Part 12: In Which We Are Posted to the Back of Beyond

Chapter 114: In the Street

Situated north of Nancy, just a little east of west. People there do what they fancy, dressed in fancy dress. So take a trip to green street green and get yourself a little scene. Everything is kind of groovy down at green street green.

~ Herman's Hermits,
"Green Street Green"

Once dinner was over, I was ready for the next task: search the Emerald Magistrate's quarters thoroughly to see what there was to see.

I couldn't interest anyone in the search, though. Meili hit the sake again and pressed it onto everyone else, and everyone else seemed just as happy to sit and drink as do anything else.

So I went alone. The first thing I did was to unlock the cabinet and look through it carefully, in case there was something of interest that Jorege had not mentioned that morning. The strongbox of cash. A large number of records. Scrolls full of numbers. Nothing Jorege hadn't discussed.

There were a few small knickknacks, meant for displaying on shelves or walls. My only guess as to why they were locked in the cabinet rather than displayed is that they were gifts that were given to the magistrate that he didn't want but couldn't do anything with. Because they were gifts, he couldn't give them to anyone else. Some were little jars, but I didn't bother opening them. They would be either empty, just for display, or might hold incense or perfume or some such.

But that leather satchel I knew was meant for Bayushi caught my eye. I was operating under such a handicap, any information could only help me. As long as Bayushi doesn't know I looked at it, he won't care.

The satchel held a collection of scrolls and a letter from the Emerald Champion to the incoming Emerald Magistrate of Ryoko Owari. The greeting went on for many long-winded and altogether too cloying words. The letter was dated about a month ago. Glancing through the scrolls, I saw they were an interesting collection, and nothing personal at all.

The first one I saw was Memoirs of an Opium Eater. This infamous little work was all the rage at Winter Court, and it seems all over Nippon. This copy differs a little from the one circulating, however. The public copies are all anonymous, and no actual names are used within for the people she writes about. This copy is intact. The Emerald Champion warns not to publicize anything from it, and also to remember that the author is unreliable, due to the opium that eventually took her life.

Another scroll detailed the exact responsibilities and jurisdiction -- where it began and ended -- of an Emerald Magistrate. That would be quite useful to me, so I can at least avoid unnecessarily overstepping myself.

Yet another was the collected wisdom of the magistrate prior to Ashidaka -- Shigeko. Various notes on people and factions that would be very useful.

The last collection was a tourist's guide to the city, written about fifty years ago. From its utterly glowing accounts of the city's attractions, I can only guess it was written by some merchant's association in an effort to draw visitors here to spend their money.

I bundled it all up and left it on the desk while I searched the rest of Ashidaka's rooms. Just a suite that was now mostly empty, even of furniture. If there had been anything of any interest at all, his widow had taken it with her. So I took the packet of scrolls to the gathering room near our rooms. We'd claimed it for ourselves, and I'd heard Meili organizing everyone to move there after dinner.

It was a comfortable room, with low tables and cushions and some truly lovely pieces on the walls. The fire crackled merrily in the fireplace, and my horde was lounging in their houseclothes, gathered around a table well-stocked with sake and cups.

I dropped down at the table, placed the scrolls on it, and gladly accepted a cup of sake from Meili. Toni was already well on his way to being soused, and Grieg looked a bit unsteady as well. Fibi was glowing a bit, and Peter looked quite relaxed.

I opened the packet, and told everyone the invaluable information it contained. I envisioned a late night, sipping sake, reading through the scrolls, and discussing what they contained.

No one seemed interested at all. Fibi looked at the map and some of the scrolls, but of course she couldn't read them. The rest were interested only in the sake. I tried, but couldn't get any curiosity out of anyone.

I aimed for Peter. I told him he should speak with Eyebrows tomorrow -- the eta who had examined Ashidaka's and True Word's dead bodies. Shigeko had a paragraph about him, and I summarized, figuring that would pique Peter's interest. Eyebrows is apparently well-known for his gifts in reading both the dead and the living and seeing immediately what ails them, or what killed them. Peter expressed some interest, but asked no questions, and the conversation fell flat.

Fine, then. Without another word, I gathered up everything and retired to my room, where I stayed up late reading things rather haphazardly. Perhaps tomorrow my horde would regain their more usual inquisitiveness.

Morning found us all at the breakfast table enjoying the fine food laid out for us. Only Toni seemed to be suffering from the ill effects of the sake, and he stomped around scowling at everyone.

