Daigoro peered over the lid, nose wrinkled at the barrage, tail sweeping across the planks. We crossed the town's gate, unguarded and open to the swelling tide of mortals. We parted the sea with our passage, staring humans giving us a wide berth.

Aya told me the client would be waiting across the river that split the town. I walked the main thoroughfare, a wind from the east whipping the banner. A small crowd of children followed along; many were yanked indoors by fretful parents.

I rounded a corner; the bridge.

Daigoro gave his hungry-whimper, rolling on his back, casting his tail to and fro as we crossed. Across the water there lies an above-ground sewer, a place that is necessary but unpleasant to the sight to the righteous of the village. Whorehouses, foreigners, and shady shops selling "pawned" goods; hustlers, pimps, and ronin; monks shedding their robes. I was once told that the humans call it the "floating world," for it is as strange and mutable as a dream.

I smelled a few border guards of that realm as I reached the crest of the bridge. Two moved to block the path ahead and one blocked my flank. Daigoro's ears pressed back against his scalp as he scented violence in the air. My eyes narrowed on them, through the mask. Ronin, by the ragged robes and chipped sword pulled from their sheathes.

"You're on the wrong side of the forest, youkai." The ringleader stood dead ahead, blade at the ready.

The other grinned, baring rotted teeth, and I could pick up the stink of a wasting fever on the one in back.

"You that famous one, aintcha? That killer with the kid? You got a lot of human blood on your hands…"

The ringleader angled his sword, eager for the appearance of strength. He had talent, once, but by the shaking of his hands he sold it for opium, women and sake.

I…

[ ]… graciously spared them a glance as I walked by.
[ ]… saw no need to kill them. I aimed to subdue them bare-handed.
[ ]… drew my sword. I would give them warrior's deaths.
[ ]… gunned them down.
[X]… drew my sword. I would give them warrior's deaths.
[x]go suck a dick

For srs though:
[X]… graciously spared them a glance as I walked by.
[ ]… graciously spared them a glance as I walked by.
[X]… saw no need to kill them. I aimed to subdue them bare-handed.
[x]… drew my sword. I would give them warrior's deaths.

They look like they'll end up dying soon even without our help. Might as well give them a quick death, one they can be proud of.
[x]… graciously spared them a glance as I walked by.

Honestly they aren't worth the trouble.
[x]… drew my sword. I would give them warrior's deaths.
>>28550
[X]… graciously spared them a glance as I walked by.
[x]… drew my sword. I would give them warrior's deaths.

Ogami would not spare them.
Called. Combining top results.
[X]… graciously spared them a glance as I walked by.
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28616
>[ ]… graciously spared them a glance as I walked by.
>[ ]… drew my sword. I would give them warrior's deaths.

The Gods guard the audacious, as I pushed the cart between my would-be pursuers. A stunned silence fell over the ronin, our small audience, the shock of a bully who has never been confronted.

"Bitch!" snarled the ringleader, sprinting around to face me, rage stoking in his bloodshot, addicted eyes as he drew back his blade. "Youkai--"

I lifted my mask. My glare froze even his trembling grip. Reflected in his eyes were my own: crimson, slitted, alien to him. The shiver of fear skittered to his companions, the courage of cronies giving way as soon as their boss bares his cowardice. "You have very little time."

Sweat glistened on his brow.

Beneath his eyes, in the asylum of his mind, something ripped off its straitjacket.

He struck.

He had talent, once, I could taste it. But this world ground it down to a mean stump; he struck with all the grace of his broken, trembling hands. I could have drawn and struck twice before he finished that blow. I split open his chest; with a sanguine cough he hit the floor.

One crony gave a shriek of rage and charged. I whipped the blade back, cutting him at throat.

The third just evacuated his bowels.

I privileged him with an honorable death.

###

The Red House represented about half the local lord's income; the other half, to say nothing of its off-the-books business, had turned it into a palace, or perhaps a temple, of debauchery, a full three stories tall. Men spent their children's food to sample wine and women; so thick was the stink of sake and tobacco, so deep their stupors, that the passage of a youkai barely warranted a second glance. Their dreams surely showed them stranger and more beautiful things.

Daigoro clung to my front, pawing at my robe hungrily. "Soon, little one," I murmured, setting him on my back, where he clung with nascent claws. We mounted the stares; lascivious moans rolled from the doors on either side. The client had reserved the finest rooms in the house for us, and rented out the entire top floor for surety. Why a brothel? Perhaps my client saw the poetry in the situation.

The Shrine Maiden kneeled behind a bamboo curtain, known to me only as the outline of a mortal woman in prayer. The headed turned; guards with nagianata stood at the four corners, glowering eyes tracing my steps.

A mat lay on the floor before the veil. I took my seat, Daigoro crawling over my shoulder to my breast.

"The White Wolf." The silhouette shifted beneath the bamboo. "You come highly recommended."

"Hakurei Izuna."

Daigoro wormed around my shoulder, whimpering. Relenting, I let my robe drop by my arm. The guards pulled momentary stares from my breast. Daigoro nestled into arms, wriggling in tight, head in the crook of my arm as he moved to feed.

"Is he safe?"

"He does not speak."

"I could have one of my men to see to him."

"He and I are one. If you would rather he not overhear, I will gladly seek another client."

"No, no." The figure shifted to face me. "The business at hand, then. By your seat you will find a sheet of paper with a name. The man bearing that name must be killed."

"I need the entire story."

"I was under the impression you were discreet."

"I am. But I must know your reasons for the killing. I must have a reason."

A bolt of tension shot between the guards in the room. I felt the weight of her superiority, the grace of a woman unused to challenges on my shoulder. I looked down to Daigoro, feeding serenely.

"If this comes out, I will have you killed."

I stroked Daigoro's silk-white hair.

"Very well, then. The Hakurei Clan and its shrines have existed here for centuries. We are… border guards. Just as the youkai have their guardians at the edges of their mountains and forests, so we have exorcists and holy warriors at the borders of our villages."

"Restrict our discussion to the hit." I am well acquainted with humanity's watchdogs.

"Yes, yes. The clan leadership has passed from mother to daughter for generations, the line unbroken." A tired sigh passes through her. "Now, that man threatens a schism with the main line. Since my mother died… there has been nothing but division among the shrines. I can no longer assert order."

"You want him made an example of."

"Yes."

"That may only make a martyr of him."

"Maybe. But it is the only card I have left, and I have made my own preparations."

I unraveled the paper. Hakurei Jinsho.

"I am also informed that he has hired youkai bodyguards, three. He will be taking a winding road to the main temple. If he arrives, he will galvanize opposition to my inheritance, and my line will be broken."

I folded the paper into my sleeve. "Is there anything else?"

"The money has been sent to your… agent."

