E5 - A Sleeping Scorpion, Part 3

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The samurai return to Beiden with the monk, but there is more that Bayushi Kushiro would ask of them. His final request starts them down a path they are scarcely prepared to travel.

CAST, CREW, & CREDITS

Narrator: James
Crow: Mal
Kitsuki Ryojiro: Nick
Kitsune Shio: Hanna
Kuni Daiyu: Ely
Hida Atsu: James

Bayushi Kushiro: Peter Violini
Mugo: Arielle

Script writing & editing: Arielle & Hanna
Audio/sound design: Mal

And a HUGE thank you to our patrons and beta listeners!

Script

Before dawn, Ryojiro wakes as quietly as he can. His footsteps featherlight on the tatami mat, he dresses and eats a small bit of breakfast from his traveling pack, then stares at the letter for the second time since the night before. He quietly gathers his things, adjusting his glasses as he pauses at the shoji door and looks over his shoulder. He slips out without being noticed.

 

Kitsuki Ryojiro sets out westward on the road from Beiden, alone on his pony as the rain falls. Akodo Torokai watches him go.

 

The storm does not abate until nearly dawn. Crow wakes early enough to watch the last of the clouds burned away by the rising sun. In spite of Fuzen snoring in the corner of her room, she looks decidedly less miserable this morning. It takes a moment of jostling his shoulder to rouse him, but the monk follows her downstairs, footfalls heavy. His grudging expression lightens--a little--when Crow wordlessly buys him breakfast.

 

Torokai is already in the common room, laughing and conversing cheerfully with Miyu as he eats a robust breakfast. The meal is mostly vegetables and a small cutlet of chicken--with little rice. A bowl of miso soup sits beside his plate. When Fuzen appears from behind Crow, his brow furrows, and as the other samurai emerge, he sits up.

 

[Torokai] "So you’ve succeeded. Bayushi-san will be pleased." He sets down his chopsticks, looking away from the monk, who stares at him fearfully. “I have just spoken with Kitsuki-san. He has been called away to Shinomen Mori. He will… return to us after his matters are dealt with.”

 

Miyu busies herself in setting out food for the yoriki as they settle near Torokai. Atsu's eyebrows draw down as he looks at the magistrate, but he doesn’t stop shoveling rice dutifully into his mouth. Shio, eyes sunken with tiredness, raises an eyebrow.

 

Torokai drinks the last of his soup and stands. [sigh] "Let us meet with Bayushi-san."

 

Crow nods, sharing his sentiments. She claps Fuzen on the back. [laughing] "Let us act with haste, then."

 

Atsu belches, then murmurs a thank you to Miyu for the meal. He eyes Torokai half-heartedly. "Perhaps you may assist us with the monk as well."

 

Torokai smiles, his eyes crinkling. The suggestion that Fuzen might need a magistrate to control him seems to amuse him. He takes up his daisho before leading them out.

 

On the walk to the castle, the villagers glower at Fuzen. Some throw rocks, others sling mud. Fuzen flinches and tries to duck away, but streaks of mud soon stain his kimono. Crow watches with something like pity, but does nothing to stop the villagers.

 

Fortunately for Fuzen, the castle is not far. Bayushi Kushiro appears swiftly, bowing in greeting to the samurai. His eyes linger on Fuzen’s dirty kimono, face impassive. Any hint as to his thoughts is hidden beneath his mempo.

 

[Kushiro] “Thank you, samurai. I shall summon the village.”

 

A crowd gathers quickly in front of the castle’s gates, surrounding the samurai and an increasingly nervous Fuzen. Few friendly faces lurk within it. Kushiro folds his hands behind his back and steps forward.

 

[Kushiro, clears throat] “Citizens of Beiden! Many rumors have spread in our village of late. Tales of a curse which may have been laid upon us. I am here to tell you that these rumors are false. These samurai have gone to the monastery, drawn the monk to our holding, and have proof that this curse was merely a lie from a sniveling dog of a monk. He will confess so that you may hear it with your own ears."

