Yousuke Haru

The price of love between a youkia and a human is the life of an innocent. You tell me if that sounds fair.[still WIP]

0 · 172 views · located in sengoku period, japan

a character in “The Ways of Samurai”, as played by Skittle_Overlord


Yousuke Haru
The price you must pay to change this world is, always has been, and always will be blood.



Yousuke Haru stands at a hulking six feet and seven inches, with thick muscles to fill him out. He's a massive and intimidating looking man with wild unkempt hair and a bestial stare to boot. His world eating grin sometimes graces his otherwise scowl set features, the man can't even smile without seeming vicious. But in this awe inspiring visage there is an untamed beauty, something majestic and wild in his form that is admired by those that have a taste for it. This beauty is particularly shown when he is in the midst of training and best observed in battle, where his fluid cutting movements serve him best.

Yousuke's clothing is humble, not at all what a lord should be wearing, but more like what a commoner would wear, and hardly put on properly either, he can get lazy with his appearance. Yousuke's wavy hair is hardly even put up these days, preferring to let it down and rest on his shoulders. He has a beard he sometimes grooms but mostly leaves scruffy. Perhaps once in a blue moon he might shave, but only if the scratchiness of his beard annoys him. His body is tanned and chock full of very old scars, it's been a while since he's received any knew ones, well, all but one. There's a long thin scar that is maybe a few years old that runs across his chest that a young soldier inflicted upon him. If Yousuke remembers correctly he took the boy's arm in return, but left him alive out of respect for his prowess, that technique for one so young had taken him by surprise.

ImageSake - It takes quite a bit of it to get him buzzed, but all the same he enjoys the flavor of well made sake.
Aesthetic - This is a broad term, but to specify he has an appreciation for observing the beauty of the world. He finds the unruliness of nature beautiful as much as he finds the prim well kept beauty of a Geisha. He appreciates out of place beauty and beauty perfectly in place all the same, so long as it is beautiful. This is entirely up to him however and some things he does not find beautiful, you can never tell what it might be that he'll declare ugly.
The hobbies of others - Haru has lived to an age that humans would consider ancient and youkai would consider infantile, in all this time he has dabbled in things others would consider hobbies. But more than participating Haru actually prefers to observe others and watch them enjoy their little hobby.
Technique - This ties into the hobby fascination, Haru has a great deal of respect for the technique involved in things. He particularly has respect for masters of their own art. He is not in the mind frame of looking down on any sort of art or mundane activity, be it gardening or brewing sake. It's true that he personally enjoys swordplay but it isn't the only thing he is fascinated by.
Misfits - He has a soft spot for the misfits of the world, being one himself.
Rice - "I am a simple man with simple tastes."
Scars - He purposefully allows those he faces that he finds worthy to cut him so he may remember them. Occasionally one leaves a scar that wasn't intentional, those are his favorite.

Decorum - The warlord is not of a noble family, and makes no efforts to pretend otherwise. He looks down on others who concentrate more on decorum than on important matters.
Fussiness - He's not pointing any fingers, but his paige is a bit of a fussy little shit. He's a laid back man who moves at his own pace, stop insisting he get dressed for the day or eat breakfast in the morning. You can be assured if the warlord is hungry he will eat at his own whim and get up at an hour that suits him. Meetings and reports be damned.
Arrogance - How can one be arrogant when there is such vastness in the world, how can one not bow their head to the rising of the sun and kneel at its setting? Every arrogant person he's ever met are not nearly as important or strong as they think anyway. At least back up what you brag.
Youkai - Most youkai anyway. He is often disgusted by their behavior and attitudes toward his kind.


Yousuke tends to address all under his employ with familiarity, but there's a certain impersonal distance he keeps from everyone. He has no family to speak of. If one person close to him were to come to mind it'd have to be Amaya, his adviser. He is automatically unguarded around her due to her status as a hanyou, and is completely at ease around her company. They've always had a clear and honest understanding when it comes to their goals, which are one and the same. He makes it clear that he values her opinion and input above that of anyone, and holds respect for her abilities. She certainly wouldn't be his adviser otherwise. There are rumors that their relationship is that of lovers and that Amaya is a simple concubine, but no one dares make such a jest to his face.

your weapon/s go here

your specialization, what you are good at etc.

what you are not good at, any fears, etc.

The Kobayashi abode is his now, and it is where he has been the past few years.

Include how they came to be the way they are, what job they have or how they make money, and their reputation out there, are they well known or a new kid on the block?

Every living thing's beginning is a bloody one, that's just the nature of birth; but as fate would have it for hanyou, it is also often a cruel one. Yousuke was born while a battle raged, his father fighting for the right to live in peace with his human wife. Someone slit his mother's throat while she gave birth, and almost slit his. That day his father committed fratricide, an act he would never forgive himself for, but one he only regrets he did not do sooner. There is very little Yousuke can remember of his father, having been left by him so early, but what he remembers is vivid. His father's hair was sunset red, he would always tug on it. He father was never angry, always patient. His hands were big, big enough to only need one hand to lift him safely above his head so he could pretend he was flying; and he always smiled whenever he did this, the biggest smile. Eight short years Yousuke spent with his father, always on the move, only at night, never on any roads, always going from mountain to mountain. His father was looking for a means for his son to survive, chasing a ghost of a rumor of another hanyou of the house of earth who made their home in a remote cave. This hanyou would be older than even him, and surely one who had lived for so long could ensure that his son did the same?

