-------------------Chapter Twenty-Two, As Told By Aiko Kaijitsu---------------------

Coin, Coin

By Aiko Kaijitsu

Allegro slipped behind a post box and watched Tsuto from across the street. He chuckled inwardly, for he saw right through Tsuto's disguise. Allegro saw the half-elf sneaking along the boulevard, standing for a moment in a doorway, and then moving behind a shop-cart. Tsuto crossed and came along the street briskly now, looking this way and that, obviously having no idea where Allegro had gone.

Allegro stepped out in front of him when he got to the box. Tsuto stopped dead in his tracks. He made a single chewing motion with his mouth.

"To what do I owe the pleasure Tsuto?" Allegro demanded.

Tsuto said nothing. His face was red.

"Come on, out with it," Allegro suddenly had Istanoval in his hand.

"This has to do with the Shinobi coin," Tsuto said, looking at the dagger. "If you are to be its new owner, then the responsibilities that come with it are yours as well."

"What do you mean?"

"Can we talk somewhere else?" Tsuto asked quietly.

"Certainly." They walked together until they came to a deserted shrine.

"What responsibilities are you speaking of?"

"Those of assassination," Tsuto said. "You are no stranger to killing. Now you must be an assassin. You must be the assassin."

"No, Tsuto, while the coin might control a weak minded fool like yourself, it cannot control me."

"If it cannot, then the coin will leave you, by some method of its own device."

"It is only a coin."

"It is much more than a coin. If you will not become the assassin, then give the coin to me, and I will do it. Prince Batsai-Khar must be eliminated."

"What? Your sister is to be married to him!"

"That cannot happen."

"Screw you," Allegro said.

"If you will not give it to me, give it to the Ninja clan that promised to carry out an assassination for you. Pay them with the coin to kill Prince Batsai-Khar. It is your duty."

Tsuto turned and walked away from Allegro and out of the Shrine.

Allegro sighed and sat down on a low bench and waited there for a long time and thought about many things. He looked at Istanoval. "How do I get myself into these things?" he asked himself.

"You have a noble heart," Istanoval said.

"Tell me about it," Allegro said.

After a while, Allegro went home to see his wife, for he was hungry, and he was ready for one of her amazing home cooked meals.

She was packing her bags when he walked in.

"Mei!" Allegro cried. "What are you doing?"

"Leaving, my husband, I have had enough of men and their danger for one lifetime. I was kidnapped, tortured, maimed, and I waited for an eternity for you to come and find me!"

"Wait," Allegro said, imploring.

"No you wait! You're using our merchant ships to bring Mongol troops here! You're bringing troops here to have a war in this land! That's not what I want! I can't go home, I can't stay here! I'll be going into hiding on my own," she said. "Somewhere war mongers can't find me!"

"Xiao Ping's husband Wen the Paladin is reviewing all the troops, my dear, and they are coming to help us topple the Jade Regent and rid the island of onis, surely you must understand that."

"We did not start out here, and this is not our land," An Mei accused. "I'm leaving."

"No, don't," Allegro said.

An Mei saw the look on his face. "I didn't say I didn't love you, Allegro dear, I just can't stay with you right now. I'll find you when all this is over. I know what your contingency arrangments are. Our baby will be safe."

She went out and slammed the door behind her. Allegro watched through the open window as An Mei's burly new henchman bundled her off into a waiting coach and whisked her away.

Allegro clutched the coin at his breast, and felt the long line of spirits thrumming inside. His mind was like iron, and they could not reach him.


Mt. Fuji

By Aiko Kaijitsu

After Dipaka rowed us to the shore, we all got out of the Origami and I folded it up. The people fishing there were amazed, so I did a few other tricks for them, and they were overjoyed and smiled and had wrinkles at the corners of their eyes. Seagulls screeched over our heads, and the smell of the sea was vibrant.

After we had eaten and rested we bamphed back to our temporary base in the village. We appeared in the midst of what should have been our camp, but it had obviously been overrun. Part of the inn had been burned down, and the citizens were mourning the dead. Dipaka moved to help the wounded. The people there eyed the rest of us with scorn.

Our army was not there. They had gone north, the townsfolk reported, for a strong oni vanguard had marched on the town. Hiribashi Jiro had ordered a withdrawal in the face of poor odds, and a desire to not have the village wiped out entirely. The oni army had extracted it’s toll for passing through the village, but it was far less carnage than a clash would have been. After Dipaka had done what he could for the townsfolk, I dug Focus out of my satchel and scried on Hirabashi Jiro and we bamphed to his location. We appeared right in front of his column. Jiro signaled a stop.

