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  #51  
Unread 7th of October, 2003, 04:27
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Her face reddens slightly, the only outward sign of discomfort Koden has ever seen her make, and she bows her head so that she does not need to look at the others. That the general was aware of her actions was shameful; to disclose it in front of Koden and a stranger much worse. Her cover had been reasonably thorough but not meant for the intense scrutiny the Lushima situation had brought upon her.

Kataji wants to dissemble, to fabricate a reasonable explanation for this inappropriate situation, but the general is sure of himself. His tone leaves no doubt in her mind, and she assumes any protestation on her part will result in him recinding his offer. As gracefully as she can, the woman accepts his words.

"As you say, General."
  #52  
Unread 10th of October, 2003, 00:19
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Xiao Hu tryies to ignore the other woman's obvious disconfort and starts speaking, giving her time to compose herself:

" My troupe and I have been caught in a family feud in Pai San.
A young woman had been apparentky kidnapped by bandits, I discovered that the attempted kidnapping had been staged by the family of the bridegroom, which used it as an excuse for a surprise attack on the bride's family.

I and some allies arrived just in time to save a few of the family's retairners, but one of the attackers was a powerful warlock, one of his spells landed me here.

Those sneaky cowards have likely killed the only family I ever had, I mean to avenge my companions'spirits so that they may rest in peace!"
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  #53  
Unread 15th of October, 2003, 23:19
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Koden blinks, only once, and tries to figure out if he heard everyone in the room correctly. Kataji, the woman he had sworn to legally defend, had been attacked while trespassing. The other one, Xiao, had her family killed by a warlock. And the General himself wants to send Koden out into the wilderness of China as part of a reward.

He draws a deep breath. Kataji being a criminal didn't change the good that they did when it came to Lushima or that coward, Teto. Xiao had an unfortunate run of things, but why should help a commoner when he had other affaird to attend to? Yet the better question is what does he have to return to in Japan? His older brothers were samurai and would inherit the house. Koden is nothing more than a foolish third son who believes in myth and legends. His blood begins to burn as he can imagine their derrogatory remarks despite his stellar performance here. Koden's blood begins to burn.

"I'll do it," he says, quickly, impulsively, not giving himself enough time to reconsider.
  #54  
Unread 21st of October, 2003, 04:35
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The geneneral smiles at Koden and Kataji's remarks and turns to Xaio.

"Well it seems your mission is a little easier now yes?" He stands and hands Xiao a scrolled up piece of paper. "Take this to the military barraks and ask for the man in charge, Thyian I think his name is. He will provide you with provisions, maps, possible some weapons and armour too - I cannot say for sure. But he will most suitable tell you where you can get some more local clothing for your companions here." The man moves towards the door ushering you to do the same.

"I have important business to attend to, Thyian should be able to answer all your questions if you have them." He speaks, politely trying to get you to leave.
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  #55  
Unread 28th of October, 2003, 00:04
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Koden stands, and bows, his silk kimono ruffling slightly. He's still refusing to acknowledge the concerns that scratch at the edge of consciousness. Going home might not be much, but it would be safer than traveling into mainland China. Still, if he could acquire some wealth, or fame, or power, perhaps his family might react differently.

"You've been very helpful general," he says, smiling, "it's been an honor to meet you."

Nodding to the others he steps outside and into the hall.
  #56  
Unread 28th of October, 2003, 05:47
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Eager to remove herself from the shameful situation, Kataji merely bows to the general and retreats to the hall behind Koden. She has regained her composure at this point, but her stomach tightens as she notes the stiffness in his back. No doubt the general's words have lessened her greatly in his opinion.

Once they are safely outside she stops, her face once again assuming the emotionless mask she so carefully wears. Koden is still facing away from her, whether by choice or circumstance she cannot say. Her voice is calm, although there might be a note of urgency beneath.