I stood. Daigoro slept in my arms. "Understood. And priestess -- if ever you need to test my abilities, hire better warriors."

#################################################################

Jinsho favored a roundabout path, visiting out-of-the-way villages to raise the rabble against Hakurei Izuna.

That gave me three days to arrange his death.

I spent the first day…

[ ]…striking. I saw no use in wasting time on him.
[ ]…scouting. I needed to learn more about these youkai guards.
[ ]…preparing. A battle such as this requires an ambush.
[X]…preparing. A battle such as this requires an ambush.
>>28616
[X]…scouting. I needed to learn more about these youkai guards.
[X]…scouting. I needed to learn more about these youkai guards.

Know thine enemy and such
[x]…scouting. I needed to learn more about these youkai guards.

No need for an ambush. That is not honorable.
[ ]…scouting. I needed to learn more about these youkai guards.
[x]…scouting. I needed to learn more about these youkai guards.
Called. Writing update.
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28695
>[ ]…scouting. I needed to learn more about these youkai guards.

First day of the hunt.

Jinsho is a master actor; he could have made his way on the stage had the clergy not reached him first. When I caught up with him he already had a sizeable procession to parade before friends and rivals alike, all driven by pious, godly rhetoric. Above his band rose a forest of bamboo spears, rusted rakes, wicked scythes, banners, torches. A display fit to give pause to any local official or cleric who might give protest.

However, the essence of Jinsho's power arrayed about his palanquin. Three youkai warriors. Once, I might have struggled to fathom why three of us might fall into the employ of such a man, and yet now I moved to take his head on behalf of a human.

The hypocrisy was not lost on me.

I spent the first day of hunt shadowing the prey. I could not draw close; I would be sensed in a moment. Thus, I bided, awaiting the flash of opportunity. It arrived by the evening sun.

A company of mortal bandits lacked my prudence, seeing only a wealthy cleric in robes worth more than their necks and a mob of peasants with improvised weapons and not three of the best warriors Jinsho could hire. I sensed them long before they struck; I could smell the rust on their spears and axes and the greed in their hearts. However, their bold sacrifice afforded me an important opening.

They struck from the forest as the procession rounded a bend in the road. Thirty of the men, ghosting out of the woods, the shriek of banshees on their lips as they charged.

The youkai cut them down; they might as well have been children for the good their resistance served. A flurry of black feathers cast to the sky as twin kusari-gama spiraled from beneath a cloak, harvesting lives wherever they flew. The second stood back, drawing an inked prayer strip from his billowing cloak; mystic bullets erupted a mystic trigram. They left holes in flesh that Daigoro could crawl through.

And then, the third.

The cloak fell from his face mid-battle, as he

White hair, crimson eyes, the ears of a dog; his fangs; his sword style: Wolf Style Tengujutsu.

The Telegnosis.

If he was even half my equal, he had already sensed me -- but permitted me to gather this vital intelligence. They counted a kusari-gama wielder among them, a mage of some stripe, and a blade-wolf. Nothing else bore consideration.

The question, then, is whether he turned that all-seeing eye upon me. If he did, did he report as much to his employer? At the time, I had no answer.

##############################################################################

Jinsho had taken rooms for the night. His legion slept in the gutters, stables, and alleyways. If any scented the irony, they bit their tongues.

As for this one, I…

[ ] …had to find the white wolf -- one of the few left.
[ ] …ambushed one of the other bodyguards.
> [ ] I targeted the mage.
> [ ] I targeted the kusari-gama wielder.
[ ] …withdrew to plan my next move.
[X] …withdrew to plan my next move.
[X] …withdrew to plan my next move.
[x] …ambushed one of the other bodyguards.
> [x] I targeted the kusari-gama wielder.
Two fighters with more range than us is too many to deal with at once, and bullets are more predictable and easier to evade. If we take out the mid-range now, things will be considerably easier later.
[X] …withdrew to plan my next move.


>>28701
We have three days. The first day bas been spent gathering intelligence, so we should use the second day for planning, and the third day is for action.
If we ambush one of the guards now, they'll know that we're here and hunting them. Meaning they'll be a lot more wary in the following days.

The best would be if we can find a way to separate them and take them down one by one in a single assault without giving them time to prepare.
>>28702
[x] …withdrew to plan my next move.

I am up for it but no ambushes.
[X] …withdrew to plan my next move.

Plan then strike. We
[X] …had to find the white wolf -- one of the few left. 

Last..? What happened?
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28756
>[X] …withdrew to plan my next move.

I moved as though I had been spotted; the wolf tengu could easily have sensed me, and my urge to kill, from a long distance -- if he used the telegnosis. Even now his fellows could be rallying to surround and outflank me. However, I had claimed what I had come for: crucial intelligence on the enemy. Crucially, though, I did not know whether I had been detected or not -- no target is harder to kill than one who expects the assassin.

I left via a northern bridge, unopposed and unfollowed. Daigoro curled into a ball of sleep, tail wrapped over his head, thumb in his mouth. A sliver of moon hung in the sky, a lidded eye asleep over Gensokyo.

My current camp lay at the end of a hunter's trail, a narrow line of dirt budding from the main road. At its end stood a truly ancient, desecrated shrine; a headless Buddha sat in decapitated tranquility. Once it might have been gold, but scavengers had stripped the gold paint, and perhaps lopped off the head for the gems in his eyes. Still, Gautama meditated, hands fixed in a mudra of benevolence.

I lifted Daigoro from the cart. Gently, I tucked him into his bedroll, leaving a kiss on his milky brow. My sleep remained aways off -- no, no lies. I feared sleep, more than the blades of my enemies, and to delay it I turned my thoughts to killing.

To reach my target, three youkai must die. One could be kin.

Ambush tactics. Confrontation. Drawing them out, one by one. Tactics floated through my mind like fireflies, glinting in the dark. Snipe one from a hill. Perhaps destroy a bridge as they crossed. Draw them away from the target, then flank around to kill him as they chased specters --

"Ho! Up late, I see. Kid's konked out."

I lifted my gaze to the sky. A winged shape passed against the stars, swooping loot. A stumbling landing, black wings receding into the small of the back, a lazy crack of the neck.

"Shameimaru."

"Is that any way to greet your agent, Momi?" She grinned, lifting a jar of sake. "I come bearing gifts."

"Don't you always." I gave my token noteof disapproval, but I still took the drinking plate from her.

"Playing it safe for this one, eh? Not like you to hide as the target sleeps safe in bed."

"He has three tengu guards. Including a white wolf."

"Hell." She took a deep sip. " I can try and get you out of this one."

"No." I raised my hand, sipping with the other. "I carry out the work as agreed."

"Knew you would say that." She poured out more for both of us.

