Chapter 118: A Thief in the Night
Far off in the distance, a shape in the night, all right. On a mission of mercy, if the price is right. He tries to possess her and she bites. It's a ritual slaying, but the tables are turned, oh no. And now he's prayin', but it's his turn to burn.
Like a thief in the night - she breaks into his heart. Like a thief in the night - she never leaves her mark.
In a hotel chamber, on a cryptic note. 'Cos where there's fire, there's gotta be smoke, oh no. Footsteps in the twilight, and red nails 'round his throat. It's a ritual slaying, without strings attached, oh no. And now he's praying, but there's no turning back.
Like a thief in the night - she breaks into his heart. Like a thief in the night.
"Thief In The Night"
All the way back to the house after the meeting with Bayushi Korechika, I worried over him, over my mother, over the obvious message that Ashidaka's death sent. About Scorpions, opium, Bayushi Yojiro. About my birthday, for heaven's sake.
As we entered the outer courtyard, it was filled with gifts. Birthday gifts, for me of course. What the hell was going on? I supposed just ignoring everything would make the fewest waves.
Then Toni sidled up to me, looking sheepish. "You remember yesterday, when we were looking at the place where Ashidaka was murdered. I went into a shop to gather information. Well, I bought something. You know, just to blend in, so it didn't look I was just there to pump the shopkeeper. Prime the pump, sort of. So I bought a present. For my ladyship's birthday..." He trailed off.
Toni was the reason everyone thought it was my birthday. I immediately saw humour in the situation. Still, I had just berated Bayushi Korechika over the matter. So I decided to take care of things just a little differently.
I walked through the outer courtyard and into the inner courtyard, which was blissfully empty and quiet. I completely ignored the gifts. And I struck up a conversation with Furedu, making sure Sun would also hear it. I oh-so-casually mentioned the true date of my birthday. And just left it at that.
Within a couple of hours, everything was cleared away. The merchants knew that Toni had lied about my birthday, but it didn't matter, and I was certain he wouldn't care about it.
In the meantime, I felt very on edge. I was worried, confused, and completely frustrated. So I asked Toni to spar with me for a while, which he accepted gladly. He's a good opponent, good enough to go full out even with real blades rather than the wooden practice swords. He sweated most of my frustration out.
A long hot bath restored me in time for dinner. We ate, and talked, and wound up the evening with another perusal of the scrolls meant for Bayushi Yojiro.
Someone asked about Ide Baranato, and I found a few mentions of him.
The Emerald Magistrate before Ashidaka -- Shigeko -- had written a note about him, so I started there. She said that Ide Baranato essentially ran the Unicorn clan here despite not being the head of the family in the city. She found that fortunate, because he was a man of honor. She also mentioned that he was also a skilled healer. Toni asked if that meant that he was shugenja, or a doctor like Peter, but I couldn't tell from what she wrote.
After an altercation with a ronin called Ample, Shigeko went to Ide Baranato. While he was putting her arm back in its socket, they talked about Ample's skills. Then he told her that she shouldn't be afraid to tell him her arm was in pain, that if she told him where it hurt he would be better able to make the pain stop. "Or would the shame of admitting pain be worse than the pain itself," he asked her. She looked at him to see if he was joking, and he was somewhat, but she could also see that her pain hurt him as well. She wrote, "Ide Baranato was a compassionate man, but there was more than kindness. Something unyielding was at the back of his gaze, something I had seen in the eyes of the Emerald Champion, and of a couple of other people. Those men who had seen death, naked suffering, and understood these things but had not been broken by them, it gave them strength, and I believed Baranato had the same strength."
I next read through a piece from Memoirs of an Opium Eater, and then summarized it for my horde. Apparently Ide Baranato blamed True Word for his son's death, and turned him away from the funeral. Shonagon's opinion was that if True Word was to blame, then so were almost all of the funeral guests to blame.
Fibi pointed out that we all knew that Ashidaka wasn't making waves, but at the same time got someone mad enough to kill him in a visible manner. Something had to have happened that couldn't be ignored by the Emerald Magistrate, and that got him killed. If we figured out what that was, then we'd be closer to understanding.
