Session Report: 27 August 2021

Plague of the Flowering Mind

General Summary

In this session of Tsuwamono, the following events transpired:

A Murder and a Plague

1559年11月16日 13:00?

Queen's Landing

Historical Entry: A Murder and a Plague

  Now that she* had confirmed Kurayume with her* own eyes, Hashinara Yoshitakatomo called Ashiya Dōman and the Three Named Men to the vessel's deck. These she introduced as Kurayume's new brood. She would protect them, just as she had the Galleon's previous crew. Although it was clearly not easy for her, Kurayume agreed. Protecting such fragile creatures as these measly humans would not be easy, but her loyalty to the Hashinara Clan offered no alternative.   While the sheele carried on, Ashiya Dōman mentally shared an interesting observation. Kurayume was undead. Whether because of the curious circumstances of her creation, the memories of dead sailors imbued within her, or strange machinations of the Dreamlands themselves; the cause remained unknown. Yet Kurayume was clearly not alive in the traditional sense, but a risen being. An undead sheele. A Sheelitch, perhaps.   Dōman was driven to admit that he had never encountered such a phenomenon before. If they were to discover its source, they would have to consider every variable that went into the sheele's birthing. In more ways than one, they were in uncharted waters.   The Three Named Men, not party to this mental discussion, had been jabbering and wondering about the incredible show they'd just seen. Soon Kurayume broke their jovial chatter, however. She'd noticed something on the horizon. Once her* attention had been pointed in the right direction, Yoshitakatomo saw it too. It was a darkish cloud, rapidly approaching the island from somewhere out at sea. As the mass grew closer, it resolved itself into several individual, flapping black bodies. Crows, or perhaps ravens. Even at the best of times Yoshitakatomo wasn't entirely certain on the difference between the two.   Wary of an attack, the elder Daimyō willfully ascended her* own vision to the level of the divine. These crows hardly registered. They were naught more than simple animals, except... Looking more closely, Yoshitakatomo saw what many would have missed. All the crows shared the same gnosis, linked together like one great collective being rather than individual creatures. Ashiya Dōman was impressed when she* relayed this information. A gestalt, it seemed, which were most rare in his experience.   Kurayume prepared the decks of Hashinara Kurayume for attack on her master's order, but no such assault came. The crows flew over the ship and directly toward the heart of Queen's Landing. Once there, they stopped and began hovering, swooping around and between one another in a roiling cloud of black bodies. Even from the ship's deck, Yoshitakatomo could see several pilgrims stepping out of their dwellings for a better look at the strange sight.   Then, the murder suddenly turned on itself. Each crow slashed at its neighbor with its talons and stabbed with its beak. Soon, the pairs had torn each other to death and black bodies rained from the sky one by one to cover most of Queen's Landing. Yoshitakatomo still did not know what, exactly, was happening, but the sight was beyond ominous. She* ran down the hull of the ship and over water back to the settlement's edge.   A moment later, Yoshitakatomo plucked one of the sundered bodies from that messy black carpet. It did indeed seem to be a common crow, yet it had no eyes. Where those should be, smooth skin had grown to cover the animal's sockets. The effect was unsettling to be sure. As she* examined the thing for any sign of what had just happened, it twitched once in Yoshitakatomo's hand and then fell limp again. Now there was a certain rhythmic sound just on the cusp of hearing. Close as she* was, the Daimyō could tell that it seemed to be coming from within the crow's skull.   Tap, tap, tap.   In growing dread and curiosity, Yoshitakatomo held the corvid's head closer. Something erupted first from the thing's eye socket, poking through the smooth skin there like a worm curling out of an apple. It rose, joined soon by fellows thrusting through growing cracks in the crow's fragile skull. They rose upward, like flowers seeking sunlight and, like flowers, they bloomed. Soon a white blossom stood tall amidst the ravaged remains of the crow's head. Upon closer inspection, each of the horrid lily's petals was made not from plantstuff, but impossibly thin feathers.   