Two tengu, drinking in the dark. One might have called it a moon-viewing party, had we more moon to view.

"I can do some checking on them."

"My own plans are in motion."

"'Course they are. After all, everyone has a plan with sake!"

"Words of the Buddha of Drunkenness."

She leapt to her feet, darting toward the headless Buddha. "To the Buddha of drunkenness! He awakens in an Osakan brothel with a baby, a tiger, and no head! May he one day find the mother, the tiger's owner, and his head -- which, I am told, has become quite an attraction among performers. Hell, I'm writing that one down."

"You are a brilliant fool."

"All great writers are. You think I'm going to keep cutting deals with shady types forever? Carrying news by wing? No!"

I could not stifle the laugh, half a bark. That set her going. We giggled. Played at friendship.

But always, in the back of my mind, the cogs of killing continued to turn. I considered my options.

I chose to spend the second day…

[ ] … continuing to stalk my enemies.
[ ] …striking.
> [ ] I would make them believe I was not the assassin -- Aya would lure them out, I would target the enemy.
> [ ] I would draw one away from the group and quietly dispose of them.
> [ ] I would shoot Jinsho as he passed a hilltop.
[ ] I would prepare my battlefield on the road of head, and engage them on ground of my choosing.
[X] … continuing to stalk my enemies.
>>28756
[X] Asking the spy sitting right next to me for information.
[X] I would prepare my battlefield on the road of head, and engage them on ground of my choosing.

really, momi. A baby to the battlefield?
[x] …striking.
> [x] I would draw one away from the group and quietly dispose of them.
Chainy-sickle dude.
>>28760
Would you rather she left him alone, prey for beasts and men alike?
>>28760

Just think of it as bring your child to work day.
>>28766
[x] …striking.
-[x] I would draw one away from the group and quietly dispose of them.
--[x] I targeted the mage.
--[x] I targeted the kusari-gama wielder.

With Aya's help, we can pull this off.
[x] I would prepare my battlefield on the road of head, and engage them on ground of my choosing.
[x] I would prepare my battlefield on the road ahead, and engage them on ground of my choosing.

interesting story
Vote called, update being written.
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28803
> [ ] I would prepare my battlefield on the road ahead, and engage them on ground of my choosing.

I stalked the road ahead of Jinsho's procession, mapping the many sites where I might spill his blood. A few promised victory.

First, Jinsho would have to cut a path through a swamp. A promising venue for battle, one Shameimaru would choose; the setting is novelesque, perfect for warriors of the great epics to confront one another, blades raised to meet a destined struggle. Destiny, here, being a five hundred ryo bounty on the neck of a priest. In this swamp, twisted trees bending like old men, packed together as tightly as their waiting graves, the kusari-gama wielder would have little utility with his blades in such difficult terrain, and likewise the mage would find many obstructions for his bullets. However, my brother would have just as much utility with his blade as I…

Second, a bridge crossing a northern river. Narrow and tall, it would disrupt any attempt to surround or overwhelm my position as I engaged his guards. Likewise, I could easily destroy the bridge, strike from beneath, or even destroy it to close this route to him. However, any ambush might be detected by a wielder of the Telegnosis -- the danger inherent in this plan. Laying an ambush, paradoxically, makes the warrior most vulnerable to being ambushed herself. Thus she must know with certainty that she holds the element of surprise -- and know with certainty when it has been lost.

Third, the village. I knew not who burned it: perhaps bandits, or perhaps youkai, or perhaps its residents had burned their granaries rather than submit to deeper taxation. Whatever the case, it lay desolate and empty now, an ashen nightmare of half-burned houses, abandoned tools and a pervasive, scorched scent. It would blind their noses as it did mine, and if I could lure them from the main road I could draw them into a mire of traps and ambushes.

I sat by my sword, philosophizing on murder. How best to kill this man? How best to slay his guards?

All my life, I had been taught one philosophy of combat: the white wolf tengu meditation on war. The pack hunts, surrounds its victim with a wall of fangs, and closes until the enemy can stand nowhere but upon blades. No matter how many wolves fall, the hunt continues; many embrace death so the pack can prosper. This is the doctrine taught to me by my parents and teachers.

Now, that approach leads me astray, toward death. I am but a single warrior, with a child napping in her arms. I require a new philosophy of combat. What is the lone wolf's meditation on war? I required a new approach to combat. Deep in meditation, I awaited an answer.

I resolved that…

[ ]… the lone wolf lives without mercy, lurking in shadows and striking without honor or pity. I would wait within the swamp and draw them into an unwinnable battle.
[ ]… the lone wolf challenges her foes with teeth bared. She stands on ground that favors her, and stakes all on the whisper of the blade. I would confront them the bridge, the sun at my back, and fight until I triumphed or fell.
[ ]… the lone wolf makes the world his pack. Every tree, every trap, every ally I coerce is a member of my pack, encircling my victim. I would draw his guards into the village -- and it would become my own wall of fangs.
[X]… the lone wolf makes the world her pack. Every tree, every trap, every ally I coerce is a member of my pack, encircling my victim. I would draw his guards into the village -- and it would become my own wall of fangs.

I like the way this is worded. Other than that, I think the three options are probably equally likely to win, so that pretty much settled it for me.
>>28804

Pretty much this. As such:

[X]… the lone wolf makes the world her pack. Every tree, every trap, every ally I coerce is a member of my pack, encircling my victim. I would draw his guards into the village -- and it would become my own wall of fangs.
[X]… the lone wolf makes the world her pack. Every tree, every trap, every ally I coerce is a member of my pack, encircling my victim. I would draw his guards into the village -- and it would become my own wall of fangs.
[x]… the lone wolf makes the world his pack. Every tree, every trap, every ally I coerce is a member of my pack, encircling my victim. I would draw his guards into the village -- and it would become my own wall of fangs.
[x]… the lone wolf challenges her foes with teeth bared. She stands on ground that favors her, and stakes all on the whisper of the blade. I would confront them the bridge, the sun at my back, and fight until I triumphed or fell.

Superior swordsmanship of course.
>>28806
Forgot password, changing it to
[x]… the lone wolf challenges her foes with teeth bared. She stands on ground that favors her, and stakes all on the whisper of the blade. I would confront them the bridge, the sun at my back, and fight until I triumphed or fell.

A warrior clouded in solitude seems to be the way to go.
[X]… the lone wolf makes the world her pack. Every tree, every trap, every ally I coerce is a member of my pack, encircling my victim. I would draw his guards into the village -- and it would become my own wall of fangs.
[x]… the lone wolf lives without mercy, lurking in shadows and striking without honor or pity. I would wait within the swamp and draw them into an unwinnable battle.