When they eventually found the man Yousuke's father convinced the hanyou to look after Haru until he was old enough to fend for himself. The elderly hanyou was lonely enough to accept. Yousuke's father left him, one of the most upsetting events that Yousuke can recall and one he assumes was done because there was no other way. From then on, Yousuke has recounted his past in terms of chapters, each new one beginning with the meeting of a fellow hanyou, and ending with their death.

Musashi is the name Yousuke came to know his teacher by, as his teacher never held on to names, one of the many things he did to survive. A large part of Musashi's survival seemed to be isolation, and he was contented to that. Yousuke was a rambunctious boy, part Oni and restless as any Oni child would be. Musashi, being part Oni himself took to teaching the boy how to fight with sword. A teacher who wanted to pass down his technique and a boy who wanted to learn, it was a good match that made both individuals lively. For a time at least.

Yousuke was young, and not contented to live out his likely to be long life out on a mountain, and he was disgusted that Musashi was. This notion that hanyou were just lucky enough to be alive was deplorable to Yousuke, and it made him angry the more he learned of the youkai and human worlds from Musashi. They would argue often as Yousuke became older, Musashi telling him to be grateful and Yousuke telling him that this was hardly living. It always ended the same way, with Musashi telling him that if he wanted to leave he was more than welcome to. But a bond had grown between them that kept Yousuke tied to that damnable mountain, until at the age of sixteen he became too hot headed and left in a rage. This little exhibition down the mountain did not last long, maybe a week before the first human contact he was met with sent him back up the mountain covered in blood that was not his. Just his luck, first people he meets are bandits, he killed them with his training "sword" that was actually just a well carved tree branch. As the very least he earned his first steel, a katana, the trip hadn't been a complete waste. But Musashi seemed disappointed when Yousuke came back. "Why did you come back." He had asked. Yousuke had thought that was obvious, he wasn't just going to leave the old man all alone. A strange expression came upon the old man's face when Yousuke said this.

The next morning Yousuke woke to find Musashi dead outside of their cave, having eaten poisoned plants. It was a suicide, there was no way it wasn't, Musashi knew all the plants and knew which ones were safe and which ones were not. He did not understand the event until much later in his life, and at the time Yousuke felt abandoned and angry. He has never returned to that mountain.

Yanagi Mizuhara
Haru was aware that he was stronger than humans, but just how much stronger wasn't clear to him until he started living among them.

So begins...

Yousuke Haru's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yousuke Haru

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Daimyo Yousuke, current holder of the Kobayashi domains, sat in much the same manner he had been sitting for days on end. His legs were folded, elbow resting on his knee, chin in his palm, other hand propped on his other knee, this was his thinking position. Anyone regarding him would think this man to be some sort of simple ronin, his clothing was plain and he had a bit of a wild demeanor to him, that of a sleeping beast. To be honest he was a simple man with simple needs, having no need for extravagance. He had full view of the courtyard from the room he chose as his office, the beautiful cherry blossom trees would be blooming soon. He had to admit the Kobayashi family were rather good at making their home pleasing to the eye, it looked so nice he even decided to have gardeners maintain it, whereas normally he wouldn't give a damn. Speaking of the Kobayashi, he was rather surprised when he learned that he did not succeed in killing all of them, one got away. To be specific, three got away, the lady of the house and her bodyguard and his daughter. He didn't see them as a threat or future problem, according to the Shinobi he had tail them to Edo, the former Daimyo's wife had gone mad with grief. He could easily have had her killed, but the Shinobi stationed in Edo was there to watch more than just her, he had bigger fish to cook. Killing her seemed of little importance and slipped out of his mind a long time ago.

He watched the men within his eyesight work, but he heard and smelled much more than what he saw around him. His small army was compromised of misfits and the desperate, of youkai he had ensnared in his employ and the rare hanyou that had been turned away from society. There were men who had refused to obey the oppressive laws set up by the class separation in Japan, women who refused to be called weak and subservient, deformed individuals called ugly by those who looked at them. All he welcomed, so long as they were strong enough to fight or learn how, and even if they were not there was usually something to be done around the place, he'd have his commanders find something for them to do. In this way Yousuke was a generous person who many owed a great deal to. He had not abused his position as Daimyo, not terrorized anyone who lived in his lands before he took over, in fact they thrived as they ever had. Yousuke was not a terrible leader at all. He treated those under him fairly, even if a certain few were not under his employ by their own will. He had a code of conduct which stated that those under him were to treat each other with respect and kinship. They were allowed to question their commanding authority even, so long as there was good reason and they were strong enough to challenge that authority. Yousuke was not cruel and chaotically bloodthirsty, he was an opportunist with a clear goal. He wanted to rule, and so far the lands he had gained were not complaining about it.

"Sir! This letter came in. Ah, sir what are you doing sitting in the dark? I'll light some candles." Sasuke, his page, showed up with a letter.

Yousuke looked around, it had indeed gotten dark on him, he hadn't noticed. "Mmmm, you fuss around too much." Yousuke mumbled as Sasuke set about lighting candles.

"And you spend you days thinking too much, honestly, did you even eat?! You haven't have you." Sasuke handed Yousuke the letter, "I'll go get something, I think Nadeshiko made pork buns too, you like those don't you?"

"Wait you fussy hen, more importantly, bring me Yamata.... And Tsubaki..." Yousuke said as he read the letter through.

