1559年11月16日 01:00 (Night)
It was just past midnight. Nijō Castle
was quiet, save for the quiet humming of Umbriel
not far away, and the moon wheeled high overhead. The perfect time for a heist. Silver General Ryūzaki Sanosuke
telepathically contacted Ōtomo Sōrin
to put their plan into motion.
For her part, Sōrin had certainly not been idle over the evening. The other Daimyō
wielded her mastery of illusion magic with a skill that allowed her to establish a visual connection between two different places. "Tele-vision," she called it. Sanosuke was suitably impressed as he retired to a nearby empty room so as not to be interrupted.
The image on the other end of the Tele-vision spell appeared to be a view just above master thief Katō Danzō
's right shoulder. It allowed Sanosuke to easily communicate with her, as well as to see largely what she could at any given time. Danzō, too, was wowed by this display of magic, but soon moved past it in the interests of planning out their heist.
When Sanosuke remotely joined them, Danzō and Sōrin had established a small temporary camp at the base of one of Odawara Castle
's mighty towers. Under illusory guise of a guard, Danzō had spent some time earlier in the day scouting the castle, and was certain that this was where they were keeping the Tamahagane
stash that Sanosuke wanted to liberate. A flickering light poured from a window high above them. That, Danzō asserted, was their way in.
First, they had a brief discussion of her abilities
and how the phantom thief planned to use them. Danzō could become invisible at will; part of the powers afforded her by her unique artifact. She was not inaudible, however, and not well protected from supernatural methods of detection. For those reasons, it was still prudent to be cautious and avoid guards when possible. The window Danzō had chosen as her entry point fit that criteria. When she'd scouted before, the next tower over, connected by an open-air bridge, had contained a samurai guard. This tower, however, should still be empty. It was a small risk, especially since the guard likely couldn't see her anyway, but there was no avoiding some risk in this business.
With Sanosuke's approval, Danzō set the plan into motion. With one light spring after another, she climbed the air outside the tower as though ascending an invisible staircase. Surely Danzō's flamboyant outfit would have caught the attention of Hōjō Ujiyasu
's famously vigilant guards, but she was invisible as soon as she left the ground. Quickly and silently, she reached the window and tumbled inside.
Just as Danzō had predicted, there was no guard here. Inside the adjoining room, across a wooden bridge, however, a sentry stood just within view. Danzō, and by proxy Sanosuke, could see a granite countenance beneath stone-carved heavy samurai armor. The guard appeared for all the evidence to be a lifeless stone statue. That is, until he shifted slightly and readjusted his weapon. A living stone statue
, then. Such was not outside the realm of possibility for the wizards Sanosuke had encountered. It did prove that the Hōjō Clan
took their security seriously enough to spend supernatural resources on it, however.
Alive or not, the Hōjō Stone Samurai
hadn't taken any notice of Danzō. She was free to pad across the room, through a door, and down a flight of stairs into the tower's central chamber. Here, several more of the stone samurai stood at key stations around the two smaller rooms that divided the chamber. They appeared strategically placed, so as to cover every point with at least one guard's line of sight. It seemed the Hōjō were certainly prepared for intruders. What they were not prepared for was someone of Danzō's remarkable skills.
The phantom thief had paused at the chamber door. Invisible she may be, but walking right in front of a guard still wasn't a good idea. Sanosuke was able to offer an alternative.
Following his suggestion, Danzō crept up another invisible stairwell until to top of her dark locks was barely brushing the chamber's high ceiling. The guards didn't seem likely to look up, so she was free to skip across the air until she neared the other wall. Before Danzō reached her destination, however, something brought her up short.
Sanosuke saw it too. Between the two enclosed rooms dividing this chamber, someone had set up some kind of makeshift shop. The little indoor bivouac consisted of a wooden counter with an array of haphazard shelves nailed into the wall behind it. Next to the dizzying collection of baubles and curiosities on display, a portable oven bubbled and steamed with something delectable, and a set of piping-hot lunchboxes was stacked next to it. The Hōjō ate well when on duty, it would seem.
All of this, however, was less curious than the shopkeep herself. From the curling ram horns on her head to the horizontal pupils and the thorny, spaded tail behind her, only one word rose in Sanosuke's mind: Demon
. As the Hashinara Clan
well knew at this point, denizens of Gehenna
varied wildly in appearance, demeanor, and goals, but generally should not be trusted. This one, at least, appeared quite harmless in the moment. She stood with a contented smile and watched the guards around her, occasionally stooping to tend the food cooking at her side.
It was such an incongruous sight that Sanosuke had to check with Danzō that they were indeed seeing the same thing. The thief confirmed that she saw it too, but had no explanation to offer. Any further pondering was cut short, however, when the chamber's central doors flew violently open. Danzō acted on instinct and quickly dashed around the nearby corner. Her caution seemed warranted as a diminutive, golden-haired girl stormed into the chamber and looked around, and up, suspiciously. Dressed in full military uniform with a pair of shining pistols at her hip, she wore the iconic billed hat that marked her as a member of the Hōjō Clan's officer class.