Shonagon also discussed Ide Michikane himself. He had been found dead in the upstairs room of the Morning Star, presumably somewhere in the Licensed Quarter. A pipe by his side, an empty sake cup, and bottles. Someone said he had been drinking Liquid Void.
Fibi had been vague, but I think she meant that the death of Baranato's son, Ide Michikane, might have been such an incident.
She might have a point. The death-by-opium of the son and heir of the man who was essentially the head of the Unicorn clan might have been too much to ignore, forcing Ashidaka to look into things too deeply for the opium cartels to ignore.
Maybe. It was a thin straw to grasp.
I looked for further information, and found Shonagon's account of a horse race involving Ide Michikane, Bayushi Otado (the son of Bayushi Korechika), and True Word. It was very long, and I again gave a quick summary to my horde. I was uncertain of the importance beyond simply giving us a glimpse of characters.
Ide Michikane and Bayushi Otado wagered their horses on a race three times around the city, with True Word acting as spotter at Fisherman's Gate to make sure no-one took a short cut there. The Peasant's Gate was allowed as a permissible way back into the city so that the contestants didn't have to go through the leatherworkers' quarters. Ide Michikane rode through anyway, thus saving a considerable amount of distance and winning the race.
It wasn't cheating, but it was a somewhat distasteful and questionable way to win. More Scorpion -- winning by the letter rather than the spirit of the rules -- than Unicorn. However, he refused to take Bayushi Otado's horse, and things ended quietly, if not happily.
It was about nine months after the race that Ide Michikane was found dead.
I found information on Bayushi Otado as well. Shigeko described Otado as "the opposite of Korechika in looks and personality, despite being his son." She also implied his ancestry might be in doubt, although she admitted there seemed to be nothing that indicated such a thing by his mother. She also admitted there was some small likeness after all, so I don't know what to make of her innuendoes.
She found Michikane to be "charming, handsome, a fine hunter, and a warm and sincere courtier." She wrote that he was widely liked and admired, and seemed to have no enemies within the city. His parents loved him and he seemed like he had a strong future.
I paused for some tea, and no one had any other questions. Toni took the opportunity to ask Furedu and me about the right way to go about learning techniques like those of the Swaying Tree he'd seen yesterday. Furedu confirmed what I'd told him about minor schools using techniques such as yesterday to recruit new students.
Toni asked if maybe someone could be sent here, or if he could go to a specific person, rather than to the school itself. I told him Furedu can arrange such things, around Toni's duties to Miyara, of course. So Furedu agreed to look into the school and discover if someone would come to the Emerald Magistrate's house to teach him.
Furedu paused several breaths, then said quietly, "It would certainly be possible to invite a ronin into the Emerald Magistrate's house for training. It would reflect negatively on the house."
Toni nodded. "So I need to either go to a school or go to a samurai from another house, with permission from both sides."
"Yes, whether you went there or they here would reflect the same."
"If we employed someone like True Word, as has been done in the past ... that would be completely different?"
Meili, Fibi, and Toni considered a visit to the Licensed Quarter, but decided not tonight. I was relieved Meili showed good sense. I half expected her to simply disappear over there one night on her own, but instead she preferred to go in force, and to know what to expect once there.
I took the opportunity to ask Furedu about Bayushi Yojiro himself. Who he was, what sort of man he was, people's opinions of him and rumours about him, where he might be instead of being here. I assumed that he would ask around and return with information in a day or two. Instead, he told me directly about him, and he knew quite a lot.
"He's known as the honest scorpion," Furedu began. "Bayushi Yojiro was sent to the Scorpion's school for courtiers."
That meant he was trained neither as a bushi nor as a shugenja, I explained to my horde. "Scorpions have a reputation of being dishonest, and harsh, and underhanded. To them, an enemy is one for a purpose, and anything that works against your enemy is counted as a good."
Then Furedu told a story about Bayushi Yojiro.
Bayushi Yojiro is not like a typical Scorpion. He was a quick study, he understood all the courtier's techniques that he was taught, and he used them well. But he didn't have the cold-bloodedness his teachers naturally expected of him.