Yoshitakatomo felt her* breath catch in her throat. It was not just from the spectacle, which was bizarre enough. Rather, something had attempted to jolt inside her* own head just then. She'd* felt it, like a questing root, poking and prodding at her* mind. Fortunately, the arcane Daimyō of the Hashinara did not lack for mental fortitude. Others, however...   Acting quickly, Yoshitakatomo ordered her* four homunculi to keep everyone away from the fallen crows. Even now, several other full blooms stood out, stark white against the black carpet. Yet even in her* haste, the Daimyō saw that it was too late. Drawn by the nightmarish sight, many pilgrims and settlers of Queen's Landing had ducked to examine the crows' bodies. They held corpses in their hands and gazed wildly at ivory blossoms raising from the dead.   As if to ward an impending doom, the Princess-Daimyō then cast a great spell over Queen's Landing. For anyone outside, or any being peering in from afar, it would be like the settlement suddenly ceased to exist. Only an empty beach and flattened bluff remained. Even then, she* did not know quite what she* was protecting against, only that a doom had come to her* people. When a voice said the same behind her*, Yoshitakatomo spun around to see who had spoken.   It was Osogami Wakatsu, the cryptic girl who had ushered Yoshitakatomo on her* journey to become Champion of Omoikane. Although Wakatsu's true nature remained a mystery, it seemed that she spoke for the Goddess of Nightmare. Similarly, she had come to advise Yoshitakatomo on this disaster.   That the crows had targeted Queen's Landing was no coincidence. By becoming Champion of Omoikane, Yoshitakatomo had allied herself* against other powers of the Dreamlands. Namely, the Great Ones of Kadath. Ancient, jealous gods, they chafed at a foreign god's influence in a land which once was theirs alone. These crows, and the Plague of the Flowering Mind that they carried, were the work of one of these Great Ones. An attack.   Doom had been spelled for many of those at Queen's Landing now. They had been infected, and soon would "turn." Yoshitakatomo could only guess what the effects of that might be. Yet there was a cure. Omoikane, goddess of knowledge that she was, had prepared for battle against the Great Ones many decades ago. It was Yoshitakatomo's lot now, as Nightmare's Champion, to retrieve this panacea. If she* were to act quickly and decisively, many lives could still be saved.   A half-day's journey south of Queen's Landing, on the southern shore of Oriab, there lay an entrance to a mystical place called the Caves of Life. These caves shifted, as did all the Dreamlands, but could be set to a certain configuration with a token. That crow's skull which Yoshitakatomo now held would suffice. Using that as a key, she* would find within a cure to wield against the Plague of the Flowering Mind.   Having heard all this, the Princess-Daimyō acted quickly. She brought first a few resources from the other world through the portal. Kashin Koji, still bound and gagged, and loyal Komono Mosutoki were summoned to aid their lord. Then, Yoshitakatomo sent a final message to her* generals back on Earth. In this startling missive, she* explained the situation in the briefest means possible, then announced that she* would be closing the portal to the Dreamlands to quarantine the disease. Naturally, some protest arose. Aotsuki Tsukamoto, in particular, was not amused. His complaints were cut short, however, as the shutting of the portal also severed Shigeaki Fujino's mental link.   Yoshitakatomo gave strict orders then to Yagokoro Tokuyo and her* adviser Tōdaisen Nobuhara. For the duration of this incident, Katsusada Shishauezaemon and Hashinara Kiyowara would act as her* agents in the mortal world. Even without a direct line to Earth, Yoshitakatomo was pleased to find that she* could yet see through Kiyowara's eyes and listen with her* ears. As for Tokuyo, she was to open a portal only to allow one group entry to the Dreamlands at a time. What's more, she and Nobuhara were both to keep watch for any sign of eyeless crows around Ise Grand Shrine.   Almost as an afterthought, Yoshitakatomo realized that one of the people she* was conversing with was indeed a Dreamer herself. Tokuyo did not seem unwilling to lend her dreamself's aid, but it would not be soon. After all, she was currently in Oonai, far from Oriab's shores.   Their reunion on this side of the veil of sleep would have to wait, then. Yoshitakatomo finished her* business with the mortal world and then began preparations on this side in full. The Caves of Life awaited her* to the south and, within them, the only thing which might save Queen's Landing.
Straight to Hell (Part 2)

1559年11月16日 12:30 (Afternoon)

Enma's Manor

Historical Entry: Straight to Hell (Part 2)