If it wasn't for the kid, I'd pick the second option. We need every advantage we can get just to make sure we can stay alive to look after him.
Vote called. Update forthcoming.
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28875
> [ ]… the lone wolf makes the world his pack. Every tree, every trap, every ally I coerce is a member of my pack, encircling my victim. I would draw his guards into the village and turn it into my wall of fangs.

Jinsho marched to his death in silence, secluded in his palanquin. I waited on the road, leaning on my spear. The pieces had already been laid; his men would play Go with me, but I had taken several moves before they sat down to the table.

The sun sank at my back. I watched the moon rise. The wind cooled me as I meditated on my new philosophy of combat. I required every advantage I could marshal. I must live; if it is my fate to die, so be it. But before then I will make the world my pack, and turn every fang I could against those who would end my life.

I broke from my meditation as the procession rounded the bend. My brother wolf had not warned them, if I had been found out. The other tengu detected me immediately. Standing in the open, my killer instinct blazed as bright as the sun at my back.

"Who goes?" The sickle-user reached into his coat. His own killer instinct came alive, a spark in the dark bursting into flame in reaction to mine.

"I am the White Wolf. I come for your lives."

They dropped into battle stances, weapons flashing from within their jackets, a prayer strip appearing in the mage's hand. The wolf, however, left his blade in its sheath, watching me levelly. I caught the light of the Telegnosis in his eyes. He already knew that traps littered the ruins of the village, that I must be planning to lure them into a nightmare of ambushes and hidden blades, and yet… nothing. His sword remained hidden.

"You are brazen," wheezed the magician. "A white wolf, is it…? The one wandering about with her cub, doing contracts for humans? You have met a truly wretched fate!" He gave a gasping laugh. "But I suppose I stand in a glass house. Leave here! Take your cub and subsist however you can."

I stood unmoved.

"As you wish. We will see to it that your boy is cared for."

He shouted out the activation verse. I bolted to my left, stepping between the hail of mystic fire. Not a true spell card -- a lesser tool, covering less area but equally destructive. In this rough era, no laws had been enacted among youkai about their use, let alone among exiles. Every bullet that singed my hair could have punched a hole in my chest the size of my head. Sorcerous warfare did not leave corpses worthy of Aya's novel, so I went to ground as I weaved between fields of fire.

The prayer sheet burned to ash in his hand. I hid amid billowing, blinding smoke.

The wolf tengu murmured: "That was foolish, Shuu."

I cannot describe the Telegnosis to you. Perhaps I might say that sight becomes sound becomes scent becomes a ghost across my skin becomes a taste running down my tongue, only for these impressions to shift to another sense from second to second. I could not see them, no, but a white wolf tengu can never be truly blinded. They were echoes, and they were smells, I could see their breath.

The same went for Jinsho, the cleric huddling in his palanquin, all but soiling himself. I permitted myself a moment of pity before hurling the spear at it.

A howl of pain, gasps of terror from the assembled peasantry, formed ribbons of color before my eyes; I could hear the crimson of the blood splattered across the sand. A sickle whipped through the smoke, tracing a thin scratch across my cheek. I broke to the alleyways, reaching for the sword at my hip. I vaulted over my trip wires, losing myself amid the labyrinth of disintegrating homes.

Their words played out in front my eyes.

"Blasted bitch!"

"If we let her live we'll never find work again!"

I leapt atop a beam sticking from a collapsed house. I heard the whisper of a sickle a half second before the blade sliced through the mist, razor edge coiling toward my neck. I drew my pistol and fired straight down the chain. The report shined a brilliant crimson, and I could see groan of pain, hear a shudder as the tengu sank to his knees.

The wolf, my brother, had always been my equal. I suspect he knew I shadowed the caravan, knew that death followed in his tracks. Even now I doubt that he felt any loyalty to that unfortunate cleric or his companions. He struck from behind as I turned, hearing him out of the corner of my eye. He knocked my pistol from my hand as I brought the second barrel to bear. It skidded away. My blade burst from its sheath as he swung. I saw sound radiating from the collision. It almost concealed the moldy whisper of a spell.

I darted away as the mage released another prayer. A bound spirit arced from surface to surface, a thing of roiling lightning-ki. I had no choice but to retreat, hurling a thin stick of incense to the ground. The spirit pounced on the offering as I fell back, losing myself amid the ruins. I went toward the forest, toward the river that cut through it.

The telegnosis wore on me. Thin blood trickled from my nose as my footsteps sent out pebble-in-pond ripples around me. Both my adversaries hunted me, the mage at last taking to wing as the wolf stalked the ground. I could smell the powder of the pistol at his hip. So nice of him -- he meant to return the other bullet to me.

I skidded into the water, taking to the shallows. The mage appeared in the trees, wings retreating into his back as he alighted on a branch. Another prayer strip hung loosely in his fingers.

"You're a hell of a woman. Gan, shot dead. Our client, speared through the chest."

He reached into his robes and produced another prayer strip. I raised my blade. He released it, and it unfolded into a jar of sake. The cork popped off, the sound a gentle pink color, the sound of his swallow a shade redder.

"I'll be blunt. Sign up with us. We seem to have a sudden opening. And, I hear you have a cub with you. We can see to 'em. Be good for him to live among his own."

I squared my body, blade at the ready. "I am honored by the offer, magician. But I chose my path long ago."

"Have you, now? Well, that's just too bad." He drew forth his prayer strip. I picked out the Chinese characters on it -- tasted them. Water, spirit, vengeance. "Farewell, wolf."

Farewell, magician.

The gunshot reported from the woods.

My body tensed. For a moment, it felt with total certainty that it had been hit.

The mage stared down at the seeping wound in his chest. He shifted, lost his balance, and plunged into the shallows. The color of life drained from him. I could no longer see his heartbeat. My gaze dropped to the shore. The wolf tossed my pistol aside, both barrels spent. His eyes shined with the light of the telegnosis; with a lazy hand he wiped the blood from his nose. Killer instinct spiraled from his body, a coil of hate that shined a toxic red.

I turned my blade to meet him.

"…Inubashiri, yes?" He tilted his head as he stepped into the shallows. His sword lay in his sheath; he took a neutral stance, as if I had never even drawn. "Inubashiri Momiji."

"And you?"

"They called me Shinjiro. No notable ancestry. I have been looking for you."

I permitted him to speak, even as I found steady battle-footing in the murk.

"You were the sword of our clan. The executioner. And your husband… the judge. You alone have the right to end my life.

"I have wandered in dishonor for a long year since that night. I have meditated long on the question: why was I spared when all others were not? What sin had I committed that fate chastises me so? Why must I abase myself before humans? Why I must I fight alongside those wretches?

"I have no answer, Inubashiri. I know only that I have sinned. I did not die in defense of my brothers and sisters as ordained by the fourteen points of honor. Thus, this vile existence is my purgatory. I may only exit when I die the death I escaped.

