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|A Hero's Death, Chapter Eight|
|Written By:||Rich Wulf|
Annotated Story Edit
Previously: A Hero's Death, Chapter Seven.
A sake house in Ryoko Owari Toshi, date unknown, Gusai is sitting drinking and is approached by a stranger in wide brimmed hat. Gusai demands to know what the stranger wants, and the man sits down and asks if Gusai is a returned spirit from the Realm of Slaughter. Gusai confirms that he was a spirit, but the Phoenix have removed the glow that surrounded spirits. Gusai supects the stranger is an assasssin sent by Yoritomo Aramasu, but the stranger says he was not. The stranger says he watched Gusai in the Realm of Slaughter, and reveals that he is a Goju. Gusai does not reach for his weapon, but demands to know what the Goju wants. The Goju reveals that it was once an assassin, but was exposed and his lord turned on him and his followers. The few who escaped were taken in by the Lying Darkness. Gusai is not impressed, but the Goju continues to tell him about the events he witnessed in the Realm of Slaughter. The sixteen duels between Gusai and Hantei XX, or the time he was killed by Akodo Kenburo or when Gusai killed Kenburo in return. The Goju says it must be hard for someone accustomed to death to return to life, and only have one boy as a follower. Again Gusai demands to know what the Goju wants, and refuses the be a pawn of the Shadow. The Goju reveals that he wishes the Hantei line dead, but cannot do so itself. The other Goju are taken by the Shadowlands, and this Goju offers to teach Gusai how to work with the shadows to accomplish his task. Gusai is interested now, but their meeting is interrupted by a young boy. The boy, Moshi Kakau, asks who he was talking to, and Gusai replies that it was Nothing.
Somewhere near Otosan Uchi, present day, Kijuro asks Toritaka Akemi where Utaku Yu-Pan is. She is just past the next hill, but Yu-Pan has been completely devoid of emotion since they discovered Kakau was a traitor. Kijuro thinks it would have been better if they had let Yu-Pan kill Kakau. Akemi asks why Kijuro has not told the others she is not who she says she is. Kijuro explains that because she put herself between Yasuki Kaneko and the assassin during the fight in Kaneko's house he respects her. It does not matter who she claims to be, but he has seen who she really is. Akemi is grateful, but reveals that she will not be able to continue being Akemi once their mission is done. Her exposure means she will have to disappear forever, and end up teaching other butei. Kijuro suggests that is not very exciting, and offers her a place among the Ox Clan. Akemi is not very sure she could abandon her clan, but Kijuro says she should think about it. Kijuro rides off to check on the others, leaving Akemi to contemplate things.
Nearby, Miya Shoin is anticipating they will arrive at Otosan Uchi soon. Agasha Chieh is about to fall out of her saddle from weariness but catches herself just in time, a apologizes for herself. Rezan makes a joke about it, and Chieh jokes back. Rezan mentions his long life of travelling to avoid jealous husbands or fathers has accustomed him to trips such as this, and Chieh thinks stories of his real exploits would be as interesting as his percieved exploits as a poet. Shoin says they should wake Moshi Kakau, who is bound in his saddle. Rezan cuts Kakau's bonds in a swift motion with his katana, and the Mantis falls to the ground. Shoin chides Rezan, but Rezan does not care for a servant of a murderer. Kakau is still saying he had no choice, but Rezan points out that Kakau's entire family chose to become ronin. Kakau almost insults ronin but stops himself before Rezan becomes instulted enough to take Kakau's head. Rezan draws his blade swiftly, and neatly cuts a falling leaf mid air in two right in front of Kakau's face. Rezan asks Shoin to leave so he can talk to the prisoner. Shoin leaves and Rezan asks Kakau if he has thought about what will happen later. Kakau said he still will not betray his master, but Rezan points out that Kakau is already betraying him. Kakau is shocked, but Rezan explains that by allowing Gusai to become what he has he is betraying the memory of Gusai. Kakau points out that Rezan too is a returned spirit, and Rezan counters that until he makes a pact with dark powers he will hold the high ground. Rezan says it is not to late to make the right choice, but Kakau cannot see it.
