Tales of the Sea Bitch (19)
The captain of the guard arrived about 15 minutes
after Tony asked. He told us that Usigo himself asked the same
question, so he had already researched it. He told us the names
of the guards, and that the door was always guarded. His
assistant Arawa was the only person who came and left. The
captain did not know whether he was carrying anything.
Tony pointed out to hte captain that the chest had
Hiruma's crest, and wanted to know if Arawa or anyone brought it
here. If he did, he carried his own body.
The captain said that it was clear that this was
Hiruma Usigo's chest, and it is clear that Arawa did not carry his own
body out of the room.
Miwa said she wanted to know if Arawa carried this
chest out of the room this morning.
The captain said he would check.
Three kittens then two? Three maids then
two? I remembered that Nantoko had be out and about when she met
Ryuden. Why was she out and around in the middle of the night
that Himitsu was killed? She was also not with the princess about
the time Arawa was being killed.
Miwa just nodded.
Tony asked if anyone had seen her after the murders,
saying he didn't think anyone had. Then there was also the
possibility that this was done by an outside agent with very powerful
players on the inside, meaning Niban and Koan.
I asked about the first play, if all three of the
maids were there then, but no-one remembered.
Miwa said that at the second play, the princess left
in the middle of it, but later Nantoko was there playing her musical
instrument, so she came back. She said that she wanted to talk to
the actress. She could certainly tell us what the note meant, if
she was the one who wrote it. Well, it was sure that both the
killer and the note writer -- if different -- were capable of appearing
as other people.
So off we went to talk to Shosuro Tage.
We were met at the door by a young Scorpion
actor. He was wearing a mask, dressed as if preparing to put on a
play. He greeted Miwa.
Miwa said she would like to speak with Shosuro Tage.
We were invited inside.
The rooms were a suite much like our own. A
common area with a balcony, and a few rooms off that. It appeared
that the room Tage came from was full of costumes on racks, props, and
the sound of several people talking quietly and moving around as if
they were getting ready for a play. Tage also seemed to be
preparing. She had makeup, and the beginnings of a costume.
She came in, sat down by the fire, but did not speak or even look at
Miwa also said nothing, but sat down next to her and
passed her the paper with the cat poem.
Tage read it and handed it back to her. Miwa
tucked it away.
((TOny looked around the room. It sounded like
three voices in the costume room. The actor who opened the door
for us had retired to the balcony, but left the door open and was
watching us carefully.))
It was clear that Tage was avoiding looking at Miwa,
attempting to hide or perhaps stifle her emotions.
Miwa said, "Perhaps we can have a private
Tage, still without looking at Miwa, that the whole
troupe was in the middle of preparing for tonight's performance.
She described the play briefly, then said that anything Miwa needed to
say, she could say in front of all here.
Miwa said, "Why did you give htis note to the person
you gave it to?"
She turned to look at Miwa. Phoebe noticed a
slight hint of surprise on her face, perhaps frollowed quickly by
annoyance. A moment later, she waved to the actor on the balcony,
and called, "Sake!", indicating all around.
I accepted the drink, but didn't drink it until
Peter did first.
Once the sake was served, she took a meaningful look
out hte open door to the balcony, and said, "Such a pleasant day for
walking in the garden." She looked back at Miwa. "The
imperial princess herself spent the morning among the willows.
She has three maids, no? Three lovely assistants, but only two
today, only two." She looked at Miwa as if to read her mind.
Miwa said, "One wonders where the third has gone."
"There are children's stories that say that the
Scorpion use Ninja to gather information. What they don't say is
sometimes even the finest actors lose themselves in their roles.
A pity." She said the last phrase with anger.
"Perhaps she will find the third by this evening?"
"What does Haruma-sama think?"
I said, "He thinks we can figure it out."
"What do you think?" Tage's gaze had not
shifted from Miwa.
Miwa said, "I think that a weapon can be over-used."
Tage was very obviously surprised by that. Her
tone of voice changed from actress-world-is-a-beautiful-place
converstational tone to a very serious question straight at Miwa.
She asked, "Will Hiruma-sama be presenting a case against Ryuden this
Miwa said, "When I spoke with him, I did not know
what he intended for this evening."
Tage looked horribly shocked, dropped her sake, rose
to her feet and turned away from Miwa. A second later, she
recomposed herself and turned back around, the actress again. She
smile and said in her serious voice, "I know who killed Himitsu and
Usigo, and I will tell you where they are hiding. But
first," talking to Miwa but looking around at us all. "You must
be certain, friends, that you know whose name you must kill in order to
save Ryuden's. I cannot help you wiht the decision, I can only
tell you this. Ryuden's name can only be cleared at great
cost. An innocent must be sacrificed. Are you prepared to
pay that price?"