"So I sought you. Our executioner. Our gaoler. Inubashiri Momiji.

I finally understood. That spiral of killer instinct, that overwhelming urge to slay, flew not to me but into his body and spirit. There is no more deadly opponent, for the swordsman who seeks his own death fears nothing. Such a man abandons defense and strikes even against the deathblow, for all he wishes is to see his opponent join him in death. The deadliest of all martial artists -- those who embrace death.

"End my life, White Wolf!" His hand felt to his sword hilt as his foot dragged back into an iai stance. "Free me!"

I replied…

[ ] "I give you a death the ancestors will be proud of, Shinjiro."
[ ] "Only a fool seeks death so readily. Life calls you."
[ ] "This purgatory demands vengeance, not suicide."
[ ] Write-in.
[x] "I give you a death the ancestors will be proud of, Shinjiro."

Argh, tough choice. But I must chose this.

Quickest draw of the blade decides the evening.

I wonder is it possible to lose this fight or any fight?
[x] "I give you a death the ancestors will be proud of, Shinjiro."
>I have meditated long on the question: why was I spared when all others were not?
OK, he's got survivor's guilt. I'd pick the "Live!" choice, except he'll probably see it as a curse.

[X] "This purgatory demands vengeance, not suicide."

If he wants to die fighting, it should be redirected to a better purpose.
>>28875
I'm going to take a leap of faith and assume that Momi's husband was also executed. By her hand, probably.
[X] "I am executioner no more. None will free you from your sins save your own designs."
[x] "This purgatory demands vengeance, not suicide."
Eh, one might lead to other, really. That's how these things usually go, right?
[x] "I give you a death the ancestors will be proud of, Shinjiro."

>>28879
He doesn't specifically want to die fighting, he wants to die at the hands of Inubashiri Momiji, "the Tengu's Executioner", and fighting her is just a step towards that goal.
[X] "This purgatory demands vengeance, not suicide."
[x] "This purgatory demands vengeance, not suicide."
[x] "I give you a death the ancestors will be proud of, Shinjiro."

I say give him his honor in death.
[x] "This purgatory demands vengeance, not suicide."

If you want to throw your life away, how about you do it doing something useful?

Maybe the reason you survived when no else did is so you could avenge them?
[x] "Only a fool seeks death so readily. Life calls you."
Vote called. Update soon.
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28976
"This purgatory demands vengeance, not suicide."

I circled Shinjiro, blade at the ready. If he struck with that quickdraw -- both of us wielding the Telegnosis -- we would die together. He wielded the sword of a master.

"We were spared, brother. Where so many perished, we were spared, and we endured a great dishonor -- the deserters, the survivors. Why did fate curse us with life? For many nights I meditated on that question, fasted until my skin stretched across my ribs. And then, I understood… we do live in a purgatory, yes. But this purgatory does not ask our lives -- it asks for theirs. Do you suppose the world would be so kind and forgiving merely to ask for an honorable suicide? After all we have already endured? No, fate could have taken our lives many times up until now, and yet somehow -- throughout all that -- we still walk. If, for a moment, I thought could be reunited with my love among the ancestors, in exchange for merely my life, I would take my son and walk into the sea. But the ancestors do not call out for me. They call out for the heads of their killers."

"This is why you've debased yourself before humans, is it." The river whispered across our ankles.

"Yes. This is why I have cast aside honor, virtue, and grace. Forsaken every oath of the clan. My heart demands vengeance. And for that, I must endure."

"And now you ask me to join you in this quest."

"I only give my judgment as former executioner."

"…the ancients would spit on us in the afterlife, would they?"

"I know it. I have been on its shores."

His wolfish eyes narrowed. The telegnosis hunted my blood for the saccharine stink of lies. He did not find it. "We are mad. Both of us."

"Wholly mad and beyond redemption."

He released the hilt of his sword. The swirl of killer instinct dissolved like smoke. "As you have said, executioner. If the ancestors would have vengeance, vengeance I shall give them." His telegnosis retreated in his mind, as did mine.

I had been spared another day.

I drew five hundred ryo closer to my foe.

"Come with me, Shinjiro. There are things I would ask you."

##############################################################################

"I met Gan and Shuu on the road. I left the tribe well before they did. Tossed out like garbage." Shadows danced ghoulish on his face, flickers from a midnight fire. Daigoro slept on my lap, tail curled across his forehead. Shameimaru lingered somewhere outside in crowshape. Shinjiro stared into the flames, his eyes passing in and out of shadows. "But then, so were they. Trash, all of us."

"What is happening on the Mountain?"

"Tenma grows more paranoid and aloof by the day. Execution and banishment are his favorite hobbies." He sipped the cup of sake. The jar sat between us. "Something about a White Wolf stalking him, I've heard. But Gan and Shuu made it clear that God had gone mad long ago. Why he ordered our tribe to be annihilated."

"I know this. The order had to come from him, he alone had the authority."

"He alone?"

"Tenma was a peaceful god. But, a year ago, he became convinced that some treachery festered among the wolf tengu, enough to corrupt the entire clan. Gan was a councilor at the time. He claimed that Tenma learned that the Executioner's husband had written treasonous letters, fomenting rebellion against him."

Lightning passed through me. My husband. My love. An instant passed where I could see him, hunched over another sheet of paper, scribbling… treason? Tenma believed that in my house my own heart committed treason to paper? He believed that the groom of his wolves--?! I slammed my fist down on the mat. "My husband? How can he believe that my house--"

I caught my rage. Let it evaporate through my breath. My heart cooled as the noxious energy left my body.

Shinjiro stared down at the plate. "My point exactly."

"Someone else pulls the strings."

"The order could not have started with him. He was content to rule from his mountain until something, someone, persuaded him to turn on us."

We drank in silence for long minutes, stretching into perhaps an hour. The sake sank into my blood, into my bones. Would be easy enough to give my life to drink. Perhaps sake is like a swamp: I could hurl my hatred into it, and never see it again.

But it would not be destroyed.

Shinjiro still considered the flame.

"Knowing this, will you spare Tenma?"

My eyes turned up to the headless Buddha.

I replied…

[ ] "He is equally guilty."
[ ] "My sword may find his neck, it may not."
[ ] "I hunt the root, not the limb."
[ ] "Be quiet and top me off."
[x] "My sword may find his neck, it may not."

Honestly not sure right now what to choose. I'll go with this, but that sentiment could change whenever we actually come face to face with the man.
[x] "My sword may find his neck, it may not."