Sometime later, at Naseru's residence, Miya Shoin is attempting to convince Hantei Naseru that his life is in danger. Naseru is not concerned, but Shoin presses the matter. Naseru is still not convinced, and does not agree that he should be moved out of the Imperial Palace. Naseru even suggests that moving may play into Gusai's hands, as they have already uncovered one spy. Shoin protests, saying it was not his choice to have Kakau in the group. Naseru counters that it was Shoin's choice to trust Kakau however, and was surprised to hear Shoin only discovered one in the group with something to hide. Naseru is quick to point out he is not dismissing the work they have done, and even offers to give Yu-Pan an Utaku steed from his stables. Shoin attempts to push the matter further, but Naseru cuts him off telling them to leave. After leaving Shoin discusses Naseru's arrogance with Kijuro and Chieh. Kijuro likes Naseru, and Chieh agrees with him in a way. Chieh explains that by remaining where he is he allows the investigation to continue. Shoin is not entirely convinced and asks what they should do next. Chieh does not think alerting the Seppun Miharu is a good idea, suggests they attempt to take out Gusai. Kijuro suggests they give Gusai an opportunity to strike, but Chieh says she cannot create another illusion similar to that of Shoin's. She could cast an illusion on herself however, but Kijuro thinks that may be too dangerous. Shoin says that Kijuro is capable enough to save her. Kijuro says they should go and finalise their plan. Chieh is certain that their plan will not fall apart, but Kijuro points out that simply because it is a plan it will fall apart.
Meanwhile, in the dungeon, Kakau is sitting in his cell doubting his actions. A cold voice announces that Yu-Pan has arrived. She asks if he is thinking about his death, and Kakau apologizes for he did to her horse. Yu-Pan says that she is there to let him go, and Kakau is surprised. She says she cannot blame him for acting out of loyalty to Gusai, and the others don't understand her like he does. Yu-Pan holds out her hand in the typical Unicorn greeting and Kakau clasps her hand in his own. Yu-Pan says she will break him out if he is willing to do one thing for her. Kakau says he is willing, and Yu-Pan tells him to "bleed into the sand over seven days while the sun bakes your worthless corpse". The pulls Kakau's arm, smashing his face into the bars in the cell. Yu-Pan spits at him and tells him that she will return with the severed head of Gusai and then she will kill him. Yu-Pan leaves, and Kakau stares up at the ceiling holding his face. A voice whispers in Kakau's ear, and Kakau retrieves a sacred ofuda (holy scroll) from his kimono. Kakau opens it and casts the spell, allowing communication with Gusai. Kakau tells Gusai that the Battle Maiden has vowed to kill him, and Gusai asks how many there are. Kakau replies that there are five, and that they left the poet Rezan at the North Hub. Gusai asks why, and Kakau replied that Rezan and Naseru did not get along last time they met. Kakau asks Gusai if he should escape, and that because the others have not realized he is a shugenja it will not be difficult. Gusai does not require his aid, and suspects they will attempt to lead him into a trap again. Gusai's voice disappears and Kakau is left alone once more.
Sometime later, an old merchant named Kumanosuke is pausing to have a smoke, searching his furoshiki for his pipe and yobanjin puipeweed a man named Jun sold him. A Kanrinin, a caretaker chosen by the Miya family to protect the Emperor's road, tells him to leave. Kumanosuke does so, and a second Kanrinin appears. The two Kanrinin are Shoin and Kijuro in disguise. They have spent the past four days working, and nothing has happened. Kijuro is still not sure what will go wrong with their plan, but he does not like the manual labor he has been doing in the meantime. The illusion of Naseru is approaching, with two yojimbo, and Kijuro hopes that they will get to Gusai before Gusai gets to Chieh. For a moment nothing happens, but then suddenly Kijuro knocks Shoin aside. Shoin turns and sees the Ox bleeding from a large wound in his left side. Kijuro says he knows what is wrong now, and it is that he will not be there at the end. Shoin calls out a warning to the other investigators and turn to get help for Kijuro. Kijuro holds him back, saying he has one more thing to give Shoin.