The question was not expecting an immediate answer,
but Tage was waiting for Miwa to speak, still watching her.
"Please tell me." Miwa was standing now, as
were we all when Tage stood herself and did not sit back down.
She said this, in her serious tone: "There are
anceint unused basements beneath the kitchens. There," she
said softly, "There you will find the true killer, but be wary it has
many faces, and some of those may be your own." She paused to
stare a little longer, "If anyone asks, of course, I have not seen you
today." She turned and walked out onto the balcony past the actor
Miwa bowed in the direciton of the balcony, as did
we all, and we left.
Phoebe told us that Tage did not lie in her
presence, and that as far as she could tell was indeed herself.
I myself was kind of glad it wasn't Tage.
Tony said, in Imperial, "What do we say to who,
I said, "We say nothing. She does."
Miwa said, "Nothing yet, because rumors don't get us
anywhere. We're going to have to go down and confront the killer."
As we passed our rooms, Tony rushed in and came back
with two lanterns and extra oil.
I said, "Remember this, I can see in the dark.
Someone who looks like me and can't,l isn't me. What about the
rest of you?"
Miwa said that is was very likely whoever was down
there did not speak Imperial.
I laughed loudly at that, she was right. Damn,
but she's good.
"But just in case," she continued, "Is there
anything else?" Iruko of course did not speak Imperial, so that
wouldn't work for her. She asked Iruko if there was a way to tell
her from a fake.
Iruko thought a while, then said, "Teach me four
words in their language."
I said immediately, "You son of a bitch."
Iruko looked and said, is that four words or one?"
"In meaning, it's kind of one, but barbarians have
very short words." Miwa told her how many words it was and made
sure she could say it.
The rest of us, not just Tony, dressed for
battle. Of us all, Peter carried no weapon because of the wishes
of his god.
On the way down, we picked up Donku. He told
us that the basements were crumbling and the walls weak, and the other
kitchen staff said there were ghosts down there. We taught Donku,
"Avast, me hearties!" Miwa explained that there were ghosts down
there and some of them looked like us.
One of the kitchen came to Tony, who had asked for
more lamp oil, and said there was none. They did have torches,
One more passphrase -- when Donku asks "Who goes
there?" we say "King Friday."
Phoebe was speaking quietly in her own language,
probably summoning her spirits to protect her.
I asked Miwa if we wanted to take him alive.
She said she wasn't sure yet. I said she needed to be sure now,
because I wasn't going to stop in the middle of a fight to ask.
Miwa said it didn't really matter. Good enough for me.
At the lower level, it was like the kitchen above in
that it was a large open space. I was regretting not bringing my
bow, since Miwa had decided that we shouldn't split up and so didn't
have someone guarding the exit. Rooms and hallways led off this
After some cautious searching, we came across an old
dried blood trail. It lead to a pair of ovens, a large tunnel at
waist level that went about 20 feet into the wall. I could see
someone at the end.
It came at us fast, very fast, at astonishing
speed. It was at least humaniod, and made a flying leap out of
the tunnel, smashing straight into me.
Without thinking I did a stop-thrust. It
connected but the guy slammed into me. I was knocked over,
knocked out, and was sure I was going to die.
Our people surrounded it, but it was up and ready to
attack. It looked like Miwa.
Phoebe rushed over to me and touched me, her spirits
pouring life into me, finding my spirit loose and shoving it back into
my body. She collapsed immediately from exhaustion.
Miwa, Tony, and Donku thrust forward to
attack. Taking it alive was clearly no longer an option. A
dead demon would work just as well. They pounded it hard, while
it screamed and spat and while looking like Miwa -- complete with the
two swords -- sure didn't act like her.
I stood up carefully, patting her gently knowing she
was going to be ok if we killed this thing.
Again the three attacked strongly, although it
dodged all their moves.
I moved forward and charged in to join the
attack. Tony had dropped his shield for another sword and struck
four times, landing two of them. It kept dodging, but I stabbed
into the vitals and clearly hurt it.
The demon struck Miwa hard in response, but she
We kept at it, Tony and Miwa slicing with their two
weapons and getting a couple of blows in. Donku whacked it a
solid blow with his frying pan. My strike to the vitals was
In the background, Peter had restored Phoebe's
strength. She was ready to heal again.
Miwa had not yet folded under the rain of blows, but
I had no idea how.
Tony again landed a couple of strikes, but Miwa's
and Donku's were dodged, as was mine.
The demon struck one more devastating blow on Miwa,
who stood there swaying as her double finally went down dead.
I was so not ready for that opponent.
Greenskins were large straw targets compared with this.