Sounds about right and we don't know where Tenma stands in the grand scheme. Though I'd be disapointed if it was YET Another Moriya scheme. This isn't 2007 you know.
[x] "My sword may find his neck, it may not."
>>28979
Maybe Yukari did it.
[x] "Be quiet and top me off."
[x] "My sword may find his neck, it may not."
[x] "My sword may find his neck, it may not."
Vote called, update soon.
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29031
"My blade may find his neck, it may not. It depends upon whether my fate intersects with his."

Shinjiro contemplated my answer, eying the flame.

"That is not an answer, Inubashiri."

"Oh?"

"In essence, you said that you might or might not kill him. Do you mean to say that you would kill him if you had the opportunity, or that you might spare him, or did you mean to say that you simply do not know? I doubt that. You are nothing if not decisive -- you persuaded a deathseeker like me with driving purpose. No, I am certain you have your plans for him."

My turn to consider the fire. For half a second, I saw tendrils of flame coiling through our village.

"How astute, Shinjiro. I am glad I rescued you from an early grave. Your mind is needed in an age of fools." I extended my sake plate; he filled it. "I still know little of how and why we were destroyed. The time around that period… is a blur. I was not well. But you are right: there will come a day when I pass judgment on Tenma, as I did on you. I will hear his reasons and I will consider them. And, once I have, I will either take his head or I will not. Does that answer your question, Shinjiro?"

"Yes, I would say so. Or perhaps the sake dulls my wits."

He poured out the last few drops from the jar.

"All the same," he continued, "the order would have to pass through him. Is this not a capital crime?"

"I am not one to rush to judgment."

Shinjiro mulled my words, before finally giving in. "We should rest. The young heir seems to have finally tired himself."

Daigoro lay sprawled on the floor, legs dangling toward the snow, exercising the curious power of children to sleep in impossible positions. I finished my plate before going to him, lifting him into my arms. "An heir to ashes."

"Aren't we all?"

##############################################################################

Looking back, many years later…

My mother meted out the justice of the harvest. She lived her life as a scythe; an impartial instrument for those who would harvest lives, separating wheat and chaff. Izuna wielded this particular blade with an uncommon expertise.

Of course, initially, accusations fell on her household like rain. Before someone drove a spear through his chest, Jinsho might have claimed the title of high priest, seizing the entire web of shrines around Gensokyo. His pedigree passed all tests of purity, all auguries (their services well-compensated) found him an ideal candidate, worthy of Izuna herself. Of course, she knew far better than to simply kill Jinsho -- the blame would immediately fall on her shoulders. So she arranged for rumors to be spread, that other leaders among her rivals had suddenly spent a large sum of money they could not account for, that they had been seen meeting with tengu secretly.

Wars are fought with ideas. Inspire an idea in one's subordinates, and they will stand against any army. Plant a pestilential idea among one's enemies, they will wither. Suspicion spread like plague among Izuna's adversaries. Before long communication between them had broken down, accusations flinging to and fro. Finally, Izuna revealed her trump card; she had found that Jinsho's brother had spent large sums of money he could not account for -- on an assassin, obviously. Of course, he had spent the money, but not on a professional killer. He slit his belly on the steps of his temple.

The opposition faction folded. Izuna took the title of heir unopposed.

Those who sought to hire the White Wolf and her cub were fundamentally sagacious. They understood that the fate of a nation could be decided by a single spear. And, in many ways, this clientele proved to be my mother's greatest asset and her most critical weakness. Such, I suppose, is the lot of an assassin: offer oneself as a pawn, and be treated as one. And yet, for all the swirl of deceit that encircled us, our wolfish scent, our telegnosis, served us unto the bitterest ends.

I passed the Hakurei Temple Shrine, today. Izuna is an hag-priestess, face crosshatched by wrinkles, surrounded by worshippers seeking the grace of a living Bodhisattva -- she is venerated as a saint of mercy. Her eyes picked me out of a crowd, a hooded tengu.

She recognized me.


##############################################################################

A sudden, unseasonable snow had struck the province. Daigoro curled in my arms as Shameimaru and I strolled the mountain trails. We youkai are betrayed by our tracks: she left behind an impression of crow's pronged toes, I left behind the paws of a wolf, stamped between the twin furrows of the cart's skis. We wound down a long mountain trail: the cold air stung my nose, blocking out other scents, as trees bowed before us -- trees aching under the sudden burden. They still carried the autumn's leaves.

"This contract came through a foreigner. I couldn't do much of a check on her, she's a secretive sort. Apparently her family came out of Europe a while ago, France, with a ship loaded with Western muskets. Offloaded the whole lot to both sides in the civil war, came out ahead by the thousands. She's heir to the fortune."

"A gun runner, is it."

"Oh, she sells cannons and Western steel armor, too. Has a nifty little trading company set up, and has -- had -- exclusive trading privileges with the Shogun."

"Had?"

"Well, gouging the Shogunate is fine when you control most of the supply. She ripped the hell off of the government -- if my sources are right, she was selling muskets for two or three times what they were worth in Europe. The Shogun got right sick of that, so he's been building up his own workshops at Nagahama and Tanegashima, slowly breaking the monopoly."

"I presume she wants us to fix that."

"Well… she is a gun runner. She has plenty of enemies she might want dead. But I'm betting that she wants us to deal with the competition."

We cleared the forest; we stood upon a rising bluff, considering a snowed-out village ahead. The locals had been woefully unprepared for the sudden shift in weather. Shameimaru stepped ahead, turning to face me. "I'll be above. Just give a whistle if you need me." Wry grin. "You got the place -- she rented out an entire inn just to have a word with you. Leave a good impression, she's a high roller."

She shifted into a raven, taking wing over village.

I pulled on a pair of snowshoes, more than adequate to cover my tengu tracks. Daigoro shook awake, fussed in the sling at my breast. "Not now, Daigoro," I murmured, setting him in the cart. He flashed me a sullen stare, then launched into a rousing game of chase with his tail. I pressed the cart through the snow, down the choked central road of the town.

A few beggars had frozen to death during the night. A priest had covered them straw mats and chanted over them, giving them to the infinite mercy of the Buddha. I briefly thought of the headless Enlightened One in the shrine. It might make an excellent metaphor, but for what, I had no time to consider.

The appointed place, as promised, was an inn, rented out entirely by the client. She had politely furnished it with armed guards. Out of the mountains, I could smell gunpowder on their hidden pistols, could smell the oil on their sheathed swords. The client made a show of force: a private army of ronin, armed with illegal firearms. While I could hardly fault her security, it betrayed a desire to be taken seriously. Surely the government knew that she armed her troops with these weapons illegally, and yet they were powerless to disarm them. She wanted to be seen as impervious: flaunting this country's laws with impunity, as I did.

A toothless ronin slid the door open. Within, a woman -- young, though her braided hair was white -- kneeled, wrapped in a blue kimono. She bowed, pressing her forehead to the floorboards. "Welcome, White Wolf. The Mistress will see you in the courtyard."