 

He motions Fuzen forward with a knife-quick flick of his hand. Fuzen sits frozen in place until Kichi, the younger doshin, eventually nudges him with his jitte. The monk stumbles forward onto his hands and knees.

 

[Fuzen] “P-please! I--It was only the sake! I did not know what I said. It was only words, n-not a curse! I--I have no such power.”

 

Kushiro stands silent, gaze fixed on the back of the monk’s head. He gives a pleased hum and waves the crowd away once Fuzen’s pleading and whining quiets to soft whimpers. As the doshin drag the monk away, the crowd disperses.

 

[Daiyu, muttered] "Our monk’s curse is a lie. That does not mean there is no curse.”

 

[Crow] "Bayushi-san, I was hoping we might discuss something further..."

 

[Kushiro]  “Of course. I thank you for your assistance. That’s one less problem to worry over.”

 

He pauses, studying them.

 

“We may speak more inside. Follow me."

 

He turns swiftly on his heel, leading the samurai into the Scorpion castle.

 

 

 

Inside, a strange hush grips the shrouded halls. Servants bow to the samurai as they pass. A pair of them adjust hanging fabric marked with the Bayushi mon, a scorpion on a field of water. Another sweeps debris from the polished hardwood floor, otherwise keeping their eyes downcast. Kushiro leads them into a small receiving room and gestures for them to sit, then settles himself before them at the head of a dark, reflective wooden table. The silence stretches as Kushiro considers them, eyes sliding slowly from one to the next above his mempo.

 

"I must speak plainly, samurai. I ask for your assistance once more. You have demonstrated that you understand the importance of bushido--as well as a willingness to do what you must.”

 

He closes his eyes for a moment, hands steepled atop the table.

 

"My lord, Shosuro Tokai, is without an heir, for his children died many years ago. I have been honored to serve as his karo. Last year, he informed me I should take more responsibility for these lands, that he intended I take his place on his passing. It seemed best to learn by leading.” [pause] “I have done my best to manage his household and lands. But as I’ve done so, my Lord has seemed to... lose interest. He has spent more and more time alone. In his quarters. I’ve found it difficult to manage without his guidance."

 

[clears throat, trying not to sound upset but not entirely managing it] "Tokai-sama has been burdened with sadness for many years. Many tragedies have befallen his family line: the unfortunate deaths of his wife and children, sickness. He has spent much time sleeping these last few months. He is wasting away. I managed to awaken him, but he will not listen to my words—I am not sure if he knows my face any longer."

 

[composing himself] "I’m not knowledgeable in such things, but I fear that Tokai-sama has become so consumed by despair that he is...allowing himself to die in its grip. I have tried to break him from such despair. Perhaps strangers can reach him where I cannot."

 

[Atsu, venturing] "Perhaps I could examine Shosuro-sama. With your permission, of course.”

 

[Kushiro] "Of course, Hida-san. You may."

 

Atsu bows, careful in his movements as he steps out to do so. He glances back at Kushiro as he slides the door open. "When did Shosuro-sama become bedridden?"

 

[Kushiro] "He fell to despair several months ago. He has since rarely been witnessed awake. The last few times I visited him, he barely stirred. He did not...seem to realize where he was. He fell asleep again within moments. The servants say that he has not taken food for the last five days—only tea."

 

Atsu’s lips thin. His eyebrows scrunch together. "Is this, perhaps, before or after your crops began to fail?"

 

Kushiro’s forehead twitches. His eyes narrow for just a glimpse before his expression stills. "It has been roughly the same amount of time, I must say."

 

The samurai bow to him and follow Atsu out. [Kushiro, softly] "Tokai-sama has always treated me as a son. I consider him a father. Whatever happens here, if he is beyond ability to save, it is my wish that he remain known as an honorable man."

 

A waiting servant leads them to the top floor of the castle. A pair of Scorpion bushi stand rigidly beside the door, stepping aside to allow the servant to kneel and slide it open. They bow the samurai into the daimyo’s chambers.