"How am I supposed to find those two, they specialize in hiding!?" Sasuke stressed, finding the shinobi and kunoichi under Yousuke's employ was always a difficult task for Sasuke, they liked to tease him relentlessly, and the youkai took this as a game especially. It wasn't Yousuke's fault, they just hated their captor, and usually took it out on whomever they could. Yousuke of course couldn't tell Sasuke that it wasn't his fault, the knowledge of the existence of youkai was on a need to know basis.

"Not my problem." Yousuke shot back childishly. "Try the roofs." Damn shinobu loved to lounge on the roofs for some reason. He gave an unrefined snort as Sasuke mumbled to himself, off to do what was asked of him.

Yousuke dropped the letter, which was was from Inoue; the kunoichi he had stationed in Edo, in front of him, eyeing it wearily. He didn't need this shit this early in the day, best to nip this in the bud as early as possible- this, whatever little thing it was.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kurosawa Ryūnosuke Character Portrait: Kurosawa Tsubaki Character Portrait: Kohaku Souji-sama Character Portrait: Yousuke Haru

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The small town in which he’d been making his home for the past decade or so always rose even before the sun. Ryūnosuke, nocturnal by nature, had encountered some trouble adjusting to this at first, but with time and the application of his will to the task, he had trained himself to waken in the hours before dawn. As he couldn’t quite give up the sight of the moon high in the sky, however, he was yet glad he did not require so much sleep as the average ningen seemed to.

The bamboo pole over his shoulders bowed only slightly under the weight of the water-laden buckets dangling from either end of it, and his footsteps made little noise along the dirt road. They were about a day’s travel outside of Edo, here, and hardly ever received visitors of the well-intentioned kind. Though he had found that the blossoms were of a most remarkable shade here in spring, sadly the only folk who ever seemed to deign to visit the little place were bandits, and those soon found themselves most unceremoniously… dead. Or at least chased well away.

The ronin reached the house he was looking for, knocking politely on the door and stepping over the threshold only when bidden to enter. This humble dwelling, constructed as it was of wood and thatch, was well made, as were most of those that had been erected in the last ten years. Even so, there was only so much one person (or even a whole village) could do to alleviate the pain of poverty, as evidenced by the interior, clean but spare. The young woman within had two small children at her feet and another harnessed to her back, looking just about as overburdened as one would expect of a lady whose husband had left for the fortunes of the city and abandoned his family to get by without him. He personally found it despicable, but there was little to be done about it now, except perhaps help the woman in some small way.

“Ah, Kurosawa-san,” she greeted, dipping into a small bow as the little one on her back allowed. He smiled slightly and returned the gesture.

“Enemoto-san. You look well.” She shook her head slightly and rested a hand on the crown of her oldest son, just now four years old. The boy looked up (quite far up) at him with wide brown eyes, but then, he was usually like that. A soft-spoken, patient child. His three-year-old sister, on the other hand, at once attached herself to his hakama-clad leg, wrapping the limb in her tiny arms in a hug.

“Kuro-chan!” she said, though the ‘ro’ sounded more as a ‘wo’ in the way children sometimes had. Setting down the buckets of well-water, he crouched beside her and held out his arms, which the child interpreted correctly as permission to crawl her way onto his back. “Up!” she demanded with all the imperiousness of a queen, and he chuckled quietly, obliging the order.

“Of course, Sachiko-hime,” he replied gravely, “your loyal samurai can only obey.” Her too-thin arms wound round his neck, and Ryūnosuke’s smile disappeared entirely. He hated that, what he couldn’t do for them. He glanced back over at their mother, Enemoto Mariko, and there was something in her expression that he was instinctively wary of.

“I remember when you did that for me,” she said quietly, and he averted his eyes, choosing to survey the small interior of the home as though he had not seen it before. He really had been here too long; when he’d arrived, Enemoto-san had been a child of no more than eight or nine, and he knew that he hadn’t changed a bit in all that time. For now, it was simple enough to pass off as good health, but soon, people would begin to suspect something. Good people, who had no business knowing about such unworthy things as yōkai and the burden of centuries.

“You’ve always been there for me, haven’t you, Kurosawa-san?” she asked, though it was more to the air than to himself, and he sighed. Over the many years he’d spent wandering the human world, this occasionally happened. He could understand; it was difficult for a ningen woman to make her way in the world without the support of a husband, especially if she happened to have children already. He was no wealthy daimyo, but he did have a steady income, a valuable skill, and a proclivity to look after people. He had no illusions that any of these few women were in love with him—they didn’t even know who he was, not really. They simply sought security, as well they had a right to. This world was not kind to them, as a rule. But it was distressing to have this conversation over and over again.

“The past and the future are often different, Enemoto-san,” he replied, tone heavy with regret. He truly did need to leave, he decided. Sooner rather than later. Sensing the change in atmosphere, Sachiko squirmed, and he gently let her down back onto the floor, tousling her raven-colored hair with a hand before regaining his full height. "Your forgiveness, Enemoto-san, but I should not linger.” He continued. “Yamato-ojīsama needs his garden weeded.” The old man was hardly well enough to be doing so on his own, village headman or no. With a deep bow, half apology and half farewell, he exited the home through the same doorway he’d used to enter.

He would leave tonight. He had to.

