|A Hero's Death, Chapter Five|
|Written By:||Rich Wulf|
Annotated Story Edit
Previously: A Hero's Death, Chapter Four.
Somewhere near Ox lands, Miya Shoin and his traveling party have been on the road from Crane lands for two weeks. Kijuro and Toritaka Akemi have ridden ahead to scout, but the group can still hear Kijuro's booming laughter. It is very cold and Shoin thinks to himself that he should have accepted Kijuro's offer of fur coats. Agasha Chieh nearby asks if he would be willing to wear the dead flesh of animals to overcome discomfort. Shoin is angry that she has read his mind again, and Chieh replies that he is the only one in the party she can read. Shoin asks her why the others' minds are closed to her and she does not know. Akemi's is full of spirits, Utaku Yu-Pan's full of vengeance and nothing at all can be gained from Rezan. Shoin asks about Moshi Kakau but Chieh does not wish to discuss it. Shoin thinks Kakau has shielded his mind, but Chieh thinks something is shielding it for him. Shoin asks about Kijuro, but she says she was rebuffed by a wall of filth. Shoin is amused, but stops when he hears Kijuro calling his name. As they find Kijuro and Akemi they see Kijuro is no longer in his normal jovial mood. Akemi explains that there is a dead man in the woods nearby and Kijuro identifies the man as Isuto, a warden patrolling the road. Shoin asks why anyone would kill an Ox centry, and Kijuro replies that because Isuto was fond of drinking there would be no reason to kill him. Anyone could get past him. Akemi thinks that if it is a human it is dark and twisted, so Shoin asks what else it could be. Kijuro is seething with anger, and Shoin attempts to calm Kijuro. Kijuro will not be calmed and reveals he knows where the murderer is going. Shoin asks how, and Kijuro reveals that the spirit Yasuki Kaneko lives in the eastern provinces of the Ox. Shoin is angry that Kijuro knew the location of a member of the Heroes of Rokugan and did not tell him. Kijuro replies that he thought it best that as few people knew the secret as possible, and Shoin knows that Kijuro is right. Shoin asks how long it will take them to get there. Kijuro says two days, but less than one if it is only him riding. Shoin tells him to take Yu-Pan, Akemi and Kakau and ride. Chieh and Shoin will remain with Rezan. Kijuro begins to head off as Shoin tells Akemi to keep Kijuro from doing something stupid. Akemi asks if the two of them will be enough to protect Rezan and Shoin says they will be. Akemi leaves to catch up with Kijuro.
Many hours later, the riders are resting for a moment. Kijuro and Yu-Pan are both used to travelling like this with horses, and Kakau and Akemi merely do as they say is best. None have spoken for a while and Yu-Pna finally breaks the silence. She asks why Kaneko would live in Ox lands rather than with her family. Kijuro says she became an ally of Morito's during the War of Spirits, and had no wish to become involved in the dispute over Yasuki lands when the Yasuki succession came into question. Kijuro asks Akemi how he can kill a spirit if that is what they are hunting. Akemi replies that there are many types of spirits and the method varies from one to the next. Returned Spirits can be killed like any mortal. Ghosts can be banished with reconciliations, but Kijuro only wishes to know how to kill them. Kakau mentions that many spirits are vulnerable to crystal, as the balance and purity causes them great pain. Yu-Pan is interested in what Kakau knows about spirits, and Kakau replies that his experiences in the Sea of Shadows has taught him many things. Kijuro says he has heard such rumors also, but before Yu-Pan can ask more questions he sets off once more.
Nightfall, the four riders reach the town where Yasuki Kaneko lives. Only one road leads into the station, and Kijuro approaches a watch station and calls out to the guards. Yu-Pan notices the how the guards begin searching for a trail, and Kijuro says they will search and rouse the others in the village while the four of them go to Kaneko's home. Kijuro dismounts and begins running into the twon. Yu-Pan is annoyed at having to keep up with Kijuro, but Akemi points out that Kijuro believes the horses would alert the killer. Only moments later the four arrive at a wealthy home in the middle of the village, and Kijuro draws his weapon. Yu-Pan does so also, and finds herself with a grudging respect for the Ox. Akemi is nearly invisible in the dark, and Kakau is right behind Yu-Pan. Kijuro slides open the door on the east side and motions for Yu-Pan to go through the west side. She does so and notices Kakau goes with Kijuro. A flicker of movement behind her causes Yu-Pan to strike out, only to be stopped by Akemi. Yu-Pan is shamed that she almost killed an ally, and nods towards Akemi in apology before the two silently creep down a hallway. Suddenly there is a shout from a room further down the hall and the two women begin running. When they get to the room they see Yasuki Kaneko on the floor in a bloodied kimono and Kijuro struggling with something Yu-Pan cannot see, his katana fallen on the floor. Nearby, Kakau stands with a pale face and his sword shaking in his hand. Akemi leaps to place herself between the fallen woman and the attacker and attaches a ribbon to her katana. Yu-Pan launches herself into the fight and sees something human in the shadows before a force slams her body back and the same happens to Kijuro. Kijuro strikes at the creature, which in turn throws Yu-Pan and Kijuro across the room. The blackness flees through an open window, and Akemi follows it. Yu-Pan is too winded to follow, so she asks if Kaneko is dead. Kijuro replies they arrives just in time, and shows Yu-Pan that he managed to wound the creature. He is holding a piece of crystal in his hadn, with blood on it. Yu-Pan thinks it must be a spirit, but Kijuro does not know any spirits that bleed red. Kakau is shaken from his fear and apologizes, adding that he does not know any spirit that bleed red. Akemi returns and reports that the creature slipped away in the darkness. Akemi says that she could sense that it was not a spirit, and shows a knife that the assailant dropped. Kijuro is pleased, because the assailant is a man, and Kijuro knows how to kill a man.
To Be Continued in: A Hero's Death, Chapter Six.
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