 

The air is thick and stale with sweat. Incense sticks burn in the corners of the room, shrouding everything in a haze of smoke. The room is dim, its windows shuttered. Only a slim beam of sunlight touches the floor and the bottom of a futon at the center of the room, its occupant enshrouded by a heavy coverlet. Torokai rubs his head, faltering as the door slides shut behind them. He peers at Tokai, then around the room.

 

Shosuro Tokai sleeps fitfully, occasionally tossing and muttering. What was once a healthy man in his early forties is now shrunken and atrophied by lack of food and exercise.

 

The cloying musk of incense grows heavier as the samurai linger. Each step seems to drag. Their minds grow fuzzy, slow. Incessant, bizarre waves of exhaustion wash over them like waves.

 

Shio blinks slowly, like her eyelids are sticky. She stops moving and sways on the spot. Crow rubs her face and falters, barely staying upright. Atsu blinks futilely, trying to shake the perplexing tiredness. He kneels and takes hold of Tokai's wrist, lips moving as he silently times the daimyo’s pulse.

 

Grumbling under her breath, Shio sways her way over to the window and opens the shutters a crack to disperse some of the smell and smoke.

 

[Atsu, calling over his shoulder, drearily/tiredly] "Have you fed him soup?"

 

The servant cracks the shoji open a sliver. He peers in, the whites of his eyes showing with fear. "He—he has not eaten, samurai-sama. He will not wake."

 

A rare look of concern creeps onto Daiyu’s face. She glances at the rest, half-reaching for her scroll case out of instinct. For a long moment, she does not cross to Tokai’s bedside, before she abruptly steps in and settles beside Atsu.

 

She searches around Tokai’s immediate area, peering into the half-empty teacup and untouched bowl of soup on a small tray beside him. She slides her hand beneath the futon. Eventually her palm connects with a small, soft-bound book tucked beneath its upper corner. She opens it with care, leafing through a few pages before she settles on one.

 

[Daiyu, reading the book aloud] “I cannot get away, it will not let me get away...I cannot escape… I cannot escape… someone find me… someone help… Kushiro…”

 

The smell of incense grows stronger as they search, as seconds pass to minutes. Crow is the first to succumb: she crumples to her knees, then to the floor. Shio’s hands fumble with the window shoji and then loosen. She spills onto the tatami. Torokai’s head nods against his chest--then he slumps over. Atsu is the last. His body bows forward, forehead pressed against the floor, fingers loosening and dropping Tokai’s hand back to the futon.

 

Daiyu alone remains awake, watching them with no particular shock. A new sense of awareness brightens her eyes, one of connections being made. Her eyes focus on a shimmering pattern of light above Tokai’s bed, like strands of thread and silk blowing in an erratic, but gentle breeze: a spirit portal.

 

[[Just as a general note for this section, I would like a ghostly/faraway/echoey effect on the voices and environment. Sort of like the Farplane in FFX and this dialogue. Starts around 38s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScEvKnzryqU

 

It doesn’t have to be quite as strong, but just enough to distort and for effect ]]


Shio, Atsu, Crow, and Torokai open their eyes. As they sit up, their bodies, slumped in sleep, remain behind. They stand in the same room, but everything is brighter, more vibrant, and some of the colors are distinctly odd–the wooden floor is a rich red-gold, and a blue-green tint touches the sunlight filtering through the shutters. The room is empty, with no furnishings and no sign of Tokai save for the futon in the center of the room. A wavy pattern of light floats about three feet above the floor, undulating like strands of shimmering ribbons.

 

Their garb has changed. Some wear finery and others wear armor--heavy o-yoroi--that their slumbering bodies do not. Shio, no longer in her human guise, glances down at herself in concern, neck feathers puffing and then sleeking down again. She cocks her head sharply at Torokai, who is staring at her. She steps carefully behind Atsu’s bulk.

 

[Atsu, matter-of-factly] "I don't like this."

 

Crow looks at her body on the floor, frowning, and then back to the strange light. "Are we...dead?"

 

Atsu stoops next to his body, waiting patiently until it snores. He shakes his head at Crow without looking up.

 

“I don't think so?” Shio shrugs. Could be, though. ‘Go into the light’ seems applicable.