A day’s leisurely walk after leaving the village he’d called home for the last ten years, Ryūnosuke came at last to Edo, his temporary destination. The leaving had been rather simple—though he grew to care deeply for the people at each new place he lived, he was simply a transient being by necessity. When one lived as long as he had, one learned not to put down too many roots, not to place too much value in the bonds one formed—never to get too close to tear yourself away. It was a sad thing, and lonely, but born from need and inescapable.

The day was dawning warm and sunny, the scents of early spring pungent on the light breeze. It teased gently at the ends of his hair and the edges of his dark clothing, creating a picture of serenity that was somewhat at odds with the permanent disquiet in his heart. Across his back, he carried only the barest necessities of life, plus two scrolls, sealed in waterproof containers, upon which he had painted his latest pair of works. He had been meaning to make a trip into the city to sell them, anyway, so it had seemed the most natural destination upon his departure. The ronin’s geta made only the softest of scuffling sounds on the dirt road before him, for he knew that to pass utterly in silence was suspicious, and had no wish to draw such unwelcome feelings upon himself. It was better to be thought humble and left be than to be thought mighty and constantly forced to prove it one more time.

Gradually, the road led into the city itself, the cultivated landscapes of rice paddies transitioning into the wooden buildings of residences, and then of a large marketplace. Edo was as bustling as ever, and he supposed it would never be otherwise, unless it met with some great calamity that even he could not foresee. He found himself hoping that it would not—for all their imperfections and cruelties, humans were generally worthy beings. Fragile, yes, and ephemeral, but for all that worthy.

His steps carried him eventually to his art dealer, a middle-aged man who seemed to be perpetually smoking a pipe, and after a few moments of admiring the scrolls and bargaining over the price they would fetch, Ryūnosuke left rather enriched, tucking the new purse of ryo into the space between his gi and his kosode. It was at this point that something caught his attention: affixed to the front wall of a tavern was a notice. Diverting from his arrow-straight course, the violet-eyed fellow approached it, tilting his head slightly to one side as he read the script thereupon. An open meeting for ronin? Apparently with the ultimate aim of selecting them for a dangerous job.

It was the family name of the requestor that drew his attention, however. Kobayashi. Not on the advertisement itself, but discoverable with a few additional questions to people who looked like they kept their ears to the ground. It was a name he’d heard before, on a few sparse occasions. More than that, however, he had known a Kobayashi, several centuries ago now. To suppose that this Kobayashi might be a descendant of his was a bit improbable, but he owed the name enough to check and see if the cause for which they were assembling so many men was something he could stand behind. Apparently, there were no few people who were leery of it, for reasons he had no background with which to understand, and he did not press it in conversation. He'd much rather see for himself.

Acquiring directions to the dojo from a passerby, he walked for another twenty or so minutes, finding himself at last where he sought to be. The locale was not one he knew, and he surmised it probably belonged to the Kobayashi in question, as he was aware of the family having attained the status necessary to procure such a homestead. But perhaps they were yet vassals to some noble house, and this property belonged to such as was their lord or lady.

Between twenty and twenty-five other people were assembled, and the dojo floor was filled already with the cacophony of many voices. He selected a spot somewhat out of the way and lowered himself to the floor, sitting seiza with a by now ingrained flawless posture. Casting his glance about the room, Ryūnosuke occupied himself with feeling out the ki signatures in the room with his magic. There were a few of considerable strength, which he supposed would be heartening to the assessor, but from the looks of things the majority were poorly-suited, and nothing was yet properly underway regardless.

It was then that a man perhaps approaching the latter part of his life entered, though for all that, he yet retained many of the aspects of human youth. His health was good, then. The tale he told, such as it was, was rather dire, and it did not take a prodigy to figure out what they were really being asked to do here, even for someone who did not know the full story. This was a revenge quest, an honor quest, and it would be nothing easy. Ryūnosuke did not leave when the majority of the rest did, but that did not mean he had by then decided, either. His eyes flickered over the others present, and he spent some moments in contemplation.

Finally, he spoke. “And when the Kobayashi rule again, what will they do, Kohaku-sama?” His tone was quiet, measured, and carried with it a certain sense of cultivated restraint. He did not introduce himself, perhaps a slight breach of courtesy, but at the moment it seemed the more informal atmosphere was the order of the day, and it seemed just as impolite to violate the tone that their potential employer had set.


Another day, another pointless exercise in the futility of struggle. And yet here she was, prepared to struggle all the same. She blamed him, and his seemingly perennial ability to convince her of things she knew to be false. But believe him she did, and she knew without having to ask that he would fight his fate, would fight this damnable man that held her in chains, tooth and claw… though perhaps not literally. That option was closed to her for the moment, and everyone involved was well aware of this. Her power was to be exercised at his leisure, and in the meantime, she was reduced to what this frail human-shape could do for her.

It was nothing, she was nothing, compared to what she could be in the full glory of her existence, and this rankled her. The warlord knew that too, and she suspected it amused him.

Tsubaki’s nostrils flared just slightly, the only sign of her discomfort, and a muscle in her jaw ticked. The shinobi that had taken her in, so long ago now, had advocated daily meditations as a way to begin one’s tasks with a clear mind and a solid foundation, but she had ever preferred skating by on the agility of her wit and adaptability. She was too fluid to be solid, and that was just her nature. So she abandoned the effort to be other than she was, and stood instead, crossing to the armoire standing in the corner of her room. The simple sleeping yukata she wore slid to the ground in a whisper of blue silk, and instead, she donned the typical vestments of her work. To her knowledge, she wouldn’t be needing these more mobile clothes, at least not today, but she refused not to wear them.