  It felt almost criminal to witness such a secret. As though divine retribution hovered over Ooawagaeri like the Sword of Damocles, ready to drop and smite him for such an indiscretion. But no such retribution came. Indeed, King Enma seemed to be in no condition to smite anyone. Her aura was not much, if at all more powerful than Ooawagaeri's own.   She was not without spirit, however. King Enma immediately began lambasting the Black Blade, insisting that this rudeness was just one example of why he had ended up in hell. That seemed strange to Ooawagaeri. Wouldn't most souls end up in Jigoku anyway? At the suggestion, Enma seemed to deflate. Practically no souls came here anymore, she claimed. Indeed, Enma had to drag Ooawagaeri here herself. Although it remained unspoken, both minds turned to the goddess who was to blame.   In that case, there was little else to keep him here. Ooawageri thanked Enma for dragging him away from that great flaming titan, but determined to continue his climb to reach the peak of Mount Ōe. Enma challenged this notion; was he really going to leave without her permission? But again, both knew that there was little the diminished King of Hell could do to stop him.   She asked at least, then, for a favor. This was not the first visitor Enma had received here in recent days. Another, a foreigner with blonde hair and a permanent scowl, had promised to help her in the quest against Izanami-no-Mikoto. If he could deliver enough souls, Enma's strength would be restored and the vengeance she visited against the Goddess of Death would be legendary.   Ooawagaeri agreed. He had ample reason to help Maxim anyway. One thing struck the Black Blade's curiosity, however. How had Maxim arrived in Jigoku? According to Enma's testimony, he'd climbed out of the deeper reaches of Gehenna and passed through her realm on the way to the mortal world. Did that mean, then, that Ooawagaeri really was in hell? Indeed, the lowly King suggested that Sheol and Infernus both lay on the same path further into the abyss. Jigoku was merely the slice of Gehenna closest to Japan. On that note, should Ooawagaeri need access to this realm again, the master of the mountain could grant it. That had to mean Shuten-dōji.   Stashing that information away for later, Ooawagaeri proceeded to ask permission to finally take his leave. Enma was clearly glad that he'd had the politeness to ask. She directed him through the door he'd arrived through. This time, it did not lead to the sitting room where he'd awoken. Rather, Ooawagaeri found himself on that slope deep within Mount Ōe. There was no sign of the manor he'd just left, but the blazing fires of that sealed titan were visible not far above.   That was convenient. Ooawagaeri returned to the guise of Fubuki and, thankful that there seemed no rift to seal down here, began to climb again. Nothing impeded her* progress this time, and even the great Avatar of Slaughter had little to say. It watched Fubuki with what seemed to be cyclopean discontent, but made no effort to stop her*. Surely, by following this path, the Black Blade would have reached the surface sooner than later, but at this moment it was not to be.   Having reached out to Shigeaki Fujino to relay a casual message about King Enma to Maxim, Fubuki received in response an invitation to the tournament. The clan matches would be beginning again shortly. Thinking that her* ascension of the mountain could be put on pause for one more match, Fubuki accepted and was whisked away to the arena at Shimonoseki.
Lunch Without Maxim (Part 2)

1559年11月16日 12:30 (Afternoon)

Black Toad Inn

Historical Entry: Lunch Without Maxim (Part 2)