 

Torokai looks around, then down at himself: he is armored in a set of heavy, brown-gold o-yoroi, with a lion-masked kabuto. He searches for Tokai, but finds no sign. He hums.

 

[Crow] "Consider Shosuro-sama’s writings. Perhaps we were drawn… here. For a reason."

 

They remain in the same room they came from, their bodies asleep on the floor. Among them stands Daiyu, still awake.

 

Shio glances at Crow, her eyes darting. “But Shosuro-sama isn't here.”

 

Atsu steps closer to Daiyu. He leans down, palms rested on his thighs.

 

[shouted] “Kuni-san!”

 

Daiyu does not hear him. She examines the spirit portal impassively, then sits beside Atsu. She closes her eyes. [pause here] A few tense moments later, she steps free of herself to join them.

 

While the castle’s layout is unchanged, no servants walk its halls. The colors are bright and surreal. A green-yellow sun sets in a purple-blue sky. Even the quietest sounds echo. Shio shuffles her wings agitatedly, then sets off out of the room at a quick pace, trailed by Crow. Atsu follows, grimacing.

 

Torokai treads down the opposite hallway, palm rested on the hilt of his katana and Daiyu at his heel. "I do not like this. Do you know where we are, Kuni-san?"

 

Daiyu remains quiet for a moment as she gathers her bearings. "I believe we are in the realm of Yume-do, Akodo-sama. The realm of dreams."

 

 

 

In a dim, strangely lit hall, a pretty, young girl dances silently through the castle’s upper floor. Dressed in a child's kimono of black and red, she smiles at them as they pass, but does not speak.

 

Atsu stares at her. "Oi, who are you?"

 

The girl does not respond, nor does she look at him. She skips slowly along an invisible line, her form shimmering and fading from view, reappearing in an instant. Shio glances at Atsu, then back to the girl, pupils pinning with anxiety.

 

Atsu's face grows unhappier with each step the girl takes. He follows her, against every sensible survival instinct a normal person would have. The girl only smiles at him. She giggles, but does not speak. Shio stares at the girl intently for a moment before following as well, not wanting to leave Atsu by himself in this horror show.

 

Atsu grunts, but keeps trailing her. "Where are you going?!"

 

The girl starts toward the stairs, dancing along the hall on the way there, but does not respond. Atsu glances left, then right, growing more suspicious and concerned the longer this goes on. He follows her to the stairs.

 

They chase the girl down the stairs and into the castle’s main hall. There, in the dining hall where Kushiro greeted them the first time, a young, kind-featured boy sits at the head of a great table. He is dressed in a kimono more red than black. "Who are you?"

 

Shio stops, startled. "Shio."  

 

Atsu pauses, turning his attention to the boy. The girl skips on, disappearing down a hallway. "Hida Atsuryokunabe. And you are?"

 

[Kushiro] "Mugo." [adding, in a confiding way] “But I will be called Hisashi soon."

 

Shio blinks at him rapidly, her head cocking to the side in surprise. “Mugo-kun... Would you happen to know where Shosuro-sama is?”

 

"Hoo." Atsu frowns, glancing at Shio. "We are here to help him."

 

Mugo’s face scrunches. "I think he's in the fields. I can hear him calling from there sometimes. But I can't find him."

 

Atsu bristles.

 

[Shio] "Calling for help?"

 

The boy shrugs a little, frowning. "I can't find him. He's too quiet."

 

 

 

As Crow steps into the courtyard, the sound of hoofbeats draws her attention to the left, then the right--but there is no horse in sight, and neither are there tracks in the dirt. She frowns and follows the sound, but they always turn the corner ahead of her, just beyond her grasp.

 

When she is finally led outside of the castle grounds, she finds the village empty, devoid of both animals and people—save for a single woman dressed in a white bridal kimono, slashed with red. She walks between buildings, her head lowered, a hood covering her hair.

 

Crow gapes for a moment, then calls out to her. The woman continues on in silence, her back turned. When Crow pursues her, she only grows further away, until mounting frustration ultimately leads her to give up the chase. Crow turns back to the road. A small army marked with the Lion mon amasses on the horizon, marching back and forth, back and forth. Aside from the woman, it is the only sign of anyone else.