I'd continued sipping sake late into the night while I read the scrolls. When I awoke to a ray of sun stabbing into my eye, I felt just the faintest touch of one of the headaches that sometimes render me all but immobile. But it faded away before it took root, and I felt fine after all. Since I had no idea when Bayushi might deign to show up, I carefully packed everything back up and replaced it in the cabinet. That way, if he happened to arrive while we were out for the day, I would not have to hand it to him later and explain why it was in my possession.

I was only halfway through my breakfast when Furedu came in and politely announced that the city magistrate was here, as I had requested, and ready to escort us to the place where Ashidaka and True Word had been killed. I told him to have the magistrate wait while we finished our breakfast and we would join him in the courtyard when we were ready.

By the time we found ourselves in the courtyard, Toni had gotten Peter to take care of his hangover, and Sun had gotten horses ready for us all, plus even a rickshaw for Peter, who did not care to ride.

The neighborhood of the Little Gate wasn't far from the Noble Quarter. The side street was a quiet one, lined with small shops that catered to samurai ladies from the Noble Quarter.

The magistrate gestured around the general area, and said this was the place. Fibi took that quite literally and sat down in the middle of the road and went off into one of her trances. Luckily, people steered clear of us just on principle. Meili stood protectively over the girl, unnecessarily warning people away with her attitude.

Toni looked around carefully, looking for possible ambush sites. Having determined there were none, he expressed interest in a snack bar, or somewhere he could find some tea or a sandwich so he could discreetly pump people for information. These weren't the kinds of shops that sold food or tea, but I assured him that if he entered any of the shops looking like he was interested in buying something, tea would be provided. And ample opportunity for chatting people up for information.

I figured I might have to play the lady to get answers, but I was more than willing to let Toni try first. If he succeeded, I wouldn't have to giggle and buy some silly frippery.

So Toni picked a likely looking shop and wandered in. In the meantime, Meili stood over the oblivious Fibi in the street, Peter and Grieg looked around the street with interest, and the city magistrate tried not to look like he was staring at my horde behaving strangely in a city street. I surreptitiously watched him, although there was in truth nothing to watch. And I watched the shop doors and the alleys and listened, though I heard nor saw nothing untoward.

After several minutes, Toni returned. As he walked up, Fibi emerged from her trance, looking puzzled. She stood up, looked all around her at the street, and explained what she saw.

She had not found Ashidaka's spirit, nor that of True Word. Instead, she had seen the spirits of many people, all still under the influence of opium. She was disturbed and puzzled by the fact that the spirits were still affected by the drug. I thought -- though I said nothing, for why? -- that perhaps what she saw was a representation of the spirit of a sickly city.

When she was done, Toni pointed at a spot in front of a different shop than the one he visited. "I didn't really fit into the stores here," he quipped, "but the carriage appears to have burnt there, in front of that one."

Fibi nodded and sat on the spot he indicated and vanished again. Not physically, of course, but there's no question some vital part of her is lacking when she goes talking to spirits. Meili stood over her protectively again. Fibi was not gone long.

She came out of her trance violently, her body jerking in shock, her eyes wide and staring, terror and agony written plainly on her face. She screamed wordlessly, and fell back. It was so sudden and unlike her, we all froze for a moment. Although Meili belatedly tried to catch her before her head hit the paved road, she just missed.

Meili fell on the ground beside Fibi and gently cradled her in her arms. "Peter!" she screamed. He was already on his way and knelt beside her. "Fix it!" Meili told him, her eyes wild.

It did not take long for Fibi to stir and wake. She looked around wildly, and her eyes settled on Meili. She relaxed and smiled. "I'm not on fire, "she sighed. Fire. So this was the place where Ashidaka died. Exactly the place.

Which Fibi confirmed once she felt more like herself. She went into the spirit world, only to be trapped in the echoes of the fire that had taken Ashidaka. Trapped in place, just like him, burning horribly. Somehow she managed to cast herself back into her body, but it was apparently a near thing. She'd taken no physical damage, but terrible psychic damage in the spiritual conflagration.

Toni asked if maybe she moved to another place, she could find True Word, but it seemed that her first trance had been where he had actually fallen. Fibi finished healing herself of whatever ailed her spirit, and rather reluctantly sat down on the street again, carefully away from the eight month-old fire.

Meili did not stand watch over her this time, but instead sat next to her and watched her, never taking her eyes away.

Fibi stayed away a long time, while we watched and worried. Her body kept breathing, though, so perhaps all was well. When she returned, in her usual quiet way, she said she found no one.

Eyebrows next, said Meili. Toni said the matter of True Word's scrolls was next, since the city magistrate was right here with us. Well, not right with us -- he remained some paces distant, watching Fibi warily. We asked him about them, and he said they'd been given to a temple for safe keeping.

That left Eyebrows, our next target.



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