"I never lied to you. Yes, what the general said is true: I was not invited to the feast but surely you see that I couldn't tell you that."
  #57  
Unread 29th of October, 2003, 13:07
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Koden turns and faces Kataji, looking at the woman he had grown to know since arriving in the city. She didn't trust him at first, fair enough, but had things turned out differently she could have easily been convicted, especially had it been revealed that she wasn't a guest. He rubs the bridge of his nose with one finger and holds her gaze for a moment.

His features remain calm, much like her own. Truth be told, he isn't certain how to feel. Could her deception have done anything other than to harm herself? He isn't sure, but clearly losing the case would have cost him and his family the trade agreement and he would have returned home in shame.

Ignore it. That is the past.

"If we're to go out into the world, the three of us will need to learn to trust each other. That means no more secrets, agreed?"
  #58  
Unread 30th of October, 2003, 00:36
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Her dark eyes measure Koden as if seeing him for the first time. Yet none of that emotion makes it to her face, and a long moment passes with the two of them staring at one another, faces like the hard walls of rival fortresses. Finally she folds her arms and bows her head once, quickly, her eyes never leaving his.

"To do less would be dishonorable, and I intend to bring no further shame to my family."
  #59  
Unread 3rd of November, 2003, 01:53
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Moving to the Military Barraks a man outside is waiting for you. He greets you and introduces himself as Thyian before leading you inside the large structure and towards the store rooms within. The rooms themselves are well sheltered from the outside and hidden deep under the ground - the more immediate supplies are ontop in easy to access hallways. While the non-essential supplies are bellow in another chamber only accessable by ladders and trap doors throughout the giant complex.

The man moves aside a crate takes a seat after a short way into the complex, resting the latern down at his feet he turns to you three.

"Alright, what do you think you'll need. I'm not sure if we have everything your minds might desire, but i'm sure we can handle most of it." He pats the box he is sitting on. "Food - for instance - we have plenty of it. Armour and weapon's arn't in short supply either but anything magical needs to be cleared before its removed." The man looks down the hallway were a pair of patrolling guards walk by, despite them being almost deadly quiet Thyian seems to have heard them.

"We're not well practiced in giving away powerful items to strangers, infact most of our magic comes from a small group of Wu retainers who practice the mystical arts in secret. Whatever we find also makes its way here too, but almost everything becomes the property of the Nobles, or captains - like me." His brief explaination is said in a hushed tone, as though its not common knowledge or as though he looks down upon the practice.

"So, back to my question, what do you need?"
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  #60  
Unread 12th of November, 2003, 06:24
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"Our journey will be a long one, and we cannot count on being able to stay indoors. Therefore, I think we shall require a tent along with blankets and foodstuff sufficient for many days travel, water, soap, torches, candles, oil, lanterns, flint, tinder, rope, a hammer, shovel and camp axe. A grapnel and several long poles might be useful as well.

"For such gear, I should think we will need a wagon and horses to pull it, along with clothing more appropriate to the land and weather in which we are to travel."

She bows formally, her eyes still on the man, keeping her peripheral vision focused on Koden. Perhaps he could think of something else, although she was still waiting to see how the man would react to her shopping list of items. Though she was comfortable travelling with little more than what she now carried, it never hurt to be prepared.
  #61  
Unread 13th of November, 2003, 04:50
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Koden raises an eyebrow at the list of supplies. Unused to long trips of any sort, especially those that are land-based, he remains quiet. Each of these things could be useful, but he prays they do not have to be in a hurry. They'd need a wagon and a couple horses simply to haul everything that they want. Yet Kataji is prepared for this as well, adding the two requisites to the list.

"Maps," he says quietly, "I would like maps. Both geographical and political if possible. If we get lost it'd be nice to know whose territory we're straying into. Herbs, ones suited for travel, with healing properties would be nice as well. If one of us falls ill we won't know where to find a healer.

