Beiden Pass, Part One
Beiden Pass, Part Two
Beiden Pass, Part Three
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Beiden Pass, Part One
Everybody has that one day, that one thing that happens to them that changes their life forever, that ruins their innocence, that narrows their perceptions, that forever focuses them on the road they walk but also gives them the wisdom they need to walk that road well.
This was not that day.
Not for me, anyway.
But it could have been.
It was an bright clear morning at Hantei the XXIII High School, and I arrived extra early even though such a thing was not normally in my character. Today we were going on a field trip. Our Economics class had been learning a lot about Beiden Pass recently so Mister Kuni decided it might be a good idea if we went out there and saw it first hand. I looked around for my friends and found only Toku, sitting on a bench with his bookbag and lunchbox on his lap.
"Hey, Toku," I said, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes as I walked over to him.
"Hi, Garou!" Toku chirped happily, "It's good to see you this morning!"
I hated Toku in the mornings.
"Have you seen the others anywhere?" I asked, looking around.
"Agetoki's not here yet. He probably overslept. Sanzo got here a couple minutes and went over to the smoking area."
I nodded and walked over toward the smoking area. Ginawa and Hasame were both hitting on Yotsu Seiki and Ryosei, while Sanzo leaned up against the fence by himself and tried unsuccessfully to blow smoke rings with his goofy looking gaijin cigarette. Sanzo didn't really smoke, in fact he was slightly allergic to tobacco, but all the cool ronin hung out in the smoking area so he went there sometimes hoping to pick up chicks.
"Hey Sanzo," i said looking over the fence, "How's it going?"
Sanzo looked back blearily, his eyes bloodshot from the smoke, "Not much," he said.
"Um," Sanzo always got a little weird when he smoked. "I'll meet you at the bus," I replied.
Sanzo nodded vaguely and went back to staring at Moshi Wakiza.
I sat down on the bench next to Toku and waited for the bus. Meanwhile, Toku started telling me all about his dog's throat infection. Luckily, Agetoki showed up within a few minutes, parking his horse on the faculty lot and strolling up with a bottle of something in his hand.
"This sucks," he said, "Why we gotta get up this early? What's the big deal?"
"Beiden Pass," I said, "It's the hub of Rokugani economy! Besides, we don't have to go to any classes if we go."
Agetoki nodded. "Works for me." He finished off whatever was in the bottle and threw it in a trashcan before a teacher saw it.
Just then, our teacher Mister Kuni walked up. He adjusted his spectacles on his face and straightened his red kimono as he checked over his class roster. A few of the other students were milling around nearby and they gathered as he called roll.
"Agetoki, Matsu... Mitsu, Togashi... Shingo, Shiba... Garou, Yasuki... Asami, Yogo... Tsume, Moto... Balash... Toku... Shapeshifter, Ninja...Kamoko, Otaku... Tangen, Bayushi... Sanzo.... Sanzo? Where's Sanzo?"
Sanzo stumbled up, coughing. "Here, Mister Kuni," he mumbled.
Mister Kuni shook his head disapprovingly. "Mister Sanzo, cigarettes will kill you."
"So will the Taint," Agetoki whispered and Rinjin and Shingo giggled. It was a well established rumor that Mister Kuni had the Shadowlands Taint.
"Is that everyone?" Mister Kuni asked, looking over the crowd of students.
"Um, no," I said, "Amoro's not here."
"Again?" Mister Kuni sighed, "What is it this time?"
"Plague," I said. His mom had called my mom that morning.
"Plague?" Mister Kuni scoffed, "Again? I do believe that's the third time mister Hida's gotten the Plague this month. I can scarcely believe this. I shall want a doctor's note from him for this."
"He does only have one chi, sir," I explained in his defense.
Mister Kuni waved a hand dismissively. "Excuses. I have no time for them."
We stood around waiting for several minutes.
"Where is the bus?" Mister Kuni asked at last.
"Um... they haven't invented it yet," Toku said.
Mister Kuni sneered. "I swear someone does that joke every time and it's still not funny. Damn anachronisms. We shall have to take our horses. Who has horses?"
"I do!" Sanzo said proudly.
"And me," Kamoko said.
"And me," Agetoki said.