 

The army paces in their march, awaiting battle that does not come. Their standards are hazy, and though she rubs her eyes several times, she can’t quite focus on the mon; their colors and shape shift and change. It is Lion, and then it is Ki-Rin, and then it is Crane.

 

Just as she feels that she is on the brink of discerning what is truly on the standard, a sharp, distant scream echoes from somewhere outside of the castle. Crow turns and rushes toward it.

 

In the castle, Shio jerks around, staring in the scream’s general direction. Atsu hefts his tetsubo and thunders past Mugo. Shio darts after him.

 

[Atsu, shouting] “Excuse us!”

 

[Shio, calling back to Mugo] "Thank you!"

 

Torokai is leading Daiyu toward the cellar when his head whips around at the scream. He looks to her and nods. "With me, Kuni-san."

 

Another scream. It rises from the fields, where crimson-headed stalks of grain wave in an unfelt breeze. Atsu and Shio join Crow outside, Torokai and Daiyu soon after. After a bit of searching, they catch sight of a strange dip in the grain.

 

A perfectly square hole in the earth with a stone staircase set into it leads down to a heavy, iron-bound wooden door. Greenish sunlight tints it with sickly striations, like pulsating scars, with each sway of the grain above. As they descend, there is the sound of pitiful whimpering muffled behind the door: the sound of a human being in pain and terror.

 

The piteous moans taper off and a thick, uneasy silence fills the stairwell. Crow, alarmed, slams her shoulder into the door. It flies open, hinges squealing, to reveal a dark, stinking stone chamber, its walls coated with foul-smelling mold.

 

Chained to the wall by heavy iron manacles is the ragged, shrunken form of Shosuro Tokai, his body is covered with the scars of torture. His eyes roll piteously towards the door as it is shoved open. He moans weakly.

 

Standing in the middle of the chamber is a swollen, distorted humanoid form, its knobbly skin colored in overlapping blotches of blue, red, and yellow. A quartet of slit-pupiled yellow eyes gaze at the samurai with malevolent intelligence, and slaver drips past massive, yellowed fangs. A long purple tongue emerges to lick off its elephantine snout.

 

“He is mine.” [gurgled, distorted] “You cannot interfere, little samurai.”

 

Black claws slide free from its thick fingers.

 

[Atsu] "But we are interfering! Look, right now."

 

Crow's hand flies to the hilt of her sword. "It seems to think otherwise."

 

[Daiyu, snapping] “It is Baku-no-Oni. A servant of Jigoku.”

 

The baku gives a wet, smacking laugh, licking its snout, before lumbering forward with surprising speed. Atsu roars a kiai, his tetsubo swinging past its head with an echoing whoomph. The momentum makes him stumble, and the baku lashes out, digging its filthy claws into his shoulder.

 

Crow follows Atsu at a run, bringing her katana down in a powerful slash across the baku’s chest. The blade skitters against its leathery hide, but purple-blue blood sprays as she sprints past. The baku grunts and falters backward, releasing Atsu to grab at its wound.

 

Torokai growls and unsheathes his katana, falling into an aggressive stance and following up on Crow’s strike. His katana cuts once, clean into the thing's hide, then again for his ancestor, opening up another spray of blood. He retreats a step, the form complete. [shouting] “Watch its claws! Do not let it get hold of you!”

 

Daiyu scowls beneath the brim of her hat and draws forth a scroll. Her incantation manifests as a coiling, serpentine flame: a fire kami that wraps itself around her arm like a viper. She gestures at the baku and the kami lances forward, splattering against its chest and setting it alight. Yume-Do tints the flames an eerie green and red as they roar and bite at the beast’s multicolored hide.

 

Shio draws her blade and rushes in, wings flaring, adding height to her leap as she strikes at the baku’s face. Her katana clatters against its nose and tusks, drawing a line of blood. She lands beside it and whirls away from the flames. Crow follows through, arcing at its snout with a quick, upward slash.