"I would know more of these Wu retainers. Who are they? What do they do?"
  #62  
Unread 20th of November, 2003, 01:39
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"Aye, Aye, Aye." The man agrees with the list of supplies as they are spoken. "I can do most of that, horses might be hard but I know a man outside the compound who would give you a pair on my word." He looks at Koden as he asks his question about the Magician Wu retainers.

"Wouldn't we all." The man says crossing his arms and leaning back. "The rumours are wide and varied, truth be told very few people know of their true location let alone their identify. Even fewer have met them." There is an uneasy silence.

"It doesn't bother me, all I know is that me and my men get these toys to play with and Naking feels safer knowing there is a small fortress of magical equipment laying beneath 50,000 men, most of whom are experienced in using them." The man sighs.

"At best, I could offer you some magical parchment, potions, possible a staff. We could part with some armour, perhaps a weapon or two, but we like to keep those around for the men. What we do have plenty of is trinkets." He pauses before explaining himself. "Small magical items, usually minor in nature which arn't really useful to us. We usually give them away as prizes to good soldiers who in turn trade them in the city."

The man rolls back his sleeves to reveal a pair of bronze bracers which glow faintly.

"These for example, almost completely useless for me at my station." The man strikes them together and they spark as though one was flint and the other was steel. However that is not the only effect, after a moment they glow faintly with a blue light and the air in the room becomes sweet like wild flowers.

"Unless I intend to court my enemy, these are useless. But I keep them for my journey into the city - there are some smells I truely do not wish to enter my nostrils."
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  #63  
Unread 4th of February, 2004, 10:13
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After what seems like several hours of looking over supplies and picking what will be needed, the trio soon finds themselves with an almost fully laden cart led by a single horse. With enough freash food to last them the week, and enough long life food to last them much longer they wouldn't starve anytime soon. Enough clothing, blankets, and portable accomidation to keep them relatively well off during all kinds of weather plus a few trinkets collected here and there to compensate for other conditions.

All set to depart by nightfall, the trio goes over a map carefully taking note of where they are - where they have to get to, along with what obsticles are in the way. There is a small mountain range between them and their objective but it appears that a settlement on this side of the mountain known as Ohdia Chi is right near some sort of river passage to go through the mountains. The nearest city is Gya Mou but it would lengthen the journey by atleast three days. A small farming villiage is right in the path, though it is not named on the map.

"I would suggest you head there." Says a familiar voice, the General coming to see them off. "Sorry to pry but I saw you poking at the map, that town is unnamed for a reason, probably better that you don't know, though I do know a person there who might help you. Head into town and ask about the 'crazy old hermit in the swamp' and trust me, people will know who you're talking about. Don't be put off though, he's not as crazy and not as much a hermit as you might hear... old yes.. really old." The General concludes.
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  #64  
Unread 5th of February, 2004, 03:39
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Koden blinks at the general's suggestion before quickly nodding his head in appreciation. His eyes stray over to Kataji, attempting to gauge her reaction to the man. Go to a town without a name and ask for a similarly unnamed hermit. He wonders if the two of them will be outsiders simply by virtue of actually having names that don't involve descriptions of where they live or what their professions are.

"Ah, thank you again, general," he says to the man as they set off. He'll just need to trust the man when it comes to advice on the geography in the area. Regardless of his inexperience in China, the fact that a settlement isn't named makes the young man uneasy.

"Shall we?"
  #65  
Unread 10th of February, 2004, 01:14
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Kataji inclines her head and accepts the general's words and advice without any question apparent in her eyes. He had made it clear earlier that she had little choice but to accept this mission. If that was all the information he was going to give them, then she would make due with what he doled out. If she is aware of Koden's scrutiny she makes no sign, her head remaining humbly as the General departs.

"Shall we?"

At his words her head rises. No longer humble, she is once again the same woman he met when he accepted her defense. Her face is neither open nor closed, her eyes are measured and even, her posture is relaxed but ready.

"I, at least, have little choice in the matter."