"Shotgun in Agetoki's car!" Toku said.
"Your mother," Agetoki replied.
"What about you, Tsume?" Mister Kuni said, turning to the young Unicorn lad, "Don't you have a horse?"
"Um..." Tsume said, looking the other way, "It doesn't work."
"Excuse me?" Mister Kuni said.
"It died," Tsume said.
"Isn't that your horse over there?" Mister Kuni pointed at the odd blue tinged horse in the parking lot, the one floating several inches above the ground.
"Yeah, it's a ghost," Tsume replied, "I keep falling through it. Stupid thing."
"Aren't you a ghost, Tsume?" Sanzo asked.
"NO!" Tsume said vehemently, "I'm just UNDEAD! Get it RIGHT!" The tiny skeletal boy lunged at Sanzo, who quickly stepped behind Agetoki. Mitsu and Agetoki finally had to drag Tsume back so he'd calm down.
"Stupid living," Tsume grumbled, "You'll all pay."
"Ahem," Mister Kuni said, "That's enough of that. Anyway, so could we take your horses to Beiden Pass? The school could reimburse you for the oats."
Agetoki, Sanzo, and Kamoko agreed. I got into Agetoki's car with Mister Kuni, Ninja Shapeshifter (who politely turned himself into a hamster to save space -- I hear ninja are not so nice people but the ones I have met have always been polite), and Yogo Asami (she sat next to me -- I think she liked me at the time. Cool). Sanzo had to take Toku and Tangen and the weird Naga exchange student, Balash. Kamoko took Moto Tsume and Shingo and Mitsu and of course Mitsu sat in front with Kamoko and Agetoki wouldn't shut up about it the whole ride there.
So we rode for quite some time until we got to where we thought Beiden Pass should have been. It was rocky and remote and there was a nice, narrow pass through the mountains but we couldn't see anybody else.
"There's a way station," Mister Kuni said, pointing at a small building to the left, "I'll go ask directions."
So Mister Kuni got off the horse and walked over. We were all a little sore so we got off the horses and mingled among ourselves and talked about whatever it is teenage samurai talk about. I thought I could hear thunder in the distance, but it wasn't cloudy. I hoped it wouldn't rain on the ride home.
Finally, Mister Kuni came back. "That was the weirdest thing," he said, looking dumfounded, "There was no one there. It was just abandoned."
The thunder got louder.
"You called ahead and told them we were coming right, Mister Kuni?" Agetoki asked.
"I don't see why I needed to," he replied, "I didn't think Beiden pass ever closed down."
"Well it's closed now," Tangen snapped, "What a waste of my educational dollar."
"It's public school, stupid," Sanzo said, "It's free."
Thunder rumbled again, louder.
"Anyone else hear that?" Toku asked, "Sounds like thunder."
"Not thunder, stupid huuu-man," Balash snarled, "Always leaping to conclusions. Your face is wet so it must be raining. Noise must be thunder. Huuu-man fools know nothing of the rhythm of the Akasha."
"Okay, dude," Toku said, "Like have a cow."
"Guys," I said warily as the ground began to shake, "I think that noise is getting closer."
"Yes, you're right Garou," Mister Kuni said, "It must be coming from around the bend in the pass."
"I'll go check it out," Sanzo said, hopping on his horse.
Sanzo always liked to show off on his horse. With Asami and Kamoko watching, he made sure to do so now. Of course, Sanzo really wasn't all that good of a horseman, so the best he managed was to get the horse to rear up a little. He tried it again near the bend. The horse reared up a lot.
But that was because it saw around the bend.
Sanzo yelped like a girl as he came galloping back.
The Terrrible War Machine of Fu Leng ground the earth noisily as it rounded the corner behind him.
"Wow!" Moto Tsume exclaimed, "That is so BOSS!"
"Perhaps we'd better leave, children," Mister Kuni said, stepping toward Agetoki's horse.
Then we noticed the two hundred Dragon Samurai standing behind us.
Toku summed it all up with his next two words.
END OF PART ONE
Battle of Beiden Pass, Part Two
So there I was, standing in the midst of Beiden Pass, an army of angry looking Dragon samurai behind me and the Terrible War Machine of Fu Leng barreling down from the front. My other classmates were running everywhere in disarray, except for the Ninja Shapeshifter who calmly stepped behind a rock, turned into a Dragon samurai, and sauntered over to join the army.
