Pillars of smoke rise
lazily from Northern flames
But Terrel heads south
Is true love broken
as the cherry blossom falls?
A body, no soul
While Hotaka and Shin’ichi quickly organised the burning of the weapons cache Shugeki and Chiaki came to the realisation that they did not know the true identity of the body. Chiaki had been unaware that her true love had an identical brother, while Shugeki knew both of the twins and revealed that her love had died recently, necessitating her upcoming betrothal. They came to decision to bring the body with them, with Chiaki barely leaving his side for much of the upcoming journey. Naruto, meanwhile, found no evidence of the scroll having been a conduit of magic that could explain the lack of decay on the body.
Pushed on by Hotaka the group trekked through the rest of the day towards the pillar of smoke, despite the claim of the ronin that Terrel was heading south to the Redemption Peaks. The reluctant camp they made that night was restful for only a few of the group. Neither of the Eta with them appeared to have slept at all while both Shugeki and Chiaki found themselves drained by nightmarish visions of their loves being chased from thunderous clouds by gaki, the hungry dead. Chiaki’s sleep was particularly fraught, likely thanks to the natural sensitivities of shugenja.
After a quick breakfast the group made towards the monastery, with Hotaka instructing the agile Shin’ichi to ‘scout’ ahead on foot, the suggestion as much driven by stereotypes of the Scorpion Clan as it was Shin’ichi’s actual abilities. Shini’ichi was not subtle, taking the path to where he could oversee the monastery which had been razed to the ground. In the centre was a crude funeral pyre, as he watched a small group of individuals came into view dragging a monk behind him. Stabbing him repeatedly they threw the body onto the pyre, at which point Shini’ichi decided to attract their attention. A couple of arrows whizzed past him as he turned and ran back to his group, hollering at the top of his voice as he did so.
The resulting fight was brutal and quick. Alerted by Shin’ichi’s call and their reflexes bolstered by Naruto’s magics the samurai quickly took apart the peasants. Shini’ichi, showing his skill with his katana removed the hand of one attacker with a surgical strike before requesting Chiaki’s aid in ensuring he did not die. They would need somebody to question later. A lucky strike got past Shin’ichi’s flashing blade, with only the will of the heavens holding back the brunt of the harm before the attacker fell to Hotaka’s great tetsubo. Shugeki’s bow sung true, gravely wounding another before she charged into combat on her great steed against the final man. Naruto attempted to call forth the earth to prevent one from escaping but found himself frustrated by a lack of concentration in the heat of battle and resorted to taking the peasant out with a burst of fire.
With the rush of battle over questioning of the peasant began. They learned that his lord, Shinjo Yatada, had ordered the attack on the monastery due to the use of maho. The peasant was unclear as to who exactly was using maho, though was under the impression that it was the monks. He claimed that the small group had been left behind to deal with any monks who had been absent and that they had panicked when they spotted Shin’ichi on the ridge. The monastery was, as Shin’ichi had said, a shell of its former self. A brief search determined that a sizeable group, including at least one horse, had trodden the path from the nearby Unicorn territory. The tracks and extent of the destruction were consistent with the pillar of smoke that they had seen earlier – this was a surprise attack which the monks had been unprepared for.
Taking advantage of the awakening of the fire kami in the area Naruto called them forth asking them what had happened in the last day and whether there had been any unusual chanting that might indicate maho type rituals. The excited kami responded to the first question by stating that many people had come to the monastery, people had died and those alive had departed. With a burst of flame it ended its answer AND THEN I BURNED! The second question was answered with a simple “there was chanting as usual, to the great Kyufoki, fortune of thunder and earthquakes but nothing out of the ordinary or unusual.”
Chiaki, drawing forth her own magics discovered yet another body hidden within the ruins of the forge in addition to a trap door in the monastery itself. Extinguishing the flames the group investigated the body first, finding an old monk wrapped in a funeral shroud and surrounded by simple offerings of worked iron and tools. The state of the body suggested he had been dead for a day or two. What was under the trap door remains to be seen…