Tsuruchi Shun bowed hastily as she strode past Konashiko, carefully pulling his flesh-rippers from Akodo armor, and tossing aside those which were no longer of use. Their strategic placement and preparations had paid off, but not without a cost. The body of the young Shiba lay lifeless along the roadside, his fingers curled towards the heavens, as if pleading to the fire kami to spare him.
“A fool,” Fumei muttered, knowing that the shugenja had taken the very blows which could have removed him from this mortal realm as well. With a small gesture he closed his eyes, lighting a small gaijing sparkler.
Disoriented, Nangen shook his head. “The magistrate Sanada warned me that I had been slandered in my absence. I sought a temporary refuge amongst the Tonbo, but I did not imagine Chuda Rintaro to have taken hold there.”
“Hot Udon lasts longer than slander,” the Hida barked, as Hideaki’s body erupted into flame. “The tales of your heinous crimes will be forgotten soon enough, old man.”
Nangen smiled, accepting the Crab’s attempt to comfort him. Others in the group seemed utterly baffled by the Hida’s lack of tact. Nangen brought his Juzu to his hands, and took a seat under an aging wisteria to meditate.
“I will utilize brevity sister, lest they become suspicious,” Minami whispered behind his fan, bowing deeply. The Akodo troops were completing their withdrawal at Kyuden Tonbo, but the threat of being overheard by their scouts was imminent.
Slight in size, the Kitsuki investigator nodded. “What exactly have you found?”
“There will be a temporary annexation of the tower, but the Imperial Court will certainly protest. I had been working to negotiate the release of the Dragonfly elders, but it appears this is all a show.”
“A show?” It was hard for Korimitsu to believe that Minami was Kitsuki at times, with his soft, diplomatic approach to things. Nonetheless, she patiently pursued her information.
“I overheard Akodo Bukarou waiting for a rogue shugenja, and a book. Almost all of the deployment and troop allocation is currently being delegated to his chief of staff.”
It was difficult for Minami to hide his emotion.
“I am not sure how much more I can do in this situation, sister.”
Korimitsu’s eyes narrowed. “A book.”
The thought of Ario making it into Dragon lands with the Tao of Fu Leng was conceivable in terms of travel time, but strategically disastrous. If he could safely make within either a Tamori or Isawa compound there may be hope. If corruption had already sunk in however…
“Oi,” Fumei grunted. “It appears that you under some sort of affliction, old man.”
Nangen opened his eyes and smiled. “When you are old as I am, young Bayushi – it is a common compliment for one to say that you appear to be cursed.”
Over the last hour, Nangen’s skin had darkened dramatically, and his robes were damp with cold sweat.
“No,” Fumei bluntly retorted. “I too am a shugenja. There is something wrong with you.”
Doji Konashiko looked on with compassion, subtly concealing her concern for her stricken ally. In her peripheral, the ronin Hozumi was introducing a large Monkey Clan bushi, as he prepared to leave in search of treatment for the Hida’s wounds.
Many rose to attention as the Kitsuki rode back into camp, eager to hear of her findings.
“Hoken may be seeking the Tao,” she said. As she dismounted however, Nangen body began to seize, as he shrunk into a fetal position. He began to call out to the Kitsuki as they moved to his aid.
“Shaitung yo,” he whispered, raising his prayer beads in the air. “The Juzu.”
Korimitsu handed the beads to Fumei, but frowned deeply. “This is beyond my ability – we are in need of someone more experienced.”
Weighing their options, the group opted to head south to the river in search of the boat meant to be used to ferry Nangen to the Spider delegation. They would attempt to then head down river to the Iuchi lands, in hopes that someone less aware of Nangen’s reputation would be able to purge Rintaro’s curse.