Sanzo's horse was running at top speed, barely outdistancing the War Machine. Agetoki had already jumped on his own horse and pulled his katana, ready to fight the thing single handed. I thought I caught a glimpse of something through the War Machine's side window.
"Hey, Agetoki, wait up!" I said, running after him, "I have an idea!"
"Wait for me too!" Toku yelled, scampering along behind as he tried frantically to get his own sword out of its sheath.
Agetoki turned on the saddle. "Garou, get on," he said, "Toku, wait here," he added.
I jumped onto the back of Agetoki's horse. Toku looked up at us pleadingly, about to say something else, and caught a face full of Agetoki's dust.
"Help!" Sanzo shrieked wildly, his horse narrowly dodging the sweep of the War Machine's spiked treads.
Agetoki lunged in between the War Machine and Sanzo, striking an impressive as the sun gleamed off of his golden hem and red mane. The War Machine ground to a halt.
"I AM AGETOKI OF THE HOUSE MATSU!" he boomed, "MANY ARE THE UNICORNS AND CRANES THAT HAVE FALLEN BENEATH MY BLADE AND WHETHER YOU BE SHADOWLANDS ABOMINATION OR TAINTED PAWN OF EVIL, KNOW YOU THAT THIS TWISTED MACHINE WILL NOT SAVE YOU FROM THE LION'S WRATH!"
"Hi, Amoro!" I added.
The hatch on the top of the War Machine opened with a metal clack and Hida Amoro peeked out, smiling. "Garou, is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me!" I said, "What the heck are you doing driving a tainted War Machine?" I asked.
"Long story," Amoro replied, "I think it was Sukune's idea."
Mister Kuni walked up and stood before the Terrible War Machine of Fu Leng. "MISTER Hida," he said pertly, "Just what do you think you're doing? You look rather well for someone with the plague."
"Um... waging war against the Dragon scum," he replied.
"You realize it is a school day," Mister Kuni replied.
"Well, um..." Amoro averted his gaze, "But we're at war, sir..."
"There are plenty of other Crab samurai in Kisada's Army," Mister Kuni replied, "I'm certain Lord Kisada would rather have you in school learning your math and bushido."
"But Sukune said he needed me. Nobody else knows how to drive the war machine," Amoro said, "It's a stick shift."
Mister Kuni looked over his shoulder at the wall of Dragon samurai, then back at Amoro and sighed. "Ah. Well, then. You hurry up and grind these Dragon dogs into powder and then I want you going STRAIGHT to class. Do you understand me, young man?"
"Yes, sir," Amoro replied morosely. "Right after I kill these Dragons."
I turned around and noticed that the wall of Dragon samurai were now running toward us screaming with their swords drawn. Arrows started flying everywhere and something hit me in the head and everything went dark.
I woke up in the Crab Clan camp. Agetoki and Sanzo were sitting nearby eating soup and Mister Kuni was standing at one of the other campfires arguing with somebody.
"Hey, guys, what's up?" I asked.
"Your clan's invading Beiden Pass doubtless on its way to topple the Imperial Palace. (this was our senior year, after the Coup) The Dragons rally under the banner of Toturi the Black and wage their battle here to stop Kisada's advance once and for all," Sanzo said, "You should try this soup, Garou it's good."
"It is," Agetoki said.
"Where's the rest of the class?" I asked looking around.
"Captured by the Dragons," Agetoki said, "Except for Ninja Shapeshifter. I have no idea where he is. This is all Toku's fault."
"Why is it Toku's fault?" I asked.
"I don't know," Agetoki said thoughtfully, "But it always is."
"Hey, Agetoki," Sanzo said, "Do you know what they did with our horses?"
"They are both all right. I saw them over there," Agetoki pointed. "Fury and Car are both well taken care of. (Sanzo's horse was named Fury. Agetoki's horse was named Car -- thus explaining the seemingly anachronistic "car" references in part one.)
We decided to walk over to Mister Kuni and see what he was up to. He was having a heated discussion with the Crab General, Hida Sukune. Sukune paced back and forth, arguing with Mister Kuni and consulting his advisors.