    For the moment, Maxim cocked his head. Had he heard this Kyonshi girl correctly? She wanted him to deliver a message to Toyotomi Hideyoshi about how the recipient was a big, dumb idiot? A rising dread gripped Maxim as realization set in. Yoshiko was at least interested in Hideyoshi, if not showing outright affection for the dastard. How had yet another damsel been brought in by his despicable charms?   A bit of back-and-forth later and Maxim held a sealed piece of parchment bearing Sugihara Yoshiko's message. This had progressed further than he'd imagined to be sure. Still, the good Knight agreed to deliver the missive on his next opportunity. In exchange, he'd like permission for him and his companions to loiter around Yakisoba Yashiki a bit longer. Yoshiko agreed to those terms. Indeed, it would be difficult for her to refuse after that awkward exchange. Maxim and friends were granted access to the greenhouse in the manor's courtyard.   The tree was still there. Maxim noted it immediately upon turning the corner. It didn't seem to have a face, or the creepy intent it had displayed last time he'd been here. Still, its presence made him a bit wary. Doubly so, after he recalled what it had done to poor Aotsuki Tsukamoto. Now that they were here, Maxim got Oyau Kamui's attention once again. This was no small feat, by her hunger. The girl's eyes kept darting around as though she'd sensed some small hint of prey in the surroundings, only to be drawn back to Maxim's own.   Thus was the Knight Commander's proposal: If Oyau would pledge herself to Maxim and his cause, he would in turn see that she and Greasy Ii were taken care of. That included her cravings, of course. The serpent considered, and was on the verge of agreeing. Back to her urchin-like street cant, she rambled that it was a fine idea, but she really couldn't control herself when there was someone tasty-looking about. It wouldn't be long until another incident happened, at least if she wasn't fed first.   It seemed, then, that they were nearly back at step one. This time, at least, Maxim had a more tangible reward awaiting him. Oyau Kamui was very nearly a goddess in her own right, and seemingly unkillable even by his considerable powers. With her by his side, the strength of The Wolfpack would see a significant increase. For now, he'd have her stay with Greasy Ii. The man, filthy as he was, seemed to have some experience dealing with Oyau's eccentricities. First, of course, he'd have to wait for Aotsuki and Ryūzaki Sanosuke to finish their business lunch. Surely it could not be much longer. The tournament would be starting again soon.   Indeed, the lunch at the Black Toad Inn was winding down. Not long ago, however, Aotsuki had been pressed with a staggering proposal. Ryūzaki Sanosuke, the Silver General, was suggesting that he grant Toytomi Hideyoshi a full pardon. Hideyoshi was one of the few men, alongside perhaps Ikkyū that Aotsuki might truly hate. Still, apparently Sanosuke had gotten some very useful information in exchange for the promised pardon; information which would have to wait until they had more privacy to be exchanged.   It really wasn't such a big deal as all that, Sanosuke proposed. After all, it would behoove them for the pardon to be official, but whatever happened to Hideyoshi after that could be anything but. A variety of reactions spread across the table at this. Takenaka Hanbei seemed to approve, while Mary Lyn frowned. It was Saruyoshi Ennosuke, however, who raised the most vocal complaint.   Certainly, a pardon followed by some "consequence" would fulfill the wording of Matsunaga Hisahide's request. It would, however, be deliberately ignoring the spirit of the pardon. A man who chose that path could come to regret it, both in reprisal from the other party and in damage to his own reputation. Sanosuke glared. Who had even invited this monkey? And why was it any of his business?   