So they tested him. They told him that a certain Crane had been to Scorpion lands, where he visited a brothel. He was apparently unhappy with the service he received, they told him. He had killed everyone inside it, burned the building down to the ground, and then returned home without a thought. Bayushi Yojiro was given the task to set the man up to die. He was to arrange for someone else to dishonor and kill him, to destroy him utterly. Of course, a Scorpion would act in this underhanded manner, instead of making a clean and open challenge.
With that information, Bayushi Yojiro instantly hated the Crane for his utterly despicable and depraved actions. So he went about fulfilling his task gladly. He arranged everything, carefully and thoroughly.
On the night before the final events were to take place, Bayushi Yojiro's teachers came to him and explained that everything they'd told him was a lie. The Crane had done none of those things -- it was actually another Scorpion who had killed everyone in the brothel and burned it down. Simply to set up the test for Bayushi Yojiro, not even out of his own pure rage.
Destroying someone out of hatred is an entirely selfish act, his teachers explained to him. Doing so for clan loyalty was appropriate, however. Bayushi Yojiro was expected to see out his task out of loyalty, instead of hatred. Or, he could end everything and walk away.
Had he walked away from his assigned duty, he would have been dead by morning, of course. Having accepted the task from his clan, he was honor-bound to see it through.
Bayushi Yojiro chose the path of loyalty, and ever since he's served the Scorpion clan well. But he has gained the reputation of being the only honest scorpion. It is believed that the Emerald Champion chose him for an Emerald Magistrate because of that reputation. Not enough of a reason: you don't send a Scorpion to police a nest of them.
It is rumoured that Bayushi Yojiro has been delayed at his family home, caring for his dying mother.
Dying mother was like a spike in my heart. Damned Scorpions.
The night ended quickly after that, and we retired for the night. I lay awake for some time, but finally fell into sleep.
Screams. Alarms. Guards shouting. Meili shouting.
I popped awake instantly to the racket in the middle of the night. Even in the dark, I knew exactly where my swords were, and they were close to hand as always. Without thinking, I leapt to my feet, grabbed my katana, and bolted out the door, meeting Toni in the hall. He'd apparently done the same, as he was holding his own katana.
We ran down the stairs, seeing Meili ahead of us. One hand gripped her rapier, her other her bow. No arrows, though.
The three of us slid to a halt at the front gate, where the guards humbly explained that they opened the door for Fibi, who was then abducted by horsemen.
Abducted? They simply opened the door for Fibi -- wearing nothing but her nightclothes -- never asking her what she needed and how they might help her, and let her walk into the street in the middle of the night? And watched horsemen grab her from the street and make off with her?
I found myself unable to utter a single word in sheer fury, and my hand held my katana with a death-grip. Toni asked if anyone followed them. No. Meili asked who it was, her face pale, her eyes blazing. Scorpion, but that's all they knew.
Horses appeared at the gate. I leapt up on one and we flew into the night. Toni followed close behind me, and Meili and one of the house guards closely behind him.
I didn't know where to go, but I listened carefully over my own horse's hoofbeats. And I heard faint screams. Fibi, I was certain.
It was a nightmare ride, following Fibi's screams through the dark streets at full tilt. Toni fell behind, but I could still hear him behind me, and I couldn't afford to let them get away from us. He shouted, in a carrying voice, "Stop the Craven Thief!"
The din ahead of me headed along the wall towards one of the main gates out of the city. Which holds the headquarters of the city guard. Outside of which is the Leatherworkers' quarter, which any samurai will generally avoid. It's also the gate you use to get to the Licensed Quarter.
Was he a guard? A bandit? I didn't even want to contemplate the possibilities if he were headed to the Licensed Quarter.
I urged the horse faster, and he finally came in sight. Just one horseman, not a group. Fibi's screams were piercing now, and I could see her laid across the saddle in front of him, kicking futilely. "Open the gate!" he was yelling over her screams. Good for her, to make it obvious that something was wrong.