I had heard Sukune was a great warrior and tactician. Up close, he seemed to have an disproportionately big head, lots of pimples, and a voice like a monkey being tortured. He was a year younger than me.
"Aw come on," Hida Sukune prompted Mister Kuni.
"No," Mister Kuni said adamantly.
"Please," Sukune said.
"No," Mister Kuni reiterated.
"Just a little one," Sukune pleaded.
"Ridiculous," Mister Kuni said, "Oh, hello Garou."
"Yasuki Garou?" Sukune said to me, "The ratling guy?"
I had a sort of a reputation already.
"Yeah," I said, "That's me."
"Talk some sense into Yori for me, would you?" Sukune asked.
"What's up?" I asked curiously.
"Well, you see Garou, we're getting killed out here," Sukune explained, "I don't know who this 'Toturi' guy is but he's good."
"Um... he's Akodo Toturi, the former Lion Clan Champion," I said.
"The 'what' clan?" Sukune replied.
"The LION Clan?!?!?" I said, "The right hand of the Emperor."
"Oh," Sukune said uncertainly looking at his advisors, "That's bad, right?"
The advisors nodded vigorously.
"Oh, crud. I heard he was a ronin so I thought he was just one of those cruddy 1/1 jokers with the cavalry trait and a 5 personal honor requirement!"
"Hey!" Sanzo said, frowning.
"So anyway, what were you arguing about, Mister Kuni?" I asked.
"This dolt wants me to summon him up some oni," Mister Kuni replied, exasperated.
"Just a few little ones," Sukune said, holding up two fingers to indicate 'little'.
"Idiocy," Mister Kuni said, "We're supposed to destroy the Shadowlands, Sukune, not ally ourselves with it."
"Yeah," said Sanzo, "When you have seen your home and family destroyed by the Shadowlands, you to will know why I chase death with such blind fury."
"Oh you people are so touchy!" Sukune whined, "A little Taint never hurt anybody. Besides, I wasn't planning to use anything really powerful."
"Oh," Agetoki said, "So whose Terrible War Machine was that back there?"
"Umm..." Sukune glanced around nervously, "I don't know what you're talking about."
Just then a very large bearded man walked up to us. He nodded to Mister Kuni and Sukune.
"Hey, bro," Sukune said.
"Hi, gimpy," the man said.
"Yakamo," Mister Kuni said.
"Yori," Yakamo nodded.
"By the Seven Thunders!" Sanzo exclaimed, "What happened to your hand?!?"
"Hm?" Yakamo looked down. The severed stump of his left hand squirted blood at the fire. "Oh, that. I dunno. Some bald Dragon dude chopped my hand off, I guess. By the way, Sukune, we're still getting mauled out there. Any ideas?"
"I think some oni would be really cool," Sukune whined, "But mister holier than thou Kuni Yori here says it's too 'evil'." Sukune actually made little quotation marks with his fingers.
"Hm," Yakamo said. "Summon some oni, Yori"
"What?" Mister Kuni said, shocked.
"Do it or I'll beat you to death with my bloody stump," he said.
"Um..." Mister Kuni blinked.
"Now," Yakamo said tonelessly, "And whip me up tainted oni claw for my stump."
"Right on it," Mister Kuni whimpered, "You kids better go to bed."
So we did. The three of us sat around the fire for a while, thinking about the next day. Every once in a while, the horrid scream of a beast from Jikogu would echo across the camp.
"So," Sanzo said with a slight smile, "I guess we go to battle tomorrow."
"Yes," Agetoki said, "It will be a glorious day indeed! This is your first time in battle, is it not, my friends?"
"Yeah," Sanzo said nervously.
"Yup," I said, "Well, except for those hordes of shadowlands monsters crawling over the wall all the time."
Agetoki waved a hand dismissively, "Trust me, you'll like it. You'll both do well, I'm sure. Just stay close to me so you don't get killed Sanzo."
"Huh?" Sanzo said, "What do you mean by that?"
"I think you know," Agetoki said seriously.
"No I don't know!" Sanzo said defensively, "What are you trying to say, Agetoki?"
"Well... no offense, Sanzo," Agetoki said delicately, "But you're kind of a wuss."