 

The baku grabs after them, but its movements are sluggish and heavy, tiring. With a grunt, it shudders away to rush at Torokai, massive claws spread. He meets its charge, locking the blade of his katana with its claws. The baku snarls and twists, massive, blunt strength throwing Torokai’s balance enough that it can strike, cleaving the leather bindings of his shoulder armor and drawing blood.

 

Shio gives a rattling, metallic cry. She comes in low and leaps, her blade cleaving the snout of the baku clean from its face. It leaves a writhing, bleeding stump, and the malformed shadow of its mouth gapes in pain. The baku rears back with a wet, reverberating roar. Torokai exploits the advantage, slicing at its burned, bleeding chest with measured, powerful strikes despite his wounds.

 

Crow seizes the opportunity its snoutless-ness presents, thrusting her sword between its four eyes, into its skull. A cacophonous roar of pain punctuates the crunch of the blade penetrating bone. Its head twists away. Crow loses grip on her katana, the blade embedded in its skull like a monument, as blood pours down its ruined face in rivers of thick, sticky black.

 

Screaming, it lunges forward, its full body weight crashing down on Torokai, half-crushing the magistrate beneath it. He cannot contain a stifled yell of pain as the baku’s claws and teeth scrabble at him, tearing at his armor, shattering bone. The baku’s colors whirl across its body in dizzying spirals and whorls even as it smolders from Daiyu’s spells.

 

Face grim, Atsu raises his tetsubo high above his head. He brings it down, hard, hammering the hilt of Crow’s katana deep into the baku’s skull like a nail into a beam; Crow gives a cry of horror at the sight of her katana at his tetsubo’s mercy. The baku’s colors freeze. Its four eyes go wide in something like shock. The bellows of its breath hitch. With a high-pitched gasp, it slumps over.

 

The samurai stare at its unmoving body for a long moment, waiting for it to get up again. Then, they stagger into motion. Crow rushes over to pull her sword free from its skull, face frantic. When she finally extracts it with a wet squelch, a curious glow limns the tsuba, but it is otherwise unharmed. A similar light touches Atsu’s tetsubo, as though the wood has been dipped in honey. He frowns at it, turning the weapon over in his hands to examine the pommel, but the glow quickly fades.

 

Shio helps Torokai free himself from the weight of the baku, her feathers sticking out at odd angles with blood. Torokai looks at her scaled hand as she helps him stand, wariness and curiosity warring in his eyes, before they crinkle in a hesitant smile above his lion-mouth mempo. [pained laughter] “I am… unsure if this injury is real. The pain certainly is, though!" [grunt of pain]  Abruptly stoic, Torokai turns to Shosuro Tokai's crumpled form.

 

Tokai barely has the energy to look up as they approach, his wasted body supported only by the chains on the wall. Atsu shatters them with a quick swing of his tetsubo. With the baku’s power gone, they crumble and dissolve into dust. Crow catches Tokai as he begins to fall, supporting his weight. Torokai grunts and steps forward to assist, balancing the daimyo between their outstretched arms.

 

Unfurling a scroll, Daiyu steps forward, entreating the kami to cleanse Tokai’s wounds. Atsu digs in his satchel, producing bandages and herbs. Between the magic and some quickly constructed poultices, light returns to Tokai’s eyes, but his gaze is still distant and delirious, focusing on nothing.

 

[Crow, hesitant] "How do we… how do we return to our bodies?"

 

Shio nods towards the staircase out. "The... doorway of light? Perhaps now that the creature is gone, we can step back through?"

 

[Torokai] “Hmm. That is all we can try.” Torokai and Crow carry the shriveled man easily up the stairs.

 

Atsu stares at Shio uncomfortably, unused to seeing her in her true form. "Wherever we go, let it be away from the mold!"

 

The castle is quiet as they approach, and Mugo still sits in the main hall. He looks up as they approach and jumps to his feet at the sight of Tokai. "Otosan! Otosan, you're back! I was so afraid!"

 

Tokai strains weakly to hear the voice, turning in Crow and Torokai’s grasp. [mumbling] "Mugo… Mugo, you are here... my son… Mugo."