The Silver General's counterpoint had merit of its own, however. This was Matsunaga Hisahide they were dealing with. Such a shrewd businessman would certainly be well aware of the wording of his own request. In Sanosuke's place, it seemed unlikely that he would do any different either. Hisahide was, if nothing else, efficient.   Throughout all this, Aotsuki swayed back and forth as he listened to each argument. Certainly so boldly ignoring the spirit of a request did not sit well with him, but he also could not suffer Hideyoshi's presence in his lands any longer than necessary. He would go with Sanosuke's proposal on one condition: Hideyoshi must not die. Aotsuki would not have the dastard's blood on his hands, not even indirectly. That did not seem to faze the Silver General. Sanosuke offered that everything would be in place within a few hours. Then, Aotsuki could release Hideyoshi with a full pardon and the man would simple cease to be a problem.   As for what might actually happen to the erstwhile Daimyō, Sanosuke had some ideas about that. It had originally been Aotsuki's plan to deport Hideyoshi. In another country, far across the seas, he would become someone else's problem. That idea seemed interesting, but Sanosuke took it a step further. Why simply give the man away when they could receive something in return? He called upon the clan's master of trading, such as he was, and prepared for the coming verbal storm.   Indeed, Tsukijō Hanahane did not disappoint. Never a man to say in a few words what he could paint in a tapestry of hundreds, Hanahane wove his sentences like a clothier sewing the finest garments. Behind all the fluff and color, he was a businessman at heart, however. Sanosuke's proposal, yet vague, interested him. Indeed, if the trade good was to be a person, Hanahane might have a perfect place in mind.   Mavrovlachia, a part of the Alexandrian Dominance, was a prison of sorts. Many of the world's greatest evildoers were held there under the watchful eye of the Count. If Sanosuke so dearly wanted to get rid of someone, a better partner could hardly be found. The Mavrovlachians might even offer compensation for taking someone heinous enough into their walls.   The problem, of course, was that Mavrovlachia was a very long way away. For this, Hanahane could call upon his alter ego. Dreamers came from all over the world, and it may be much quicker for Jericho Petalwing to establish contacts in Mavrovlachia than Tsukijō Hanahane. The trader promised to take a quick nap and get back to Sanosuke later with any prospects he'd found. That would do well, as Sanosuke had preparations of his own to make.   With that, the matter seemed to be settled. Despite one side's reservations, both Sanosuke and Aotsuki would be getting what they wanted. Speaking of which, it seemed Maxim wanted the Black Toad Inn. It was just as well, as the tournament would be starting again soon. Sanosuke, Aotsuki, and their companions called upon Shigeaki Fujino to take them back to Shimonoseki for the festivities. Not long after their departure, Maxim and Oyau Kamui arrived where they'd left.   The Knight Commander would be on his way to the tournament soon as well, but there still felt like something was missing from his interactions with Oyau. A moment later, he realized what it was. They'd never been properly introduced. Maxim gave his own name and asked for the other's. That was a bit of a tricky point, however. Oyau Kamui was more of a title, or a general term. She didn't have a real name of her own, though she wasn't opposed to the idea. Still, considering the best she'd managed to come up with on the spot had been "Eru Darusu," maybe Maxim should provide the next one.   His heart fell. Maxim was skilled at many things, but naming was not one of them. Especially not when it was a Japanese name for an Ainu goddess. He resolved to reach out to Harukor later and ask for his opinion. Then, with a final farewell, he was off to face the wrath of his neglected companions at the tournament as well.
Clan Finals (Part 1)