Sanzo choked. "Me?!?!? What about Garou?!?!? He's just a shugenja!"
"Garou can take care of himself," Agetoki said, "But you? I mean really. Just stay close Sanzo."
"I take great offense at that, Agetoki!" Sanzo said, "You have no faith in my military prowess whatsoever? None?"
I tried to say something diplomatic before chaos erupted. I could only think of one thing to say.
"You're tougher than Toku, anyway," I said.
"This is true," Agetoki admitted.
"Thanks," Sanzo said dryly, "Come to think of it, what do you think happened to the little guy?"
"I don't know," Agetoki said, "I actually kind of miss him. I have no one to vent my anger upon."
"There's always Sukune," I said jokingly.
"That's what I like about you Garou," Agetoki said, "You are always full of good ideas."
And Agetoki went off to beat up Sukune. Sanzo went to sleep. I think he was pretty relieved that Agetoki hadn't chosen *him* as Toku's replacement. But I couldn't sleep. Too many questions. What would happen tomorrow? Had Mister Kuni summoned the oni? Would Toturi wipe us out? Where was the rest of my class? Where was Toku? Would we get off school tomorrow for being stuck in the middle of a clan war?
I would soon find out...
End of part two.Battle of Beiden Pass, Part Three
Kudos on "Choices," Ree! :)
Agetoki, as some of you may have guessed, is my favorite Lion (next to his brother, Luigi).
And a great Agetoki story demands... a silly Agetoki story.
This one's for Sanzo Lukai...
BEIDEN PASS, PART THREE
The three of us stood at the opening to the pass, looking at each other uncertainly. Sukune had sent us ahead to scout, since Agetoki and Sanzo both had horses. He also seemed to want to get Agetoki as far away from him as possible. He wouldn't explain the black eye and Agetoki just smiled a lot.
"So... where's the Dragon army?" Sanzo asked, "I thought they were supposed to be around here somewhere."
"Doubtless, someone told them I was coming," Agetoki replied.
"You aren't gonna to act like that when we find them, are you Agetoki?" Sanzo winced.
"Act like what?" Agetoki snapped, hand on katana.
"Nothin'!" Sanzo said, waving his hands dismissively, "I'm just sayin'... We're supposed to be scouting, and the Crabs are too far away to help us if we get in trouble..."
"Um.. Well... I heard you get a little hotheaded in battle..." Sanzo tried not to make eye contact.
"Since when????" Agetoki snarled.
"Um. You killed Kamoko's mom, dude." I said.
"Uh." Agetoki smiled sheepisly. "Er, I *didn't* kill her."
"I DIDN'T" Agetoki said, face red from embarrassment. "It was the ko-- um..." Agetoki looked around. "Never mind. I guess I killed her."
We rode on. Sanzo fell off his horse. We both kind of looked at him.
"Sanzo, you idiot," Agetoki snapped.
"It's not me! It's the horse!" Sanzo said, standing and patting himself off, "I bought Fury at a Daidoji Used Horse Dealer, and he's um....
"He's what?" I asked.
"BLIND?" I exclaimed, "You're riding around on a *BLIND* horse?!?!?"
"Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do," Sanzo said. "When you see your family and home destroyed by the Shadowlands, you'll know why I chase death with such blind Fury."
"Let's just get going," Agetoki groaned.
So we continued into the pass, Agetoki and Sanzo on their horses and me following just a step behind with my Earthquake scroll ready in case things got rough. We moved through the pass for about twenty minutes before I heard some voices off in the distance.
"Dragons," Sanzo said, "I can smell them."
"Oh, please," Agetoki growled, "I know Toku's not here, but that doesn't mean you have to fill his quota for sayings stupid things."
"Hey!" Sanzo snapped, "You been needling me all day and if you don't lay off, I'll--"
"You'll what?" Agetoki said.
"I'll just skip on ahead," Sanzo said.
"You do that," Agetoki replied.
So Sanzo hopped off his horse and moved on ahead, trying to walk as quietly as possible. Agetoki and I moved off behind a big rock, which Fury promptly bumped into. We could hear people laughing and singing in the distance. We must have been near an enemy camp. I hoped Sanzo would be quiet enough not to get himself caught...