 

Atsu cranes his neck around to peer at Tokai, making sure he isn't about to suddenly defecate and die.

 

Shio blinks at the "otosan" and files it away with a thoughtful click of her beak. "Mugo-kun, do you know if there is anyone else here? Or—anything?"

 

[Atsu] "Perhaps, someone else here? With your father?"

 

Mugo rushes over to them. He blinks forward faster than the eye can follow, then reappears. Standing up, he is smaller, more frail. The boy shakes his head, smiling. "No one else.”

 

[Shio, smiling] "Thank you."

 

Crow looks around at the others, then to the boy, and then back to the others. "We should make haste."

 

Mugo tugs at Tokai's bloodied kimono. "I'll see you again, Otosan. I love you."

 

There is a moment's pause. The boy continues staring, watching silently, as Torokai begins to walk again, leading them away.

 

[Tokai, murmuring] "Stay, let me stay.” Tokai’s head lolls on his neck. His arms strain weakly at the samurai’s grips. Torokai’s eyes harden, but he continues on, leading them back upstairs towards the daimyo’s room.

 

[Crow, trying to reassure him] "You will see him again."

 

The daimyo's room is the same as it was left. The colors are just as bright and eerie, and the shimmering pattern of light is above Tokai's futon.

 

As they step through, it is like waking from an arresting, stubborn dream or deep sleep. They again return to their bodies, spirits twisting, filling empty vessels. Tokai immediately, jerkily wakes, gasping for breath and sitting bolt upright in his futon. His face crumples with shame.

 

Shio, once again in her human seeming, immediately sits up and bangs her head hard against the wall she'd slumped against. Crow rubs her face, brow knit, as she sits up. She scrambles to her feet once she realizes what's happened and hurries to check on Tokai.

 

[Tokai, raw and dry from lack of water] "I... I thank you, samurai. You have...saved me from my grief. But I cannot forgive myself for making myself the victim of an oni. I do not deserve to be daimyo. Or samurai."

 

[Crow, sympathetic] "Worry about such things later. For now, you should eat."

 

[Atsu, frowning, rumble] "Defeating an oni is no easy feat."

 

Kushiro rushes up the stairs at the servants’ frantic calls and sinks to Tokai's side. "Tokai-sama—you are alright!"

 

Tokai shakes his head several times. His kimono hangs like clothing on a scarecrow. "I—I must ask you to be my second, Kushiro-san. I cannot live with such shame."

 

Shio glances at Atsu, then back to Kushiro, blinking rapidly.

 

[Kushiro, stammering] "Surely you are exhausted, lord."

 

Crow frowns deeply, but says nothing at first. She steps away once Kushiro is there, standing next to Shio. "What happened was beyond your control, Shosuro-sama. Perhaps it would be best to meditate on this decision after eating and resting."

 

[Shio] "I must agree. You have been under great duress for quite some time, Shosuro-sama... It is not a decision made lightly, not under the circumstances you have suffered." Shio folds her hands away and closes her mouth, looking tired.

 

Tokai bows his head, eyebrows pulled together in thought.

 

[Daiyu, balefully] "Imagine if the Crab had abandoned the wall when the forces of darkness first showed their fury."

 

[Atsu] "Even on the Wall, we do not face oni alone. That you were able to stand up to it for so long, by yourself!" He clenches a fist audibly. "It is inspiring!"

 

Tokai nods, slowly, still looking torn. He shakes his head and sighs. "I... thank you, samurai. I will think on this wisdom."

 

Kushiro stands in one, smooth motion, folding his hands behind his back. He bows. "Thank you, samurai, for your assistance in retrieving my lord. I hope that this land may see some renewal, in time."

 

The samurai bow, but share an uneasy glance with one another once Kushiro has returned his attention to his lord.

 

By the time they have made their way back to the inn, it is clear that Torokai is as eager as any of them to leave this place. That night, they pack their things and prepare their ponies to continue their journey to Kitsune Mori. The dawn is fine and clear as they travel south.

 

As the samurai move on, Shosuro Tokai's shame sees its end. Bayushi Kushiro acts as his second.