Tales of the Sea Bitch (26)


    It was after dinner on the day we'd met the governor, Shosuro Hyobu.  We'd been talking about Ashidaka Naritoki, his death, his body, and whether to examine his rotting corpse.
    The sake was flowing quite freely.  I was making sure Toni and Grieg were getting plenty, with the object of getting Toni drunker than Grieg, but it didn't seem like I'd made any difference.
    Miwa slipped off early too look around the magistrate's office.

    ((Miwa found in the cabinet the strongbox, all sorts of records, and so on.  Also in the cabinet were several knick-knacks, probably gifts to hte magistrate that he didn't want to display but couldn't get rid of.  Some were jars of something or other.  Also was a leather document satchel, not very thick, but with some papers in it.  Inside was a letter from the Emerald Champion addressed to "My Honored Esteemed Loyal Incoming Magistrate of Ryoko Owari," on top of a packet of scrolls.
    These scrolls described the rights, duties, and responsiblities of the Emerald Magistrate, but the majority was a dossier on the entire city.  An outgoing magistrate would normally update it and pass it on to the next one, but in this case the Emerald Champion had updated and combined it with other documents.
    Miwa scanned it briefly to pick out the important stuff, then put it back.  She had other things to examine.
    After the office, she then went on to examine other rooms that the magistrate might have used.  There was also a bedroom, and a few smaller rooms of indistinct purposes -- dressing room, dining room, whatever, impossible to tell now there was no furniture.  Other than the cabinet, however, all the personal stuff had been cleared out already, presumably by the magistrate's widow.
    Finally, Miwa took the satchel and came back down to see if anyone was still awake.))

    Later on, Miwa returned and joined us in the common room near our bedrooms.  Getting her drunk was way too hard and doomed to failure.
    She announced that we now had a lot of information about the city from various sources.  There's an old history of the city, "Memoirs of an opium eater", visitor guide from 50 years ago painting way too bright a picture, and so on.  Notes on customs, people, groups of people, places, a map...
    Toni asked who we should shake down for money.  Miwa said that would be whoever was listed in the records as owing back taxes.
    And the night carried on.  Drunks, but no entertainment.
    Miwa suggested that Peter should speak with Eyebrows.  There was information in the scrolls about him.  He was a herbalist and surgeon, and good at "dead reading", determining how someone died.  He could tell what type of weapon caused a wound, how long ago, and from what direction.
    But her words fell on deaf ears.  Everyone was too drunk to care, or just didn't care anyway.  Miwa took the scrolls for bedtime reading.  Later she would tell me that what I would call the good bars would be on Teardrop Island, the Licensed Quarter.  She didn't really tell me why, just that it was where the troublemakers were.
    Finally, Toni went to sleep it off, with Grieg following right behind him.  The party had broken up.

    Toni clearly had a hangover the next morning.  He was decidedly grumpy, complaining about there being no coffee.  If it was possible for someone to slam their boots, he did it.  Grieg looked concerned and told him he didn't look so good.
    Breakfast was good, up to Donku's usual standard.  Toni seemed a bit apprehensive, but managed to get a full meal down.  Not much conversation from him, though.
    Furede told us that the man from the magistrate's office was here to show us the death site.  We'd deal with him after breakfast -- he could wait for us, decided Miwa.

    Son had arranged a covered rickshaw for Peter, and horses for the rest of us.  They were waiting in the courtyard when we emerged from breakfast.  With a grin I pointed out to Peter that the nice thing about horses as opposed to carriages is you can't be jammed inside one when it's set on fire.

    The site was about three miles away, so it didn't take us too long to get there even at walking pace.
    Toni looked around the area carefully, and it looked to me like he was doing a military assessment rather than looking for clues.  People had moved clear of us here, presumably more out of respect than fear, but he was still concerned about threats.
    Phoebe was looking for the right spot to sit down on the street.  I stuck with my girl.  I was going to be there for whatever she needed.