Climbing up into the driver's seat of the wagon she clucks to the horse as she picks up the reins. Koden joins her and, though her voice remains even, the man thinks he might see just a touch of humor in her eyes.

"You won't mind if I drive, will you?"
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Unread 10th of February, 2004, 03:46
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"You won't mind if I drive, will you?"

He blinks and then chuckles at her response, saying, "You're a free woman again, I wouldn't deny you anything."

Koden checks the back of the wagon once more before joining his companion up front. Settling into the passenger's side he takes in the Wu city one more time before they set off. He feels a twinge of regret; by all rights he should be on a ship sailing home again, triumphant after his unexpected success in trade contracts. Still, would it matter that much? He is a scholar, a priest, not a warrior and until he begins killing men with a sword, approval will be hard to come by. Yet he might just do it, perhaps not through war and valor, but if he succeeds enough, they will not be able to deny his worth.

"It must feel good," he says, watching the road slowly pass beneath them, "being free again."
  #67  
Unread 13th of February, 2004, 06:40
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She shrugs and then, realizing he isn't looking at her, speaks quietly.

"I have never been anything less. Freedom is a state of mind."

Prisoner though she was, Kataji never allowed that state to impinge on her sense of belief or alter her inner self. She embraces the physical world without reservation, her mind accepting it as a pond accepts a tossed stone. Surrounding it, subsuming it instead of letting it crush her. Or, at least, that was the ideal.

In truth, she wasn't that enlightened. Trying had to count for something, though, and hearing herself say the words strengthened her belief that they might one day be true. The stone of her captivity hadn't crushed her but it did leave a bruise when it hit her.
  #68  
Unread 22nd of February, 2004, 14:10
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The trio heads off, though the Chinese companion of the three rests in the back of the cart still recovering from injuries suffered apparently. The cart travels down side streets and main streets, and alley ways for what seems like hours, peasants, workers and soldiers all intermingle in the city to form what seems like one large working hive of people who are relatively well off.

After a few hours, the group comes to the outskirts of the city, here the buildings spread out into large farms and although the wilderness can be seen it would still be sometime before the cart would reach it. As the hours pass the journey begins to take its toll on the trio, the bordem begins to mount and soon all three beg for nightfall to come in order for them to make camp, eat and sleep for the night. Slowly the sun falls, and darkness consumes the land - although in the distance behind them the city they once left, so incredably large that one could not take it all in with one viewing, is lit up in places by braziers and laterns. Even at night, the city doesn't sleep.
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Unread 2nd of March, 2004, 02:05
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"I have never been anything less. Freedom is a state of mind."

Koden chuckles and nods his head, accepting the proverb for what it is. He gently chastizes himself for not thinking of it himself. Although it would be foolish to think that they were free even now. Koden's options, between going home to a family that does not welcome him or be partnered with a spy and a once-supposed assassin, hadn't been ideal. He imagines Kataji faced a similar situation. Freedom might indeed be a state of mind, but reality, or at least their reality, thinks otherwise.

He spends the rest of the afternoon in intermitent silence, speaking only occasionally and remaining a bit subdued. It had seemed like an adventure, another way to achieve fame and honor. And yet, as he watches the city's lights he can't help but feel as if he's running away. Choosing a simple dinner of fruit, cheese, and bread, Koden eats in silence.

"If there's no objections, I'll turn in now and take the last watch."
  #70  
Unread 9th of March, 2004, 16:37
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The night passes quickly, the sense of security still well endowed in the two Japanese companions who find it easier to sleep in the city outskirts after being watched after by many guards in the secure confines of a fortress for the last few days. The cool sea air makes its way inland and wakes the sleeping pair during the morning, Koden having been awake for a few hours had witnessed a most spectatular sun rise.