Her present lack of assignment likely meant she would be forced to wander about as a useless ornament to this palatial estate, commanded as ever by a base creature that she despised. Tsubaki knew quite well that the warlord thought of her as his very own particularly exotic pet, and some of his hirelings were not so different. Had she her strength, she would show them all exactly who deserved to bow to whom in this relationship, but presently her soul lay tied to the damnable man’s neck, and she therefore held by the thinnest, most unbreakable of tethers, a red thread binding their fates together for as long as he willed it.

The woman pinned her hair up into a simple mage ornamented only with a pair of inlaid sticks. It was far from the most expensive ensemble she could have donned, but she was not the kind of woman that preferred nor needed excessive decoration. Also, she detested that none of the things she was granted were hers, and this was a small, subtle showing of her disapproval. Sliding open the painted shoji screen that led out into the main hallway, she wended her way down the labyrinthine corridors to the garden, which tended to be her preferred dwelling place. It was close enough that she did not feel the ache of separation from her star ball, but distant enough that she usually didn’t have to see Yousuke Haru, much less interact with him.

It was too early in the year for cherry blossoms, but the garden was lovely anyway, and she settled with as much contentment as she ever felt anymore into seiza, enjoying the fragrance and the colors. If she stayed like this long enough, her thoughts would eventually quiet, as her long-lived mind drifted back over the spans she had already occupied, and tried to avoid thinking of the millennia that yet lay before her. There were mistakes to be found there, certainly, but also happiness, and it was to this that she held most dearly. Tsubaki held no faith that she would find any in the near future, and so she found it in the past instead.

…Or at least, she would have, had she not been interrupted by Yosuke’s attendant boy. Sasuke, his name was, though she would never admit to knowing it, and she certainly would not use it. She was not oblivious to the fact that the warlord actually commanded a fair amount of loyalty from some of the others who served him, and there was a certain logic to it. The yōkai excepted (many of whom she’d been forced to trick into his service), he was a relatively fair person to those that served him. She could hardly be bothered to consider this a redeeming feature when her soul rested in his hands and he showed no inclination to give it back.

Nevertheless, she was bound to answer summonses, and this one was no exception. Waving the boy off to find the next of his assigned targets, Tsubaki flowed into a stand and made her way through several side corridors before she found the room she was looking for. Even if she had not been told where he was, she would have been able to find him without anything but the call of her essence to her body. A subtle twitch to the muscle in the right side of her jaw was smoothed out, and the face she wore today was a vaguely-disdainful neutrality. She did not announce her presence—he would know of her nearness just as surely as she knew of his. Instead she entered, apparently the first to do so, and utterly silent.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kurosawa Tsubaki Character Portrait: Shiori Miyamoto Character Portrait: Yousuke Haru Character Portrait: Amaya

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The Demon Realm had a unique sort of feel to it, one she could not fully describe as impressing any of the mundane five senses. She supposed that had she not been attuned to anything outside of those, she would not have felt much different at all. But, being what she was, Amaya was aware of it, and it grated a little. This was belied by the way she kept flexing her hands more than anything, though she didn’t bother to hide the traces of irritation on her face, either. With the negotiations complete and no longer distracting her, she had more attention to devote to this unnamable itch, the strange crawling sensation under her skin. The distinctive makeup of this world was trying to expel her spirit from her flesh, to leave behind the husk, and she was forced to suppress it. She needed the husk, back in the human world. It would not do to leave it here.

Glancing to her side, she noted that her companion was still silent. This didn’t bother her at all, though she was still a little off-put by the ease with which the woman’s father had bartered her away as part of this deal, as though he’d been eager to do it the whole time. Well, it worked fine for Amaya’s purposes—her lord’s army could use another yōkai, especially one trained to combat. It was no challenge to see that Miyamoto-san had this attribute—it was in the fluid way she moved.

Amaya wasn’t sure what experience the hebi woman had with inter-world travel, so she took a moment to explain, her footsteps drawing to a stop once they reached a clearing. It was formerly a grassy knoll of some sort, slightly raised above the surrounding forest, but whatever grasses had grown here were long since singed away, a ring of perhaps ten feet in any direction scorched and blackened to barrenness by the very rare event of world-shifting. It was not an easy thing to do, and required a certain kind of knowledge as well as the right ki-based powers, and that was merely to open a gate. Stabilizing one, or aiming the exit, were even more difficult tasks. Thankfully, the old knowledge was not lost to everyone.

“This is the spot we’ll be going through. Once I open the gate, you’ll have to enter first. If I’m doing this properly, it should open just behind Yousuke-dono’s estate. Wait for me when you land, and I’ll take you to him.” Pursing her lips together, Amaya frowned, seemingly at nothing but the air, for several slow seconds. She didn’t wave her hands or incant anything or any such nonsense as that, and indeed the only hint that anything was about to happen was that her eyes slipped into the middle distance a little, as though she were somehow looking beyond what was right in front of them.

A small breeze picked up from behind them, stirring the unbound little hairs at the sides of her head like so many stalks of rice in the paddies, and slowly, the air in front of them began to shimmer, almost as if heat were radiating from the ground. Their visual fields warped, curving as though there were a giant telescopic lens in front of them, and then, slowly, space tore apart. The rift appeared to be entirely two-dimensional, open before them like an elliptical mirror, only they could see through it, to what looked to be an expansive garden. The smell of wisteria filtered through, something not present on their side of the gate.