1559年11月16日 13:00 (Afternoon)


Historical Entry: Clan Finals

    It was time for the final match; that which would determine the victor of the clan portion of the Mōri Clan Tournament. The Hashinara Clan would be facing the Ryūzōji Clan and each of the Cardinal Generals had managed to make it to watch. All, that is, except Hashinara Yoshitakatomo. Instead, the Daimyō had a sobering announcement for her* generals.   Something had befallen the Hashinara outpost in the Dreamlands. Some kind of plague. Yoshitakatomo would be traveling south, to the Caves of Life in search of a cure. In the meantime, she* would be closing the portal and thus cutting off communications. The risk was simply too great that this Flowering Mind might spread into the earthly realm as well.   Naturally, the assembled Cardinal Generals were all stunned by this message. Aotsuki Tsukamoto, in particular, raised a mental complaint. Before any answer could come, Yoshitakatomo's side of the "line" went dead. The portal had been closed.   That might have been the worst of it, but some other generals had their own problems to deal with. Maxim, for example, returned to the tournament stands only to be confronted by an irate Nagasone Kotetsu. The hapless Knight Commander had promised he'd be back to join Kotetsu and his other companions for lunch, but had not followed through. Certainly, he had good reason, what with all the things that had happened with Oyau Kamui and the Black Toad Inn. Even so, Kotetsu's time was precious.   The smith had been considering joining Maxim's cause after her current project, but was now reconsidering that option. That gormless foreigner had lied to her and wasted her most precious resource: time. Kotetsu had already been hesitant to agree to join Maxim for lunch, and to have spent so many hours waiting for him was nearly unforgivable. The Mōri project was not going to accomplish itself within its deadline.   Maxim made his best apologies, but it was clear this slight would not be mended with words alone. Eventually he managed to win a bit of favor back by offering to send several technicians over to Kotetsu's current forge after the day's match. That, and a promised audience with Aotsuki Tsukamoto, at least mollified Kotetsu enough to take the edge out of her voice. Her eyes lingered on Aotsuki, far away in the crowd. It seemed she had some interest in the beautiful young Daimyō beyond his mere association with Maxim.   Meanwhile, Ryūzaki Sanosuke was dealing with his own sudden trouble. A woman he'd never seen before, wearing scandalously informal clothes and wielding a thick hunk of wood, was suddenly in the midst of his group. From their own places in the crowd, Aotsuki and Fubuki could recognize this hellion as Amanozako, daughter of Susano'o and Goddess of Heavenly Opposition.   Sanosuke had enjoyed no such pleasure(?). That didn't stop Amanozako, whose aggressive questioning led the Silver General down the paths of how he'd become Susano'o's Champion. Before the other could even find his feet, she'd handed over an elegant scroll bound with an ivory comb. That, at least, Sanosuke recognized. The comb was a symbol of Kushinadahime, a lesser goddess and wife of the Storm God. Was this a message from the divine?   Amanozako seemed to suggest as much. Her father, Susano'o apparently, had expressly forbidden her from coming down to Earth and meeting the new champion. As they'd learned in Aotsuki's recent snafu, Izanagi-no-Mikoto deeply disapproved of such things. Still, Susano'o had said, when Amanozako did go to Earth anyway, she should deliver this scroll to Sanosuke.   With appropriate reverence, Sanosuke untied the crimson thread holding the comb in place and unfurled the scroll. Inside was a message from someone indeed important and written for his eyes only. After finishing the last line, he bound the scroll again and stored it on his person. That would certainly be something to think about. For the moment, anyway, Amanozako seemed content to stay. She was but one new addition to Sanosuke's entourage, along with that blasted monkey, Saruyoshi Ennosuke. Wait, he'd come along from the Inn? Why was he in Sanosuke's box?   Questions for another time, as Mōri Motonari and wife Kikkawa no Myōkyū were just then preparing to announce the coming match's fighters. On the Hashinara side, Musashibō Benkei and Shōta would be facing Yagyū Jūbei and Ryūzōji Kagetada from the Ryūzōji. Except yet another thing seemed to have gone amiss.   Four names had been called, but only two fighters stood in the arena. Benkei faced down Kagetada, each missing their partner. Shōta's absence was...well, not entirely unexpected given his recent dealings with clan leadership. Jūbei's absence, however, came as a surprise, particularly to Sanosuke. He wasted no time in calling in a mental message to the absent Kensei. Jūbei replied, but only to say that she was around the area of Inaba Province by now and heading east. She'd grown tired of waiting on Sanosuke's pleasure, it seemed, and had decided to continue her pilgrimage. Now, her destination was the Palace of the Firebird in Mikawa Province far southeast.   With a flare of annoyance, Sanosuke called upon Shigeaki Fujino for in-clan transportation. If Jūbei wanted to be with Tachibana Muneshige so badly, they could just bring him here. Then perhaps she'd be more agreeable. Yet it was not to be. Although Sanosuke was sure he'd seen Fujino here just a moment ago, she was now inexplicably missing. According to the psychic, there was some sort of emergency in Ise Province that the clan Daimyō needed her for. Perhaps that enigmatic message about a plague?   Regardless, it seemed that events were now proceeding of their own volition. Sanosuke dropped his scheme for the moment and instead focused on what was happening in the arena. With both teams missing a member, Mōri Motonari had proposed a solution: each clan could provide a new partner to their champion, or the two present could simply face each other in single combat. The magnanimous Mōri Daimyō would leave it to each clan leader to decide.   