Nearby, Akemi shouts out as she is hit hard by the rolling black fog knocking her unconcious. The fog materializes into Gusai, who steps infront of Chieh. With the wave of his hand he dispells Chieh's illusion, and tendrils of the cloud stream into her nose and mouth. One of the yojimbo calls to Gusai to release her, revealing himself to be Rezan. Rezan calls Gusai a Goju, and Gusai lunges at him in anger. Rezan draws and slices Gusai in two, but the cloud separated and then forms again. Rezan bends to help up Chieh, but is picked up by the black fog and hurled through a wooden wall. Gusai stands above Chieh, about to finish her off, when he hears the sound of hoofbeats on the Road of the Most High. Yu-Pan tells Gusai to step away from Chieh. Gusai is not scared, but Yu-Pan reveals the spear she is carrying has a crystal tip. Yu-Pan charges, Chieh rolls out of the way, and rider and assassin collide. The horse is killed by Gusai, but the spear strikes the assassin. Yu-Pan is thrown to the ground, and Gusai lunges at her. She rolls out of the way and begins looking for her dropped spear, feeling a sense of dread as she sees it in the hands of Moshi Kakau. Kakau throws it to one side, and Gusai limps over to him and congratulates him as a child of Osano Wo. Kakau suggests they both meet him then, and grabs Gusai as he calls down a lightning strike on the both of them. Kakau's body falls to the ground, and Gusai stumbles. At the other end of the road, Shoin stands with an arrow knocked. He fires and the arrow tipped with Kijuro's shard strikes true, and Gusai is no more.
Sometime later, Shoin exits the Imperial Palace and comments on the bright day to Rezan who is sitting nearby. Rezan tells Shoin to stop calling him sama, but Shoin has no intention of doing so. Shoin asks if Rezan is going somewhere, nodding at the furoshiki sack next to the poet. Naseru has offered them all positions as Emerald Magistrates. Yu-Pan has accepted, but returned to Utaku lands to deal with something first. Akemi has disappeared, and Rezan says she has either returned to Scorpion lands or to Ox lands. Shoin is surprised Rezan knew, as he only found out when Kijuro told him as he was dying. Rezan says he is adept at noticing such things, but to be careful around Chieh or she will pick it out of his mind. Shoin asks Rezan again to join them as a magistrate, but Rezan declines. He must continue his search for his wife. Rezan asks if Shoin is going to Kijuro's funeral at Shiro Morito. He is, so Rezan asks him to take a poem there. "No man stands alone - No man with true friends - Hear the mountain laugh." Rezan says it is not very good, but Shoin thinks he can get away with it because he is Rezan. Rezan says that Shoin's father would be proud of him, and he will tell him so when he sees him in Yomi again. Shoin says he will see him there, and Rezan leaves without saying goodbye.
Shoin makes his way to the docks where the funeral for Kakau is underway. He is surprised to find that Chieh is there, no longer wrapped in illusions but rather her normal young self with white hair. He asks her if she has given her report to Naseru, and she has. Chieh asks Shoin if he knows why she always alters her appearance. She says her father was Agasha Hisojo, and great magistrate of the Dragon Clan. Without his negotiations the Agasha may never have transferred peacefully from the Dragon to the Phoenix. Chieh asks Shoin if he can appreciate living in the shadow of such a parent. Shoin mentions that his father was a hero in two different eras, and Chieh says she is annoyed how easily he handles such a weight. Chieh asks if Kakau's final act of heroism is enough to wipe away the acts of villainy. Shoin replies that one act of villainy usually wipes out any good works, so why should it not work the other way? Chieh looks out at the barge on fire and asks Shoin why he did not tell her Akemi was a Scorpion. Shoin shakes his head, saying some things never change.
- An unknown Goju
- Moshi Kakau
- "Toritaka Akemi"
- Miya Shoin
- Agasha Chieh
- Utaku Yu-Pan
Not Present, But Mentioned Edit
- Yoritomo Aramasu
- Bayushi Yojiro
- The recently deceased Emperor
- Agasha Hisojo
- Shoin's Aunt
- Shoin's Father
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