Flicking black eyes to Shiori, Amaya nodded slightly, to indicate that the other woman could pass through first. As she did, the diminutive strategist regulated her breathing, watching the edges of the gate waver—perhaps alarming, but ultimately harmless. When the masked woman was through, Amaya followed, letting the gate shut behind her when she was sure all of her important body parts and articles of clothing were through, plus of course the satchel she was carrying, the terms of the treaty inside laid out in neat, crisp handwriting and signed by both herself, as relevant proxy to Yousuke-dono, and Miyamoto Makiri.

A quick ki sweep of the area revealed that most of Yousuke’s shinobi and kunoichi were either with him or on their way there, and she could only assume he had called for a meeting of some kind. Either her timing was exceptionally good, or his was. Upon feeling something wet sliding down her face, Amaya reached her free hand up to her nose, thin fingers coming away with red droplets at their tips. Damned gates. Reaching into the space between her gi and kosode, she tugged out a scrap of cloth and used it to blot away the blood, the wound it came from already healing, doubtlessly. “It’s this way. I suspect you’ll be introduced, then given the opportunity to settle in and rest, if you need it. Someone should explain everything you need to know, which honestly isn’t much. Don’t worry too much about being formal with Yousuke-dono; he doesn’t really care for all that.” It went without saying, of course, that formality or not, some amount of respect was expected.

The gate had spit them out a little closer to the house than planned, but that wasn’t at all a problem, and Amaya entered, occasionally nodding to acknowledge the shallow bows of passing servants and the like. Very few people here were much for standing on all the ceremony, which was something she appreciated. Less wasted time that way.

She knocked sharply on the door before pushing it aside to admit herself and her charge. “Yousuke-dono. I have returned from the demon world, as promised.” He’d expect a fuller report later, of course, and she would give it, but not presently. Kurosawa-san was already in the room, her face a mask of neutrality, though she wasn’t especially inclined to hide her disdain for being here most of the time. The fox-woman’s brows drew together slightly as she spotted their new guest over Amaya’s shoulder, but she was otherwise unreactive.

“This is Miyamoto Shiori. I’ll let her explain why she’s here.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kurosawa Tsubaki Character Portrait: Shiori Miyamoto Character Portrait: Yousuke Haru Character Portrait: Amaya

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#, as written by Clarent


"The only reason a warrior is alive is to fight and the only reason a warrior fights is to win."

Five strokes... each one so delicate and filled with precision one could assume the action had been practiced. This was all it took to sign away her very soul. Shiori had watched the event transpire as she had sat at the very table were her life would be bartered off like some good that were to be sold in a marketplace. Silence had reigned only for a moment after that before Shiori was dismissed by her father to collect her things and go from the house of her childhood. To the hebi who even knew this day would come this would rend her in two, damaging her more than any blade ever could.

The woman however held her tongue as she was taught to do so long ago, pushing the sadness, the rage and the hatred to the farthest reaches of her mind were they would trouble her no more. It would take only a moment to retrieve her belongings from the small empty space she had called a room for the past few years though in reality the walk there felt like an eternity, her legs acting more so like lead blocks than anything else. The hallway finally would come to an end in front of a small sliding door, its surface decorated with the waves of the ocean crashing against a harbor. The woman reached out with a gentle grip and slid the door open to reveal the space beyond. The room was a blank space other than the cot on the floor on which she had slept on, and what was left of her things were all neatly packed the foot of her sleeping area along with the small bonsai tree in its little pot.

The woman allowed her eyes to sweep over the room from behind the blank featureless mask one last time before she knelt down to begin collecting what little she had. The task was done in silence as once done she stood gasping a package of what looked to be letters and stuffing them in the small sack she would carry her belongings in. With that she picked up her potted plant and with a quick turn of the heel began to leave the room before pausing as if to take on last look at the place she had grown up in. The room seemed almost peaceful as the light from its one window drifted down to stretch across the floor letting the shadows of the place begin to slither across the floor. Shiori seemed to take in this view before slowly she exited, sliding shut the painted door behind her as the light in the room seemed to fade.

The start of trip to the human world was accompanied by a veil of silence, as neither traveler seemed to be in any true hurry to speak to one another as they went on their way. The journey would not be long however as they would come to the stop in clearing in which the other woman who had introduced herself as "Amaya" from earlier turned to her. Shiori look at the woman as if waiting to hear what she had to say, her serpentine eyes finding a focus on the one who stood before her. The tactician began to explain what she was about to do, her words flowing forth on how she was to create a portal to the human world.

“This is the spot we’ll be going through. Once I open the gate, you’ll have to enter first. If I’m doing this properly, it should open just behind Yousuke-dono’s estate. Wait for me when you land, and I’ll take you to him.”

To this Shiori simply gave her a curt nod before moving into position to await the portal to be opened. She had been to this human world twice before though neither visit was exactly a peaceful pleasure trip though that in her mind was a story for another day. The sounds of the ritual brought Shiori back to reality as right before her eyes the rift between the demon world and the human world began to take shape. Shiori moved closer to the portal eyeing the edges as they expanded outwards to form the almost human size hole in the fabric of the two worlds they'd have to travel through.