“My Empress,” he said, and they all bowed. It was wild to see a whole column bow before my sister.

“I ordered a retreat, my Empress, and we march now to Seinaru Heikiko. Perhaps your highness should go there first and wait in safety. There is a chance the oni army behind could catch up with us. There are several days hard march ahead of these men.”

“You are right, General. I will go, but I will return to your side soon,” Ameiko said.

“Wait,” Lo said, “Why do we not go back and face the onis, now that we are here to help?”

Hirabashi Jiro sighed. “Lord Lo, with all due respect, allow me to illustrate the nature of the army that marches north from Kyoto,” he said. Hatsue appeared and produced a series of pictures she had drawn. Apparently her surveillance of the capital had not been utterly in vain. Jiro described scores of ogre-mage onis, super-elite human Samurai troops, squadrons of Tengus, and so on and so forth.

“There was no way we could knowingly commit so many lives to such a certain death,” Jiro said.

“There will be deaths in this war, Samurai. We must come to accept that,” Lo said.

Dipaka frowned.

“We cannot hope to stand against these foes. You will die, Lord Lo, as will we all if we pick the wrong time to fight,” Jiro said. “And then these people will have no defenders.”

Lo harrumphed and crossed his arms over his chest.

I took a side trip find Allegro, and found him sulking outside the tavern. He explained to me what had happened with An Mei. “I’m sorry, Allegro,” I said. “I hope we can wrap this whole thing up soon.”

"Yeah," he said.

We were set to bampf to Seinaru Heikiko next, but I had another Idea. I wanted to put my new teleporting skills to the test. “Everyone ready to get laid?” I asked. Everyone looked at me with dumb looks. “Come on, gather round,” I directed. I bamphed us to the deck of a merchant ship in the middle of the sea of Japan.

Wen was posing against the ship’s rail, and was busy talking to a comely ship’s girl.

“I see my husband doesn’t have anything against consorting with sexy women on ships,” I said loudly.

Wen looked at me and turned red. The girl moved off and went below decks.

Chaka stared at me with some amazement. “I didn’t think you were going to be able to pull that off, I have non-detection up,” she said.

I bowed to her. “Glad to see you too,” I said.

Everyone paired off with their mates. Chaka and Ochir, Wen and I, and Ameiko and the Prince. Aki, and Lo stood guard. I stayed in Wen’s private cabin in the huge Japanese merchant vessel, called the Atagu Maru. We made love all night, so we had to stay aboard the vessel for two days. “I want another baby,” I said to Wen. “I think Yoshi needs a sister.” He smiled and tried to help. I made sure he was happy, for it had been a long time, and we both needed our time together.

The next morning was bright and clear, and it almost seemed like trouble didn’t exist. Dipaka ressurected the Jade Archer, and she was so completely restored by his power that her hair was once again lush and radiant and I hated her all over again. Ochir joked and promised to spend two thousand Jin just getting meat to throw at her feet.

We all just loosened up and celebrated not being in a combat zone for a day. I walked around the ship several times, looking for what, I didn’t know. I thought of the Jade Regent’s hostages. Many strong Japanese families had not joined our efforts because of them.

Allegro was quiet, and he too looked out over the waves for hours. I felt so bad for him. An Mei had been right. Allegro knew her leaving was for the best too. He walked over to Ameiko and bowed.

“What is it, Master Polo?” she asked.

“It is the Shinobi coin. I wish to return it to you now.” Allegro lifted the dread coin on its chain from around his neck. Ameiko opened the warding box and held it out, and Allegro lowered the coin down into it. “Thank you, my Empress,” he said, and bowed.

“Thank you, Master Polo,” she said to him. She looked over at me and winked.

Chaka came to me at one point to talk privately. “How are you doing?” I asked. “Fine, and you?”

“Fine.”

“I want to ask for your help with something.”

“What is it?”

“Well. Prince Batsai-Khar is sailing this ship to Beijing, to gain access to troops he will be able to call his own.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, that’s going to take about a month longer than going to Guangzhou and getting our army from there.”

“And so you mean bring Ochir’s father and his army to Japan?”

“Yes, it will be much faster.”

I hated that idea. But I figured Prince Batsai-Khar would hate that idea too. If he had Ochir’s father and Ochir being the leaders of his army, he’d have no control at all anymore.

I of course didn’t want any Mongols to come over.

“I think I cannot back you on this one,” I said.

Chaka folded her hands and looked down. “I understand,” she said. “But they are your people, after all. Suit yourself.”

"Here, take this," I said. I gave Focus to Chaka to call me if there was trouble, and we bamphed back to Hirabashi’s army. They were camped five miles south of Mt. Fuji.