"Stand. I am not one to be bowed to."

The woman rose to lead us through those halls. Servants bowed their heads; Ronin swaggered. Finally, we took a right, and arrived at the courtyard.

I took a moment to absorb the spectacle unfolding before me.

In the center of the yard, mired in snow, a man stood bound to a tree and gagged, a sake jar crudely tied to his head. Perhaps fifteen paces away stood my client, wrapped in a crimson robe, dropping a bullet down the barrel of a musket. I watched as she tamped the round down with a ramrod; her victim squirmed, yelling into his gag. Slowly, the Westerner raised the weapon, staring straight down sights at the jar.

"Squirming won't help you, you know," she said, her Japanese perfect and lyrical -- she spoke like a noblewoman. "Stay still!"

The man went still as death.

How is it that such a gentle squeeze of her slender finger can produce an explosion of force? Fire leapt from the barrel. A gunshot is an act of transformation: in the space between instants, a bullet travels and irrevocably transforms a situation. There is a before and an after, no in-between. Perhaps, exerting the Telegnosis to its absolute limit, I could trace a bullet in flight. Nothing less could follow it. Daigoro's grip tightened on me, whimpered, a reflex suddenly seizing him.

A thin line of blood crept from the man's ear. Instantly, he thrashed in his bindings, finally managing to loosen the sake jar from his head. It cracked open on a stone. He would live. For the moment.

The client clicked her tongue, lowering the musket. "Sights are misaligned!" She turned to me. "But above all, my guest has arrived. Excellent -- Sakuya! Drinks." Her servant vanished into the house as the client walked toward the wooden walkway running the sides of the courtyard.

I joined her. Daigoro clung to my back, peering over my shoulder nervously. The client sat, leaning back to consider the overcast sky -- her feet kicked the air childishly. "Welcome, White Wolf."

"And you, I presume, are Remilia Scarlet."

"The one and only."

"Tell me everything."

"Yes, yes, I know how it goes with you. But indulge me for just a moment. Please, sit."

I slid next to her on the cold boards. Daigoro clambered over my shoulder and found my lap; he homed to it, at that age.

"You might be wondering who this fellow is," said Scarlet, sitting on the walkway. She kicked her legs, lazily, childishly, bearing enough ankle over her clogs to scandalize in Edo.

"The question crossed my mind."

"He represents a certain clan. I can't name them -- my business partners expect confidentiality -- but suffice it to say, they have been buying weapons and hiding them from the Shogun up in the mountains. Treason, at its heart. Why do they do this? It's not my business to ask. But, if I were a betting woman -- and I am -- I would say that… how to put it… When you are a carpenter, everything looks like a nail. You see?"

"They are covering up criminal actions. Using the guns to protect an enterprise."

"Precisely! A criminal will always think in terms of crime. If you commit one crime, you may as well commit another crime to cover it up. Likewise for all humanity. A priest will always turn to God, a king will always turn to his kingdom."

"A gun runner will always turn to guns."

"And an assassin will always turn to slaughter."

I accepted the comment without reply.

"And so we come back to this unlucky courtier." Her gaze shifted to the rivulet of blood running from his mangled ear. She licked her lips. "He just arrived to inform me his masters are having difficulty paying their tab. So… I decided to do some live testing with him." She picked up the musket, then tossed it to me lazily. I caught it over Daigoro's head. He eyed the thing with deep suspicion before crawling out of my lap to play in the snow.

I studied the device. A short stock gave way to an Eastern dragon etched on the side in gold. The construction was of maplewood and steel. The materials alone would be colossally expensive, let alone the work of the decoration; the dragon coiled down the barrel, opening his maw near the end to breath a jet of jade fire.

"A wealthy man on the mainland commissioned this. It's important the sights be flawlessly aligned. It runs him… ten thousand francs, or so. In ryo, that would be… more money than you will ever see."

"Impressive work."

"I'd say yours is far more impressive. This is merely the tool. As they say… it's not what you got, it's how you use it."

How lewd. I betrayed a thin smile.

"Ah! A smirk. The mask breaks."

"Have I indulged you sufficiently?"

"I'm coming around to the point. You see, there's something I was curious about, Momiji Inubashiri."

"Ask."

"If I wanted you to kill that man, what would it run me?"

"Five hundred ryo."

"And if I wanted you to kill that priest outside, tending to frozen beggars, what would that cost?"

"Five hundred ryo."

"And if I wanted the lord of the local prefecture killed?"

"Five hundred ryo."

"And if I wanted the emperor to die?"

"Five hundred ryo."

"Superb!" Scarlet clapped her hands, grinning. For a moment, I thought I saw fangs in her mouth. "Simply beautiful. You have a moral purity I have not seen in all the world -- and I have walked the deserts of Africa, seen the great metropoli of Europe and the palaces of Asia… and you alone would charge five hundred ryo for a life, any life, equally."

"You make an error, Lady Scarlet."

"Is that so?"

"I price all deaths at five hundred ryo, not all lives."

She gave an unladylike snort, a derisive noise. "Let me put a theory to you. I think the greatest moral ill, the gravest sin, is hypocrisy. There are hundreds of venial sins, seven deadly sins, but there is only one primordial sin: hypocrisy. To profess beliefs one does not hold… to then act against them… and to criticize those actions in others. That is the gravest sin -- and the only sin for which souls are condemned to hell."

I replied…

[ ] "I agree. Any killer and any deceiver might walk a path, but only hypocrites walk no path at all."
[ ] "There is neither sin nor virtue under heaven. Both are inventions of the human heart."
[ ] "I disagree. The gravest sin is…"
= [ ] "… treachery."
= [ ] "… cowardice."
= [ ] "… suicide."
= [ ] "… murder."
= [ ] [write-in]
[x] "I agree. Any killer and any deceiver might walk a path, but only hypocrites walk no path at all."

Quite the update.
[x] "There is neither sin nor virtue under heaven. Both are inventions of the human heart."
- [x] "...But that does not make them unimportant."
>>29033
I like this, throwing a vote in for it.
[x] "I disagree. The gravest sin is…"
= [x] "… treachery."

I feel she'd say this because it was such an act that changed her life forever.
[x] "There is neither sin nor virtue under heaven. Both are inventions of the human heart."
- [x] "...But that does not make them unimportant."

Well okay.
[X] "I disagree. The gravest sin is…"
= [X] "… treachery."

Watching her clan be crushed and scattered by its master would have had quite an effect on Momiji. I wonder if Remilia has read Dante's Inferno, where betrayal is punished in the lowest circle of Hell occupied by Lucifer.
Vote called.
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29053
"There is neither virtue nor sin under heaven. But they are still important."