The view at the end of this tunnel seemed to take is form in a swirling mass of color before finally it came into focus for what it truly was. On the other side of the rift lay what appeared to be some sort of lavish garden, it's scents drifting through as if carried on the spring breeze. The woman watched the scene with great interest as she almost sub-consciously slide her pack of item's strap up on her shoulder to prevent it from falling off with a free hand. The was a brief silence as Amaya seemed to check the portal for stability before with a slight nod the other woman signaled the portal was ready for use.

The hebi seemed to take a slight breath as her fingers wrapped tightly around the small bonsai tree she held in a death grip that suggested she feared losing the plant. With that small preparation being done the youkai took as step into the void as the scenery that awaited her grew nearer with every step. Finally she breached the other side of the gate, her feet coming down hard on the ground that awaited her. She soon as expect began to slowly but surely began to regain her bearings as she gave herself a once over with her eyes to make sure the gate did not leave anything behind, as it would be humiliating to her to arrive in the company of her new Lord in the nude.

Luckily however the gate had seemed to do its job without fault and soon after Amaya was through the fissure sealing it behind her. Shiori took the moment of silence as her companion seemed to do the thing she had done only a few seconds earlier to get any idea of were she was allowing her eyes to scan the world around her. The gardens were a sight to behold, their radiant colors and the ever pleasant smell of the flowers in bloom almost hid the foul human stench that hung in the air.

Around the gardens sat the Castle which she could only suppose was owned by Warlord Yousuke, its towering structure like the many other castles in the province being some of the only things Shiori about this world she had entered was genuinely impressed by these days as otherwise the human world was nothing new to her. It was the scent of blood hitting the air however that caused Shiori to turn as her eyes focused on Amaya as the human seemed to be dealing with a slight nose bleed though she dealt with it in a quick and professional manner. Then with that Shiori's attention was once again grabbed by the woman who began to give out the rest of the briefing that the serpent woman could only nod to.

“It’s this way. I suspect you’ll be introduced, then given the opportunity to settle in and rest, if you need it. Someone should explain everything you need to know, which honestly isn’t much. Don’t worry too much about being formal with Yousuke-dono; he doesn’t really care for all that.”

Soon however she would find herself standing in the shadow of the doors that had look since tormented her dreams. This was were her last bit of freedom would now truly wither and die. The woman grimaced slightly under her mask as the Tactician pushed open the doors to the room to enter giving her a clear view of what awaited her. There in the room sat the man who she was now subservient to. The woman said nothing as she followed Amaya inside, her yellow irises darting around the room as if to take in all the figures who now stood in it, her eyes settling strangely not on the Warlord but on the one next to him as if she was straining to put a name to the woman's face.

The silence afterwards seemed to hang in the air like a suspended blade before it was dispersed once again by Amaya who gave a greeting before promptly turning things over to Shiori who promptly gave a seemingly practiced bow of greeting to both the Warlord and one she could only assume was one of his Shinobi. "It is an honor Yousuke-dono." She mustered in a quiet greeting though her voice left no hint of emotion as she rose from her bow setting the bonsai tree along with her things to the side as she slowly lowered herself down to kneel in front of the Warlord, lowering herself in another bow as if to address him on a matter of importance. "I as the daughter of Mikiri Miyamoto send you his best regards and wishes on your endeavors as well as offer you myself in service. I am but your blade, use me as you wish." Shiori finished before rising up out of the bow and locking her eyes on him, the yellow irises cutting at the man who sat before them as if awaiting some sort of reaction out of him to this.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kurosawa Tsubaki Character Portrait: Shiori Miyamoto Character Portrait: Yousuke Haru Character Portrait: Amaya

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Yousuke did not bother to budge as Tsubaki entered the room. As far as the youkai under his enslavement went she was by far his most useful, she was as comfortable being charming as she was slitting a throat.Tsubaki was responsible for all of the youkai he owned. And he knew that was a harsh way of putting it, owning another being, but it was very accurate and Yousuke at the very least didn't want to make light of what it was he was doing. It was an evil, a necessary one, but at least he would not mask it as something else.

She had a great deal of quiet dignity this one, even in the face of hardship. She made her displeasure known in subtle ways, which was highly amusing to observe. Today he was not in the best of moods however, and her silence was her saving grace from being told to shut up. Anyone that knew Yousuke would know he was anxious, while he exuded calm he was unable to get comfortable and his lack of movement or eating attested to his tense state of mind.

The rest of the Shinobi gathered, he didn't shift until he felt a relieving presence. He had expected to send them off himself but now that Amaya was finally back she could take care of the matter herself. Yousuke let out a breath he didn't know he was holding, he groaned, cracking neck and stretching his tense shoulders. Damn her, he remembered a time when he had no one to worry about. It was easier on him certainly, but lonely.

His body was more relaxed by the time she arrived, a youkai trailing after her. Unexpected as far as company went, he nodded at her as she gave way to this newcomer, Miyamoto Shiori. He would speak more with Amaya later, and ask why it was she smelled like blood.

Such formality, from what he had been told the house of the sea was extremely concerned with it, and this poor youkai, he met her cutting gaze with ease, had formality beaten into her very bones, he could tell.