This day would be the first real journey for the trio as they would easily make it outside of the city and into the real wilderness beyond.
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Unread 12th of March, 2004, 04:20
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He takes in the warmth of the new day and closes his eyes, letting the sun wash over his skin. It's still early but the faint heat is appreciated. While his companions rest he takes the opportunity to clear his mind and find his internal flame. The rest of the world fades away, the wood thrush songs, the gentle ripple of wind, all it vanishes except for the light sensation of warmth on his face. Koden falls deep within himself. Blanking his consciousness he simply exists for a time. Yet the void eventually passes, as it always does and the inner flame fades until he can only barely feel it. Opening his eyes once more he sees Kataji stirring. She opens her eyes and he nods in greeting and smiles.

"I've seen hundreds, probably thousands, of sunrises but they never get old."

Getting to his feet Koden begins to prepare a simple breakfast before they set off for the next leg of their journey.
  #72  
Unread 13th of March, 2004, 00:46
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Kataji lingers on guard duty a bit longer than the others, waking up before it is her turn and rousing Koden a bit late. It isn't enough that they would necessarily notice, but combined she probably pulls about an hour extra of guard duty. After Koden wakes, she does not immediately go off to bed. Instead, she finds a suitable spot and practices the various martial art forms she studies, designed to continue building her strength, flexibility and coordination.

Her rest is short: she wakes well before the sun but spends the interim pretending to be asleep, practicing the art of using her mind to influence her body. The chill of the ground has soaked into her body, stiffening her muscles. Relaxing her mind, she drives it away by concentrating on the flow of blood from her heart to her extremities. Later, the sunlight touches her face and she opens her eyes to find Koden looking tranquil and well rested.

"I've seen hundreds, probably thousands, of sunrises but they never get old."

She smiles back briefly, liking Koden more the longer they travel together, but still feeling the shame of her deception. When he turns to begin fixing breakfast her smile disappears. Rising, she joins him by the fire and fairly well takes over the culinary preparations without being pushy.

"Have you done much travelling? Of course, you have come a long way to be here but have you travelled on your own like this?"
  #73  
Unread 2nd of April, 2004, 21:57
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The morning quickly fades into full daylight and the troupe continue along their way following the main road to avoid getting lost. A few hours pass and quickly conversation becomes nothing more then short comments or questions with single sentence answers.

Just as the group have finally relaxed after all the events that have preceeded them they sight black smoke on the horizon. Ushering the horse and cart forward at a faster pace the trio come across the burning and smoldering remains of a caravan on the left side of the road, the debree of its cargo laying around in the near by grass and on the road. A few men equiped with weapons and light armour lay around the wreckage - all dead.

Some have been slashed by what appears to be curved swords, others have crushed arms and legs as though by an immense weight. Behind the wreckage the natural wilderness looks shattered, as though a stampeed of animals had past. In the mud of a near by stream several sets of footprints can be seen. Several human sized prints and one set of larger monsterous prints lead into the disturbed underbrush.

Just as the group slow, a scream of agony can be heard coming from the bush and a group of birds take flight less then 300 feet into the wilderness.
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Unread 2nd of April, 2004, 23:17
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Maeko jumps down from the cart, catching her balance at the last moment as a pebble rolls under her feet.

" Somebody is still alive! Come on, maybe we can find the bandits who did this"

She doesn't stop to think, the mental scars of her family demise are still to fresh for her, with barely a look at her companions Xiao Hu grabs her weapons and hurries towards the place where the scream came from.
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Unread 7th of April, 2004, 01:56
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Kataji pushes the horse as fast as she dares along the road, making it a rather bumpy ride as the wreckage heaves into view. Xiao is off and running before Kataji can wrestle the wagon to a halt, their horse resisting the idea mightily. Apparently, he wasn't all that fond of smashed wagons and dead people. With a final jerk of the reins, she barks a short order to him to stay, and then she is off after Xiao.

She moves with a simple economy of speed and balance, seeming to breeze over obstacles as if they weren't there. Leaning into her stride, she nevertheless keeps a wary eye out for attackers, using her hearing to track Xiao's location.
 

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