“What are you sitting here waiting for?” Lo asked Hirabashi.

“The pass ahead is occupied by oni troops. They lie in wait, invisible. Our scouts have warned us they are milling about in the air over the cherry orchards on the steppes, on both sides of the road. In vast numbers. I was preparing my attack strategy.”

“Here’s your strategy Samurai!” Lo pulled out Suishen and held it high over his head. “By Bahamut’s bidding!” he cried, and the words rang from the face of the mountain. “By the will of Suishen, there shall be no invisible onis on this path today!”

The troops all got a kick out of this, and cheered, as did the rest of us. I was so proud of him. He was a true Fist of Bahamut.

“Fear not Samurai,” Ameiko said. “My Champion and I will go and see to the pass personally.” She turned to us. “You heard the man people, onis are hiding like cowards on that mountainside! Let’s get ready to kick some ass!”

At the base of the mountain, Ameiko sang us a song of the great peak, one that delved into its role as a protector of Japan. It was long and beautiful. In the meantime, I put stoneskins on the fighters and fly spells on Lo and Allegro. I gave Lo a bear’s endurance, and he appeared grim as he waited for the song to conclude. His eyes narrowed as he looked up at the mountain.

Ochir looked this way and that, scanning the trees and steppes ahead. His bow was at the ready, and three arrows were set to go. I had my spells firmly in mind, and Aki performed his stretching and appeared to be mildly content to be back so near to his homeland. Dipaka prayed and got ready to knit wounds. Allegro flipped his dagger with his eyes closed. Finally we put up our mirror images, and we all took to the air.

“Forward, ho!” Ameiko cried. At last, we headed up the mountain path.

We sailed forward and Suishen revealed a line of onis waiting for us. Arrows flew from them, and struck us as we advanced, but we countered with arrows and fireballs of our own. It wasn’t long before they were dead.

The next row was a set of human looking samurai, the same sort that we had seen before on the boat that had come to the Kamikaze’s cave while we waited outside. Ochir growled and commenced firing, as did the Jade Archer. Aki, Allegro and Lo charged and engaged them. Dipaka was quite instrumental in healing us and keeping us going, as was my sister at keeping us inspired. Each time we managed to clear off a steppe, we advanced. A new line of foes appeared and attacked.

Lo would wade right into the midst of them, and in what seemed like an impossibility, slew five or six oni’s at a time in amazing bursts of swordsmanship.

"Suishen, you are my hero!" Istanoval announced proudly.

"No little one, you're mine," Suishen said.

"I thought I was your hero!" Allegro cried as he fought and dodged and danced with the dagger.

Lo and Allegro laughed together; Ochir rolled his eyes.

Aki attacked with his graceful martial artistic flair, tripping and pummeling oni's into piles of senslessness.

The mountain truly seemed to live and thrum beneath our feet. As we slew the onis, the very ground would open up and swallow their husks. The Great Mountain Kami Fuji was hungry for oni.

Ochir was single minded, arrows struck him, but he kept high in the air where DIpaka could not reach. He refused to come down for healing. Still he fired his bow.

As we neared the summit, Suishen flared up once more, this time higher than ever.

"Ah look there! It is an ogre-mage!" Suishen cried, and revealed a commanding oni flying high above that was obviously in charge of their army. The ogre-mage whirled a naginata around himself with obvious mastery. He had a bow over his shoulder, and a jade banner hooked to his back. His Domaru armor was inlaid with metal the color of jade.

"I am Fum! The Inquisitor of the Jade Regent!" he shouted. "Now you will meet your doom!"

"I say thee nay, Inquisitor!" Lo bellowed back. His eyes were the gray of cold iron.

The oni swooped down toward Lo, and Lo swept up toward the oni. They met in a terrible clash of arms and armor.

Ochir dotted the leader with arrows, as did the Jade Archer. Being archers of the greatest skill, they both managed to miss Lo every time.

Lo ended the battle by chopping off the Inquisitor's head with a huge sideways chop. It fell and clunked sickeningly down the mountain path, leaving red marks.

The grueling press up the mountain ended, and we were at last victorious. Lo had been greviously wounded, so my sister used the Amtatasu Seal to heal him back to health. I watched Dipaka heal the others that had been injured. He moved from person to person, carefuly tending and healing each and every wound.

I turned and saw my sister kissing the Jade Archer when she thought no one could see. The archer had been behaving stangely since she was ressurected, but I didn't care.

We watched Jiro lead our troops up toward us through the pass. The sun set in the west, and the air around us was as thick as blood.

We camped that night on the mountain. I tried and tried to scry on Xia, but I couldn't get through. I cried for a while in my bedroll because I missed her, and I missed Wen.