Although he wasn't certain about Kagetada's chances against Benkei by herself, Sanosuke knew what he must do. He relinquished the decision to Yoshitakatomo, stating that he'd align with whatever decision his Daimyō chose. Except that Yoshitakatomo was not present. Even her* Sheele was missing from its normal spot in the Hashinara Box. Perhaps it, too, had gotten wrapped up in whatever business was so urgent in the Dreamlands.   With the Daimyō cut out of the network, even Tōdaisen Nobuhara could not speak for the Princess. A murmur went up around the crowd, people looking back and forth, peering about for any sign of the missing lord. As Maxim did the same, he saw something which shot an unpleasant jolt through his spine. There, across from the knight's group in the stands, was a familiar figure. At near eight feet tall, with glowing yellow eyes and the aspect of a shark, Vepar was hard to miss. What's more, she was looking right at him.   Maxim hissed, bringing the unexpected demon to Haures' attention. Although they were nominally allies under Wrath, Haures did not seem any more pleased than Maxim to learn of Vepar's presence. Her hackles raised in a display of feline indignation. Neither she nor Maxim could determine what the other demon was doing in Shimonoseki, much less Earth. Had she been summoned by the woman beside her? Wasn't that the Daimyō of the Shimazu Clan? Or, much more worryingly, had Ira Sathana grown impatient with Maxim's progress and sent another archdemon to keep tabs on him? Such a thing would not bode well for Haures either.   Before any more could come of that, however, the crowd's attention had been drawn back to the Hashinara box. There, in his resplendent robes and owl-faced mask, stood a specter from the grave. All knew of Katsusada Shishauezaemon, the man whose rise to power had been instrumental in the Hashinara Clan's own. Under his hand, the minor family from Central Japan had become a force to rival any clan in the country. And yet Katsusada Shishauezaemon had been killed by a ninja near Ise Grand Shrine. His death had paved the way for Hashinara Yoshiyuki, the previous Daimyō's daughter, to take power. She, all seemed to agree, was much more agreeable.   So it was a startling and very unwelcome sight for many of the powerful in the crowd to see Shishauezaemon standing here now. Accusations of vengeful haunting and illusion came from the Mōri Clan and Ashikaga Shogunate both. Indeed, the specter's appearance seemed to have rattled even the usually stoic Mōri Motonari. He claimed to speak for Yoshiyuki, but the other powers would have none of it. No dead man would speak for a living Daimyō.   Of course, the Cardinal Generals all knew what the others could not. Katsusada Shishauezemon and Hashinara Yoshiyuki were the same person: Hashinara Katamoto. After an inconvenient death, the former lord had remade himself in his daughter's image in order to lead the clan into a new era. Now, as a being which could accurately be called a god, Shishauezaemon was just another extension of Katamoto's power. An avatar.   From behind him, in the Shogunate's box, Maxim overheard Ashikaga Yoshiaki give the order that Shishauezaemon was to be killed. Again. At any cost. What's more, Motonari would not accept the "imposter's" word as the Hashinara Daimyō's own. The situation was saved, insofar as it could be, by the arrival of Hashinara Kiyowara. This was the Daimyō's sheele, although many believed it to be her daughter. Regardless, Kiyowara had spoken for Yoshiyuki on more than one occasion. For something a simple as deciding how this match would be fought, the girl's word would do.   For her* part, Yoshitakatomo was pleased to find that she* could still see, hear, and speak through her* sheele even across the barrier of sleep. Although closing the portal to the Dreamlands had severed her* mental link, this meant that she* could still enact her* will on Earth as well as dreams. Kiyowara spoke, giving voice to this will now. Benkei and Kagetada would not be supplied with new partners. Instead, they would face each other in single combat. As Ryūzaki Sanosuke had already acceded to the Daimyō's choice, this settled the matter. The two combatants began to prepare for their battle.   As they did so, Maxim felt a thin presence behind him. He turned to find a bulbous, mustachioed man wearing a helmet that didn't suit him. At first, Maxim thought this upstart was trying to push through his crowd, and prepared to stick his heels in rather than move an inch. It seemed, however, that Matsutada Tadamatsu was here for him. Speaking politely, the helmeted mustache invited Maxim up to the Shogunate's box for an audience. This was strange, but Maxim was not so stupid as to refuse such an offer in full view of many of the most powerful in Japan. He climbed the shallow steps and soon stood in the wooden box.   Ashikaga Yoshiaki, the Shogun, barely spared Maxim a glance and a derogatory snort. It seemed the person who actually meant to speak with him was an adviser. At least, that's what Maxim guessed her function must be. The woman, who introduced herself as Chitosemaru, had been a staple by the Shogun's side for the past few days. Although dignified enough in her own way, there was something about her sunken eyes and lank black hair that put Maxim a little on edge. She reminded him, perhaps, of someone he bore a special grudge against...   What Chitosemaru and Maxim spoke on stayed in the Shogunate's box. Only a nearby orange cat, watching from nearby with piercing eyes, could reasonably tell the tale. And what could a cat say? Still, it seemed that things did not go as Chitosemaru willed. When Maxim descended to his seat again, the morbid woman was wearing an ever-so-slight frown beneath her sunken eyes.

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Report Date
29 Aug 2021
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