As it died, over a few seconds its shape
shifted. The body looked roughly like Nantoko's, except the face
turned blank and featureless, mere indentations for eyes, and black
smoke escaped from its silently screaming mouth. She had a very
large shadow brand on her back and neck, a mark associated with dark
ritual of the Scorpion clan.
And to think that I contemplated hitting on the two
young maids. I felt kind of sick.
Phoebe and Peter cooperated to heal everyone, Peter
restoring what the spirits took out of my girl, and Phoebe's spirits
healing his body from the strain. Peter and Phoebe were exhausted
by the effort, however. Phoebe rested against me, and I was very
glad I could feel her touch after that battle.
Miwa knew that if it became widely known that the
maid was this creature, or had been infected in this way, it would
reflect badly on the princess and be a dishonor to her. How
convenient! People would either believe she knew a Scorpion spy
was working for her, or she didn't know and her family should have
known. Nice to know the innocent whose name must be killed
wasn't so innocent after all. She herself was innocent, but her
position by supposed ancestry wasn't.
Of course we couldn't carry the body away
itself. As Miwa said, we had to bring Asako down here.
Since she also wanted to blame everything on Nantoko, she'd have to
fetch Isawa Tomo too. She dispatched Tony with the message to
Asako and then Isawa, who was obviously very glad to get out of the
dark. The message said she had important information to show them
relating to this morning's unfortunate events.
About ten or fifteen minutes later, they
arrived. Asako, Tomo, and Isawa Uona (winner of the contest, if
you remember that from a previous story).
The three of them, first Isawa Tomo and then Asako,
and then Uona examined the body without touching it. The two men
then stepped away while it was Uona's turn. They looked angry.
Uona asked the questions.
First, if this was Kakita Nantoko. Miwa said
"And she killed Miyara Himitsu and Hiruma Usigo?"
"Yes, and Hiruma Arawa."
All three looked at Miwa. Uona said, in a voice that
indicated Miwa should think about the answer, "Are you sure?"
Miwa did not hesitate. In a very firm voice,
she said, "Yes."
First the two men and then Uona turned and
leave. They looked very disappointed.
I said that the rest of the story need never come up
Miwa said that would depend on what they did to
us. But it would be very clear to them what Miwa would do.
She believed that one of them, probably Tomo, would make some formal
announcement that it was the maid who killed all three. He would
be required to send a letter to the Emperor telling him what
happened. There would be a whole lot of political fallout from
this, and she couldn't even imagine how far it would go.
The princess's honor would take a hit. Maybe
she would be completely shunned here for the remainder of the court, in
which case she would simply leave. More likely is that the more
honorable suitors would look somewhere else.
As Tony pointed out, that ensured there wouldn't be
a Miyara tied to the princess ever, so if "something" came up later the
family wouldn't be involved.
We went back to our rooms. We'd have a dinner
to attend later, of course, so we managed to get some rest and clean
up. Our designated servant from Miwa's entourage took our armor
to be repaired.
Later, though, a message arrived saying that the
night's banquet would be cancelled.
I sent out for food to eat in the rooms, like the
others did too, but in my case to be washed down with about as much
sake as I could pour down my throat. I actually tried to drink
enough to get smashed drunk, but had to settle for getting as many
other of us drunk as I could.
Knowing that there would be a lot of people
seriously upset with her, Miwa told us that none of us could walk
around safely alone. Any of her samurai, meaning us, could be a
target. Now it might be unlikely, since Asako and Isawa's seemed
to accept it, but it was better to play it safe.
Glossary of people who might be
important at the Winter Court.
Otomo Yoroshiku - Emperor's Niece, second in line to the throne behind
the Emperor's son.
Hida Yauta - Yoroshiku's maid servant, the big one.
Kitsu Saia - Yoroshiku's maid servant
Kakita Nantoko - Yoroshiku's maid servant
Mirumoto Hansu - Yoroshiku suitor, Dragon Clan
Miyara Sanru - Yoroshiku suitor, Phoenix Clan
Miyara Ryuden - Yoroshiku suitor (sorta), Phoenix Clan
Miyara Ujimitsu - Phoenix Champion, Miwa's father
Miyara Himitsu - Young man traveling with Ujimitsu
(wispers are he'll be the next Phoenix Champion)
Shinjo Gidayu - Unicorn daimyo who started your previous journey
Isawa Tomo - Elemental master (of Earth ?)
Asako Kagetsu - Your host at Gisu Palace
Koan - Shugenga from the village of Nightengale
Shosuro Tage - formost actree of the Imperial troupe
Hiruma Usigo - ranking Emerald Magistrate, just retired, headed for
monastery in spring