The next morning, we headed north again, and began going downhill. The sun was nearly above us when we saw a dark army of two thousand strong far out in front of us, coming our way. It appeared to be a primitive group with unkempt beards and sparse armament. Lo looked at me when he saw Gangnum-Sum at the head of their column.

"Hey! Gangnum-Sum is here!" Ochir rejoiced. "These are my Ainu troops!"


The Dragon and the Sea

By Wen Tiang-Xiang

My Dearest Aiko, Goodmonth 18, 3970

It has only been a week since your surprise visit on the Atagu Maru. It would seem that upon the sea is where my fondest memories are made.

I write to you at the port city of Tianjin. It is the early morn after my hour of meditation to the Great Dragon and I’m actually feeling well and at peace. It has been quite a week.

Let me start at the beginning.

My Empress, your sister, bestowed upon me a quest. I am to ensure that all members of an army sent by the Mongol Empire to aid the Kaijitsu reclaim the throne of Japan meet the approval of my conscience. I further have the right and duty to reject all foreigners that do not meet the standards of Bahamut.

Only by my oath and fealty to the Amatatsu Seal did I willingly leave your side. My companions upon this quest are as follows:

Prince Batsai-Khar, nephew to Kublai Khan. He was born to power and privilege and wields it easily. He is polite and charming but possesses a questionable resolve and a fiery temper when under duress.

Lady Okimoto Ezume, royal bodyguard to the Mongol Prince. She is honorable and fierce, a true samurai. Her loyalty is to her lord and to her land. I pray that these loyalties never conflict.

Ambassador Chaka Khan, adopted daughter to Kublai Khan. I find her sassy and endearing, as always. She is resourceful, driven, and lifts the hearts of all her companions. She is a politician and can be trusted to be most prudent. I swore to her impish husband, Ochir that I would defend her with my life. He has made the same vow to me regarding you.

Captain Sandru Vhiski, friend and confidante to the Empress. He is an irreverent but lovable rogue. He speaks many tongues and is a well-worn traveler. In this company I’ve known him the longest and trust him best.

Tsuto Kaijitsu, half-brother to the Empress. He is a criminal and he hides his dark aura behind mage craft. However, he is brave and clever. His royal blood may yet redeem him or else he will be judged.

These are my companions. We are tasked with the gathering and delivery of a suitable force to be of use to the conflict that will decide the fate of Japan.

In the autumn of the year of the Water Cock we gathered the ships of Japan. Chaka and Sandru called forth a great fleet of a hundred and four ships with experienced crews and captains that knew the sea of Nippon. They sailed from Sapporo, Akita and Ordu-Aganhai and rendezvoused at Kamikaze Isle. Here Sandru by tradition paid tribute to Sosano-Wo, the god of the sea.

Oh Sosano-Wo!
Supreme God of the Ocean!
Hear my humble plea,
Protect us faithful sailors,
Oh Sosano-Wo!
Blow away our foolish foes,
I offer you pearls,
Perfect smooth and heavy pair,
Large as mine, I dare.

Feeling confident and declaring our good fortune and with favorable winds we set sail for the continent. I believed Sandru's words too, for the next day you showed up on the flag ship. Sandru has been teaching me Latin. I find verb conjugation tediously unnecessary. Our type of conjugal practice is more to my liking.

After we practiced the Latin and I laid back with you in my arms feeling the sway of the sea, I had a clarity of vision. To what end do we work, fight, struggle, suffer, bleed and even die? It is to build a better home for our woman. For that home to be in a land free of evil. So our children can play in the sun and sleep through the night.

As soon as you left we found out this quest was not going to be so easy. The next night, there was a nip in the air. Kamikaze, the great sea dragon and servant of Sosano-Wo, came forth bringing a storm with him. The fleet was dispersed. The dragon set fire to the Felicia, a Polo owned ship. This was just to get our attention. Sandru managed to steer the Atagu Maru close to the dragon and that’s when things went from bad to worse.

“I Kamikaze, the Divine Wind, rule this Sea!” the mighty dragon roared. He was built like a serpent, except for muscular forelimbs the color of tarnished silver. His head was the size of an armored wagon with jagged crests that could have easily holed any ship. I put his length at three-hundred feet and his weight at about thirty tons. His scaly coils wrapped about the ship causing it to list dangerously.

“We fly the flag of the Rising Sun and we have already offered our tribute!” Chaka countered loudly.

“What tribute?! I smell the stink of wops on that burning ship! And you are a Mongol worm!” the dragon bellowed.