Sanzo tripped on a tree root and fell directly on his face, yelping like a mujina.
"By the Thunders!" I whispered, "I hope they didn't hear that."
"MY ANKLE!" Sanzo yelped.
"Where's my bow?" Agetoki said, looking back to his saddle, "We've got to shut that moron up before the Dragons come."
"HALT!" said a voice. A large man in green armor suddenly thundered up to us on a gigantic horse, bow at the ready.
Sanzo scampered up to his feet. Agetoki ran out with his bow in hand, apparently deciding not to shoot Sanzo after all. I shrugged and followed.
"Um, hi!" Sanzo said, trying to look friendly as Agetoki stood by his side snarling.
"A Lion, and a ronin," the samurai said, "What are you doing here?"
"Drop the bow," Agetoki demanded.
"Drop yours!" the Dragon replied, pointing his at Agetoki.
"Ha!" Agetoki scoffed, "Read my trait box."
The Dragon looked at Agetoki, and his face fell. He lowered his bow.
"Well, you're not Crabs," he said, "So I guess you're okay."
I skidded to a halt at the corner of the boulder and threw my hat (the one with the big Crab mon on it) into the bushes.
"Hey, guys, what's up?" I asked, strolling up.
"Who's that?!?" the Dragon jumped, pointing the bow at me.
"That's my friend Ya-- er.. Kakita Garou," Sanzo said.
"He doesn't look like a Crane," the Dragon's eyes narrowed.
"His father was... um... male," Sanzo said lamely.
"Ah," the Dragon nodded, as if that explained it, "I am Sukune of the House Mirumuto. And who are the rest of you?"
"Agetoki of the House Matsu," Agetoki said.
"Sanzo of the House Sanzo," Sanzo said.
"And what are the three of you doing here?" Sukune asked suspiciously, "Did you not know there was a battle going on?"
Sanzo looked around at both of us. "Oh. No. No, we really didn't. How nice."
"You look like able bodied men," Sukune said, "Why don't you join us?"
"We can't," Agetoki said, folding his arms.
"Why not?" Sukune asked, "Do you not wish a chance for Glory in the Dragon Army?"
"We're already in an army," Agetoki replied, scowling.
"Is that so?" Sukune looked suspicious, "And what army is that?"
"SANZO'S ARMY!" Sanzo said, cutting Agetoki off before he could speak. "I'm the daimyo of the House Sanzo. These men have temporarily sworn fealty to me. Actually, I mispoke earlier. We *DID* know there was a battle going on. We decided to drop by and see how you guys were doing, maybe offer some pointers.
"Oh, okay," Sukune said, "Come with me."
"We'll just go get our horses," Sanzo said.
Agetoki was so white with rage he could not speak, which was lucky for all of us. I was proud of Sanzo. He could be a bit of a jerk sometimes, but when it came right down to it, he could really lay down the fertilizer.
"Sanzo's. ARMY??" Agetoki rumbled as we walked back to the horses.
"It was all I could think of," Sanzo explained, keeping a safe distance from him. Agetoki walked faster. "Hey, I got us into the camp didn't I?" Agetoki walked faster, causing Sanzo to stumble a bit. "We can try to find the others! Don't you want to know if Kamoko's okay?"
Agetoki looked around, his face red. "Why... er... why would I want to know that?"
"No reason," Sanzo said, jumping on his horse. We all knew Agetoki still had a picture of her in his locker at school.
So we rode toward the Dragon camp. Sanzo smirked the whole time, pleased with his own cleverness. Agetoki just fumed, torn between his indignity and his concern for Kamoko. "Sanzo Agetoki indeed," he growled under his breath. Oddly enough, I just kept thinking about the odds of meeting two people named Sukune in two days.
Anyway, we followed Sukune for awhile, until we got to the Dragon camp. Lots of armed peasants and ashigaru in armor were camped everywhere, cooking food, singing, or just lounging around. They all seemed to be having such a good time.
"This is much nicer than the Crab camp," I told Sanzo.
"What?" Sukune asked, turning around.
"He said, åthis place would be nicer with a bilge flamp'," Sanzo replied. Agetoki rolled his eyes.
"A what?" Sukune blinked.
"Um... a bilge flamp," Sanzo smiled, "It's a new thing we do in the battles up north."