I countered, "Keep those gates closed, by the order of the Emerald Magistrate!" Poor Fibi shrieked hysterically in Nipponese, Imperial, and something else.
The guards stood still, leaving the gate closed, thank the gods. My quarry stopped his horse fast, pushed Fibi off onto the ground, wheeled around, and charged at me, drawing his katana.
I accelerated towards him, hurling insults at the dog, and we met with a clash of katanas. He sliced into me, easily through the nightclothes I was wearing. I had to work harder to get through his armor, but I gave him an evil slash in return. I slowed my horse and turned it as fast as I could, ready to go at him again, only to see the coward fleeing!
I set out after him, naming him the coward he was. Hoping Fibi behind me was fine, assuming the guards would care for her, wishing the fool I chased would crash into Toni, who must be near by now. I felt a sting, dead center in my chest. A rock cast up by the hooves of the horse in front? A bee? At night? I looked down, and saw a dart. I glanced around, but saw no one else in the dark, and the man in front of me fell from his horse. Both of us were hit by darts? Snarling, I pulled it out and cast it from me as I approached the man on the ground. I pulled my horse to a halt, slid off its back, and knelt at the man's side.
Dead. I heard hooves, probably Toni. I cursed, frustrated that the damned kidnapper was beyond my reach, and looked for a dart like mine, and didn't find one. Toni rode up and dismounted.
While I gave him a very brief explanation, Toni cleaned up my wound, which I now felt. One of the house guards rode up. "Where's Meili?" asked Toni. "She required that I ride on," he answered. I felt numbed.
"Where's Fibi?" Toni asked me, working on the bleeding gash in my side.
"Back at the gate." I pushed my words through the grey fog.
"Should I go get her?"
Before I could get my tongue to form words, the guard said he would go and get her.
I pulled myself together, told Toni that I had been hit by a dart, which I'd thrown into the street as I rode. I told him right after I'd been hit, the man had tumbled to the ground. It was as much as I could manage. My vision closed in, and the fire in my chest consumed me entirely.
I opened my eyes to see a pale Peter bending over me, and a ghostly Fibi behind him. I sat up, and saw the familiar courtyard. I quickly determined that my entire horde was here, alive and well. My own well-being was apparently a close thing, since the dart was poisoned, of course. Fibi's and Peter's skills were up to the battle, once again. No matter how odd the package, Fate always provides what is needed.
City guards were questioning Toni, and I heard the last of it. He was mistakenly under the impression that I had felled the honourless coward. I spoke with the captain of the city guard, and explained what happened.
Some measure of my anger returned, although much abated since everyone was unharmed in the end. I learned little enough from the captain, but he swore to return and give me the identity of the cur.
This was, after all, a direct insult to the office of the Emerald Magistrate and Miyara, as well as a personal insult to me.
The guard returned the next day, with little more useful information. The so-called samurai who abducted Fibi was a Scorpion of a very minor family. No one knew why he was out at that hour, or why he took Fibi. His family stated that they had no grudge against Fibi, and no reason for him to assault her. Of course, they would say that no matter what. Since he failed, they would have to distance themselves.
The guard agreed with Fibi's assessment that the fool saw a woman standing in the street in the middle of the night, assumed she was merely a peasant, and carried her off on a whim.
Perhaps true, but no less an insult.
The next day -- today -- we stayed in, recovering both physically and mentally from the attack. Toni and Meili are downstairs conspiring together over sake. Fibi's been either napping or in a trance. I have no idea what Peter and Grieg are up to. Although Peter drove the poison out and healed the effects of the poison, and Fibi healed the gash in my side, I simply needed some time to myself.
I have many pieces, but I don't know their true meanings or their relationships to each other, if any.
Is my mother in some sort of trouble? If so, what? What about father? Was this attack on Fibi an attack on Miyara, or just random idiocy? What about the events at Winter Court and their aftermath? What about the death of Ashidaka, and our looking into it? What about the mother of the new an delayed Emerald Magistrate?
Try as I might, I can't fit anything together. I have pieces, but from how many puzzles? And where's the glue that binds it all?