“What kind of dragon are you Kamikaze? Why do you swim like an eel? Can’t you fly like a real dragon?” Prince Batsai-Khar smiled. The dragon’s breath was real enough as he bathed Batsai-Khar and his bodyguard in scalding steam. They smoldered and blistered but did not go down.

The high winds prevented us from flying with potions. Chaka reached into her magical purse and drew forth a huge toothy seal. He barked several times and flapped his flippers. “I found him in my father’s zoo. He was doing three shows a day. I call him Wolly,” she said. He was to be my steed.

On the Atagu Maru a furious fight ensued. Lady Ezume fought with a No-Dachi, a two-handed blade. With every stroke scales flew upon the deck and into the sea. She issued her challenge to the Kamikaze, calling him lordless and without honor. She chastised him for ignoring the banner of the sun and attacking those he’d sworn to protect.

Prince Batsai-Khar fought with an ancient jeweled bow made from the ivory of a mammoth. His arrows did not always find a vulnerable spot on the dragon, but still he emptied his quiver.

The Kamikaze fought back with unrestrained fury. He focused his wrath first upon the Samurai. He sank his claws into her armor, the finest in all of Japan, and sundered it from her body. Then he head butted her and threw her into the icy sea. He seized Batsai-Khar’s bow and broke it over his royal head.

“Damn you false worm! May ninjas infest your hoard!! May your bunghole rot from within!!!” The Prince cursed as his smile faded and he engaged the beast with sword and shield.

In the meantime, I was trying to control Wolly. He had a military saddle with a secured seat behind me for Chaka who kept up a mighty din with her magically augmented drums. She cast an entire zoo’s worth of enhancements upon me as I prepared to make my charge.

Another breath blast blew the shield from Batsai-Khar’s grasp and made his blisters burst. Horrible were his burns and pride alone kept him upright.

Suddenly, two more combatants joined the fray. Sandru and Tsuto attacked in unison and on both sides of the dragon’s tail. Sandru used a flashing scimitar and Tsuto wielded a cold iron siangham. Their blades sunk deep and the beast released its coils and let go of the ship.

With Chaka behind me and her drums in my ears, I charged the spawn of Tiamat. The power of the mount and the craft of the Hanzo blade was telling. But it was all for naught if the DRAGON did not guide my blow.

“By Bahamut’s Bidding!” I smote.

The dragon's ruin fell into the sea and slid beneath the waves.

“Finish him!” Batsai-Khar commanded.

I did not hesitate and rode hard through the waves for the struggling Lady Ezume. She did not drown because the serpent had freed her from her heavy armor. I pulled her cold body from the sea and placed her upon my warm mount.

The fire on the flag ship was extinguished by Guchugur and Guchuluk, Chaka’s’ gnomish henchmen.

As I returned to the ship I pondered what to do with my toothy mount. Chaka spoke a word and the creature turned into an ivory charm once again and she put it back into her purse. Before I could get a word in, she pulled out Focus, the crystal ball that you gave her and she scried upon Kamikaze. She saw that he lurked upon the sea floor and his wounds were closing swiftly. It appears the legends are true, the Kamikaze is immortal.

We spent the better part of the next day gathering our fleet as many had gone off course in the storm. Chaka activated Focus again and this time she scried upon the pearls that Sandru had sacrificed to Sosano-Wo. She found them adorning a statue of a giant shark in an undersea temple filled with Shangri-La.

She explained to us that the sacrifice had been stolen by the servants of Sekolah, the shark goddess. If the pearls were not recovered and properly offered to Kamikaze, then our quest would be ultimately doomed.

We began making plans to assault the temple provided that we could divine its precise location. The logistics of such an operation were not simple. We would have to go to Beijing to acquire the equipment to make it feasible. That is when Tsuto volunteered. He said that stealth was the only real option and in a mission like this you need a burglar not an army.

Sandru offered to go as well but after much debate we decided that we could not spare him and Tsuto was well expendable.

I offered him a prayer and he said, “Blow me.” He explained it was customary to say that on the Western continent.

A few days later, our fleet arrived at Tianjin, the city that serves as Beijing’s main port. We found the city was heavily guarded and soon after our ships dropped anchor in the harbor a Mongolian fleet sailed into position behind to stop our ships from leaving.

Upon the pier we found an old acquaintance waiting for us.

“Welcome home my Prince. We have been expecting you, and have prepared to meet your needs,” Livikus Ar-Tatar stated.

Behind him stood an army of thousands: Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Persians; goblinoids all. I knew at once this was when my quest really began.

With Steadfast Devotion,
By Bahamut’s Bidding,
Your Husband,
Duke Wen Tian Xiang

 

 


 

 

 

 
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