"I'm from up north," the Dragon replied.
"I mean south."
"Oh," Sukune nodded, "Well, then if you can suggest some tactics I should introduce you to General Toturi right away. I'm sure he'd be pleased to meet you."
Agetoki grinned as Sukune rode ahead again. "Fine work, Sanzo!" he whispered, "I may have doubted your honorless ronin ways, but now you have gained us an audience with the enemy general! Fine work!" Agetoki rode ahead.
"Go suck a bilge flamp, you meatball," Sanzo mumbled.
"What was that?" Agetoki turned, not hearing.
"Just talking to Garou." "Oh."
So we followed Sukune through to the middle of the camp, where a large table had been set up under a bivouac. A vast array of models, of small figures and terrain, spread everywhere. Around the table, gathered four men. The first was a burly, smelly samurai with a topknot. The second was a tall, elegant man with a moustache, dressed in silken robes, poring over a scroll of some kind. The third was a short, scruffy man with colorful robes and dreadlocks. The fourth was a tall man with an eyepatch. I knew him as Dairya. (I had a gym class with him in junior high.) I tried to stay in the back so Dairya wouldn't recognize me and point out to everybody how much of a Crane I wasn't.
"I just don't get it, Tokei," the tall man said, throwing the scroll on the table in consternation, "All the probabilities, all the modifiers!"
"Not when you think about it, Mikio," the scruffy guy replied with a weird smile, "I'm certain I could explain it to you."
"I don't know," the burly guy said, "I still don't get the Modified Initiative Score business."
"That's cause you're bad at math, Ginawa," Tokei answered, "I just read the rule book once and I got it."
"Such power should not be wielded by a mortal man," Ginawa shook his head, "I'm sticking to the card game.
Dairy sneered. "I don't believe they left me out of the rule book."
Mikio noticed us and snapped at the other three. "Guys, stop screwing around with the game," he whispered, "We got visitors." He straightened his kimono and bowed low. "Greetings and welcome to the camp of Toturi the Black," he said formally, "I am Mikio, personal champion of Lord Toturi, and these are his advisors and lieutenants, Ginawa, Morito Tokei, and Dairya."
"I am Sanzo of the House Sanzo!" Sanzo said proudly, "These are my associates and manservants, Matsu Agetoki and Kakita Garou."
"Manservants?" Agetoki replied dangerously.
"Hey, don't I know you, Crane?" Dairya said to me, trying to get a better look at me.
"Um, no," I replied, trying to stay on the side of his bad eye.
The tent behind Toturi's commanders began to flap clumsily open.
"ALL HAIL LORD TOTURI!" Mikio announced, dropping to one knee. His lieutenants did the same.
The flap opened and out came Toturi the Black, stumbling slightly. "Hey, folksh, howsh it goin'?" he mumbled, swaying woozily and nearly dropping the sake bottle in his hand. He would have fallen over if not for the geisha holding him up. A tall man stepped out behind Toturi, helping him back to his feet a bit. He eyed us with cold suspicion. I thought he looked a little shifty.
"Lord Sanzo," Mikio said formally, "I present Lord Toturi the Black and Lietuenant Commander Takuan."
"You didn't announshe my geisha," Toturi mumbled.
"Er..." Mikio said, "I announce the lady..."
"What wash yer name again?" Toturi asked the geisha.
"Lord Toturi, I think you should go back to bed," Takuan said, not taking his eyes off us.
Toturi nodded and stumbled back into the tent. The geisha started giggling as soon as the flap closed.
"That was... that was Toturi?" Sanzo asked.
"He's not been himself of late," Takuan explained, "He's um... he's ill."
"Yeah, right," Agetoki said.
"I'm sorry," Takuan said, "Have we met?"
"I'm Sanzo of House Sanzo," Sanzo began, falling easily into his shpiel again. A young servant walked up and handed Takuan a sake bottle. Sanzo continued. "These are my manservants, Matsu Agetoki and--"
"Yasuki Garou!!!" shouted the servant.
"A CRAB!!" Ginawa yelled.
Everybody in the bivouac drew their swords.
"Thanks Toku," I said.
END OF PART THREEAll artwork above created by Rich Wulf.