The servant, Sakuya, arrived bearing a tray with hot tea. She kneeled, then offered a cup to either of us.

"I am listening, tengu." Her voice could have chilled the tea. I took a sip all the same.

"In order for the business of government to be administered, for the nations of both tengu and humankind to survive and prosper, there must be law. Thus, sin and virtue are born. Heaven hands the principles of goodness to the rulers of earth, where they are used to create order. Thus, law and crime are necessary illusions: but, ultimately, they are impositions upon an indifferent cosmos. The universe contains neither an atom of Good nor a particle of Evil. They are necessary deceptions."

Remilia looked down at her tea before taking a long, unladylike swig. I waited for the cry of the burn, but none came.

"And so, the societies of men are built on a foundation of lies?"

"Yes."

"HA!" she laughed. The man -- still tied to the tree -- startled. "I adore it. So many self-righteous souls in the world, living their limited, self-righteous lives -- for what? For lies! Lies told so the order of society can be maintained." Remilia grinned. "You say prosperity. Whose prosperity is that, precisely? The rich warlords, in their castles?"

"This is true. The laws of heaven benefit a small handful -- men with swords and guns, usually. Yet still, those lords who forsake their duties will find their heads severed by their abused people. Perhaps, as you say, the law of heaven benefits some more than others. But even if so, it punishes all equally."

"In that case, what does that make you and I, Inubashiri? Sinners?"

I sipped my tea. "Enough talk. I am here for business, Ms. Scarlet."

She gave a sigh, shrugging her shoulders at her victim. "Hear that? No one ever wants to listen to my nihilistic diatribes. It is so depressing. I can tell them to Mr. Can't-Pay-His-Tab, but he just cries and nods his head to everything I say. So hard to find a vigorous debate these days, we live in an age of sycophants. Speaking of sycophants, they are a subset of--"

I raised my hand.

"Worth a shot. So, my dear tengu, let's talk business. Let me be blunt. I've been doing business in Asia for most of my career. I don't care who's buying as long as they can pay their tab. You do recall the Aoyama Rebellion? They raised rifles against the Shogun, massacred a unit of crack infantry before going down to cannons -- which Shogunate also purchased from me. Japan's a perpetual civil war machine, the blood feuds and rebellions are endless and highly profitable. Ands for the last few… let's say years, the Shogun's been my best customer. I can get him more guns in a week than his own gunsmiths can make in a year."

I listened. Daigoro slipped into the snow to fashion snow figures and hunt them, fighting his own war against boredom.

"Thus we arrive at the present day. The Shogun's gunsmiths in Tanegashima and Nagano have been perfecting their own supply of guns and ammunition, slowly but surely building up plausible competition to my own company. Now, apparently, they have developed new techniques for mass production and standardized parts. I do not know how they acquired these techniques; it has no bearing on our transaction."

"Who do you want dead, precisely?"

"I'm getting to that. In three days, a heavily guarded convoy from Tanegashima will land on the mainland. Soon thereafter, it will begin a long, winding route toward Edo, taking back-roads to avoid attention. It will carry five hundred of the new muskets, along with the Commissioner of Firearms. I want him dead. I also want you to destroy the entire shipment -- make the entire set unusable."

I considered the parameters of the mission. While destroying property was not my specialty, the client had clearly offered a target -- and, as Shameimaru had pointed out, it would be in my interests to leave a good impression on a wealthy and well-connected client. Still.

"In essence, you want me to create a run on firearms in Japan," I said.

"You got it. We're going to blow up the competition and corner the market -- capitalism, ho! The Shogun will probably suspect me, but even if he did he cannot do anything about it. The monopoly on firearms is a cornerstone of the Shogunate. He needs guns, he needs components, he needs shot and powder. A shortage would be, well…" She grinned. "Catastrophic."

I took one last sip of the tea. Quite good, if I am honest. "You know you cannot maintain your monopoly forever."

"You are right. I can't. But that will be the day I go elsewhere." She raised her cup in a toast. "To gun runners! Uniting means with motive all over the world." I dutifully raised my own to meet hers. "So, White Wolf, do we have an arrangement?"

I could eliminate the Commissioner of Firearms, but destroying his stock is not in my line of work. I doubted Remilia would accept a single death: the official himself was of no importance and replaceable. The guns, however, constituted the conclusion of much money and time. The commissioner merely served to justify her request; he was never the main point.

"Not sold? Alright, I'll toss in a bonus. Destroy every gun, and I will give a bonus." She reached into her robe and drew a single gun. I traced it with my eyes: a sleek beast of steel and silver, a crucifix fashioned near the barrel in gold. However, it did not resemble my own flintlock pistol: rather than two barrels, it had one, ending in an unfamiliar rotating mechanism. "I hear you have a gun of your own! Probably some flintlock pistol, right? Got it from a smuggler? Well… I had my gunsmith in France fashion something a little slicker. And if you take the job, it'll be yours." The hammer clicked back as she leveled the sights right between her victim's legs. He screamed into his gag.

Five quick shots. Planted one by one, up the tree, between the debtor's legs. Her thumb blurred as she ghosted the hammer back. Very dramatic, stopping just short of his groin. She was a born showwoman, displaying her wares with the gusto of a circus man.

"This will kill more people faster -- and with style, more importantly. You'll need special ammo from the homeland, but I can supply you at no cost if you'll consider more work. My treat."

A compelling offer. Even against supernatural opponents, such a tool would be invaluable; such a technology was unknown in Japan. I could not quite keep shock from my face.

"I take it we have a deal."

A weapon from the West, one my enemies would be wholly unprepared for, along with the promise of future work from Ms. Scarlet. Simply put, I could not turn down the offer.

I set down the tea. Daigoro jumped to my back, eager to leave the bound debtor, the harsh stink of gunpowder, the report of pistols and rifles. I gathered him up, letting him curl gently at my breast.

"You will have your monopoly, Ms. Scarlet."

##############################################################################

Three hundred of the Shogun's men, armed with guns, spears, swords, and armor. I had to pick out a weakness and strike before they could rally their forces to bring volleys against me.

I had five days before the convoy reached the checkpoint at the province's edge, and left my grasp.

On the first day, I…

[ ]… attacked, raiding by night.
[ ]… prepared a trap on the road.
[ ]… scouted the enemy.
[ ]… turned to my companions for advice.
[x]… scouted the enemy.

>Enough talk.
heh.
>capitalism, ho!
eh.
[x]… scouted the enemy.
[x]… scouted the enemy.

No reason not to. Also could Momiji bring in back up for this. The odds are kinda lopsided here.
[x]… scouted the enemy.

then we ask for advice
[x]… scouted the enemy.

So... that's how Remilia was able to grab all that cash! Capitalism, ho!
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