    Toni was disappointed that we didn't have Son or Donku with us -- they could have casually questioned the locals without being as imposing as us samurai.  Nevertheless, he looked around for some sort of snack bar where he could ask around.  There weren't any -- this was an area which catered to wealthy women, and there was no food available here.  Miwa did tell him that if he entered any shop looking like he was interested in buying, tea would be provided.
    ((He found a store selling household accents.  He told the clerk that he was looking for something for his ladyship's birthday, and started chatting.  He explained he was looking for a fan that he'd heard about, one that could be used to slice someone quite effectively.  He was shown one, delicate enough to be good for just one use, but that one use would be quite devastating.  It cost him about the same as a good sword, and it would be delivered by the merchant.
    He then started his casual questioning about the magistrate's carriage.  The merchant said it was about 10-15 feet closer from Phoebe, in front of another shop.))

    Phoebe chose her spot and sat down.  I stood over her, making sure she would be fine while off with her spirits.

    ((She saw dead people.  Very dead.  Usually there are spirits alive and willing to talk to her, but here they are simply dead.  For about fifty feet up and down the road she sees about twenty people, up against buildings, lying down, sat as if they slept and died there, some fully on the ground.  They were clearly spirits, but not in the way the spirits usually talk with her.  These seemed either asleep or dead.
    She tried to rouse someone to talk, but every one she attempted to wake up was clearly alive but very groggy, or sick, looking pale and washed-out, emaciated, sickly.  It did not smell good, not dead, just... sick?  There was an odour she was not familiar with.  They could not speak with her.  She then realized they were wasted on opium.  As Phoebe walked aorund, everywhere these spirits were around.  There were many of them, all over the place, many more than she'd seen at first.  There was no sign of the magistrate incident.
    After a while she returned to her body.))

    Phoebe came out of her trance and looked around, as if searching for something she'd seen on the other side.  She looked slightly puzzled, and then explained to us what she'd seen.
    Toni returned too, and said that he didn't really fit into the stores here, but the actual incident was in front of that store there.
    Phoebe moved to where Toni indicated, and entered the spirit world again.

    ((It was burning.  Everything was burning.  It was one fire.  She was on fire.  She could not get out.  She was being held within the fire.  A wall in the way, she couldn't see it in the flames, and it hurt.  Smoke.  Burning.  Hot.  Hurts.))

    Phoebe came back very quickly, clearly in pain and upset, badly hurt.  She passed out and tried to catch her, but she hit the ground before I could react.  I screamed for Peter.  She looked unhurt, so there was nothing I could do.
    Peter examined her.  He said that she was magically wounded in some terrible way, and it was not a physical problem.
    "Fix it!" I told him.
    He cradled her, mumbled and gestured, doing some sort of healing spell presumably.
    Phoebe came around and sat up.  She looked relieved and said with a pleased sigh, "I'm not on fire.  This is definitely where it happened exactly."
    Toni asked her why she didn't just step out of that spot.
    She says she was trapped, she couldn't get out.  She said she could try to find the magistrate's spirit.
    Toni suggested she move along a bit and try again to look for True Word.
    She is sure she was in the right place for that earlier, and got nothing from him.  Just all the other dead people.  She took a while then to look after her own health -- apparently Peter only healed her temporarily, and she needed to make it permanent.
    Then Phoebe drifted off into another trance, trying a different approach to look for spirits of the dead that might want to talk to her, looking for the magistrate.  This way she shouldn't get trapped in the fire.  She could not find anyone, there was no spirit at all around.  She kept trying -- she'd been in the trance for 20 minutes now -- but there was no-one to talk to, very unusual.  The same comatose spirits were there, but none that would or could interact with her.
    She told us that she couldn't find the magistrate's spirit.
    I suggested we talk to Eyebrows first, perhaps that would give some clues to the spirit too.
    Toni said we should ask the local magistrate about the scrolls that were scattered around but not used by True Word.  He also asked Miwa if in her reading she had run across any obvious enemies, but she said there wasn't anyone who stood out.
    The local magistrate's man said they were magical scrolls, and that they would have been given to a local temple for safety reasons.
    That left the next task to send Peter to seen Eyebrows.