Although she mercifully didn't see Danzō on her pass, the girl shouted at the stone samurai in the area that she'd sensed one more presence than was expected in this room, so they'd better get searching. That was enough to spur Danzō on. With Sanosuke's encouragement, she dipped from the ceiling and silently passed through the opposite door. Danzō's escape was none too quick, it seemed, as another yell from the officer brought the stone samurai above to life. The pounding of their heavy footfalls echoed loudly through this corridor as Danzō hurried onward.
Finally, they arrived at their target. Peering through a slightly-cracked door, Sanosuke and Danzō saw what was obviously a vault. A single stone samurai stood guard at a low table that seemed to have been made from a barrel lid, but he wasn't alone. Another woman, seemingly an officer
by her billed hat, was watching the vault carefully. Following her gaze, the two onlookers beheld a dozen or more solid iron chests stored behind metal bars. Were those all filled with Absodium
At this point, a misunderstanding between Sanosuke and his agent came to light.
The Silver General had assumed that Danzō had some ability, a phantom thief trick or a power afforded by her artifact, to steal everything that was in the vault. She boasted no such ability, however. Danzō normally stole gemstones or boxes full of koku, not entire vaults full of heavy steel. She'd be able to make away with one of the solid-looking iron cases, but not more. It wasn't what Sanosuke had wanted, but at least they would be able to confirm that this was indeed Absodium, or "Tamahagane," that the Hōjō Clan was hoarding.
On his word, Danzō crept into the room and invisibly passed the watchful guards. As she bent to pick up an arbitrarily-selected case, something stopped her. Acting on an instinct honed through years of dangerous situations, Danzō leaped back. A single dart, something wet glittering wickedly on its point, zipped through the air where she had been just a moment before. From the shadows in the corner of the room, a single Kunoichi
revealed herself. Then, another from the opposite end.
It seemed that Danzō's invisibility had been dispelled now, as the two guards outside the bars were moving forward as well. From far away in Nijō Castle, Sanosuke could only watch
as the situation became worse and worse. Danzō was no fighter. She couldn't take on this many opponents herself. The phantom thief, however, seemed to somehow be enjoying the attention. Sanosuke caught a glimpse of a grin from the side of her face as she flourished with a bow. They had evidently received her letter of challenge, to be so ready, and she was here to make good on it.
Of course, Sanosuke hadn't known about any letter of challenge before now. That might have explained why the security up to this point was so tight. He stifled a groan, but Danzō was already in action. Sweeping her coattails to the side, she picked up the case and stamped her foot down at the same time. Something on the sole of Danzō's shoe popped and released a puff of dark smoke upward. By the time the two kunoichi had thrown another pair of darts, Danzō was gone within the shifting, opaque mass. When it cleared, she was nowhere to be seen.
Sanosuke's perspective had experienced a jarring lurch as Danzō apparently teleported a short distance. She was now in a room they hadn't seen yet, apparently a guard post. A single Guard Captain was there, already rising in shock. She managed to unhook a net from her belt and throw it at Danzō, but the nimble thief dodged it easily. With a final flamboyant farewell, she used the momentum to launch herself out of the door, down a set of stairs, and through an open window into the night air outside.
The tele-vision spell became a blur as Danzō plummeted toward the ground at the base of the tower. At the last moment, she tossed the case high above her head and somersaulted, landing lightly on her feet on the ground without any sign of discomfort. Behind her, the iron case slammed into the ground, throwing up a cloud of smoke that framed the phantom thief as she took one last bow.
Sanosuke truly didn't know what to say. That had gone to plan... hadn't it? How much of that had been the plan? Shigeaki Fujino
had been standing by to extract Danzō, so he could ask her himself. As he stepped out into the Nijō gardens to meet the victorious agent, something was still bothering Sanosuke.
He hadn't seen Sōrin at any point after the mission started. Had she been captured? Compromised. The Silver General reached out to her mentally and received a curt assurance that Sōrin had taken her leave some time earlier, after setting up the spell for Sanosuke.
Then it seemed their theft had been successful
, at least to a point. It was not the haul Sanosuke had been hoping for, and the Hōjō Clan still had a dizzying amount of Absodium in their vaults, but now they could confirm any doubts they might have about the metal's authenticity. Deeper in the gardens, Sanosuke found Danzō standing over the open case. Several bars of black metal gleamed darkly within it, and he noted with relief that the thief was not handling any of them. It looked like Absodium to him, but Sanosuke was no expert.
He would have to consult someone more knowledgeable to be certain.
That just left the matter of what Danzō would do next. She was happy to answer that for him. Until Sanosuke rendered payment for that heist, Danzō would be hanging around Nijō Castle. She'd enjoyed the opportunity, but a professional had to work for a living, friends or no. That sparked a flicker of an idea in Sanosuke's mind. Did that mean that if he didn't pay her, Danzō would just stick around? That would save him the trouble of trying to find the slippery thief again when he needed her.
With that thought in the back of his mind, Sanosuke thanked Danzō, then took Fujino's transport over to Wakigami Castle. Below, within Hashinara Yoshitakatomo
's sanctum, Mary Lyn
should still be working on the Mugen Gauntlet
. She should be able to identify the metal for him, or one of the other experts collaborating on the project certainly could.