Yousuke threw his head back into a booming laugh, "Of all the unexpected things, the house of the sea sends me one of its people as though it were nothing. Tell me Shiori, who did you piss off to get sent here?" Yousuke began his debriefing, a process he went through with every youkai he took into his service. He needed to assess them, get them to speak, get them both comfortable and uncomfortable, and then he made clear what it was he expected of them.

Yousuke nodded to Amaya, holding out Inoue's letter for her to take.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kurosawa Tsubaki Character Portrait: Shiori Miyamoto Character Portrait: Yousuke Haru Character Portrait: Amaya

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While Yousuke-dono conducted his debriefing of the new agent, Amaya read over the documents he had handed to her. She didn’t need to ask to understand what was expected of her here—if he was drawing this matter to her attention, that meant he wanted her to design and implement a strategy to deal with it. Inoue, their embedded agent in Edo, had ties to a member of Kobayashi-ue’s household, ties that she was clearly putting to very effective use. Whomever she’d found must have been remarkably loose-lipped; either that, or Inoue-san was better than Amaya had initially assessed. Either option was interesting, but ultimately inconsequential at present.

Settling in front of the assembled shinobi without looking up from her reading, Amaya finished the rest, a small furrow forming in her brow. Hiring ronin for a vengeance quest, was it? Well, it wasn’t exactly unexpected, but Amaya could hardly formulate an accurate strategy knowing only that they were ronin. Such people came in many types, with many different levels of skill and character, and though it arguably took a certain amount of stupidity to want to take on Yousuke-dono, intelligence and skill at warfare were unfortunately not always directly correlated. Worst case scenario, Kobayashi-ue would manage to secure herself a small army of very talented idiots. It was certainly not impossible.

Fortunately, the means to gather the information she now required sat silently assembled in front of her at this very moment, and she waited for Miyamoto-san to join the lot before she spoke. Doubtless, her lord’s idea of appropriate response would be something along the lines of just go kill them already, but Amaya wasn’t going to do that without more detailed intelligence. Some things required the needle rather than the hammer.

“Kurosawa-san. Take Miyamoto-san and three others—I want you to go to Edo and locate one Kohaku Souji-san. Inoue says he is gathering a rebel force on behalf of the Kobayashi. Discover how many number in this force, and how strong they are. Do not engage if you can avoid it. We are after information here, nothing more. It goes without saying that you should go undetected if you can, undercover if you can’t. Make contact with Inoue—I will write a new set of orders for her that you will deliver. You should leave tonight, at dusk.”

She paused a moment, letting the words settle, and in that time, Kurosawa-san inclined her head slightly, an indication that the orders were received, though she did not bow, as most subordinates would have. Amaya simply didn’t care. “Understood, Amaya-san.” There was usually a slightly awkward hitch in the speech of people who addressed the strategist by name—even if they didn’t particularly respect her, it was still odd to refer to another by what was clearly a given name. But the monk who raised Amaya had given her none, and she saw no need for one. Amaya was all she was, and it was enough. Kurosawa seemed to be used to it, anyway.

Their orders delivered, the assembled shinobi stood, bowed, and departed, leaving Amaya alone with her thoughts. Well, and Yousuke-dono, but that wasn’t terribly unusual. It wasn’t like his so-called ‘bodyguard’ actually cared for the duty, and really, the idea that he needed one was laughable. She actually may have laughed, when he mentioned to what use he intended to put Muga.

“I think we should start assembling a strike squad,” she mused, partly to him, and partly just to herself. He gave her a great deal of leeway when it came to planning—really, the fact that she couched her strategies as suggestions still was more an idiosyncrasy of her own preference than any demand of his. “Which means, of course, that I’ll have to spend the rest of the afternoon combat testing some of the soldiers…” She arched an eyebrow at him. Watching her do that seemed to be a particularly-amusing pastime, for him. She didn’t really understand why, though perhaps there was some entertainment value to watching her spar with people nearly half again her size.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yousuke Haru Character Portrait: Amaya Character Portrait: Fujimaki Taro

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The encampment was still a bustle of activity as soldiers from all makes of life made their way to and from their respective duties. For the most part, there wasn’t a single one of them that wasn’t busy, or so it seemed. In the middle of it all, sitting cross legged by a small fire and tending to a pot was Taro. His hand rhythmically moved the spoon in the pot, drool practically dropping out of his mouth as another man came up behind him. Shoda’s hands were crossed, his eyes glaring down at the apparently oblivious Taro. “Everyone else is performing their duties.” Shoda started. “And I find you here...making...what?”

“Stew.” Taro answered quite matter of factly. Shoda waited for a further answer that didn’t seem to come.

“And…? Why are you making stew at this particular moment in time?” Shoda asked, exasperation already starting to show on his face.

“I think the answer would be obvious. I...am...hungry.” Taro stated as he pulled the spoon out for a taste test. With a tiny sip, he licked his lips and handed it to Shoda. The man gave a sigh, knowing that arguing with a man who could literally out-fight everyone in his squad was fruitless. With a bit of hesitation, he lifted the spoon to his lips and took a taste. After a moment, he gave a nod.

“That’s actually not half bad…” Shoda stated, looking at Taro. “What kind of meat is in that?” Taro took the spoon, and pointed to a rack just off to the side. Shado glanced over, and his face was immediately covered in a stupor as he stared at the cat skin hanging off of it. “Ok, I knew you hated cats...but I thought you were just kidding.” Taro waved the spoon around, turning slightly to point it at Shado.

“I never kid about eating pussy cat.” Taro stated, putting the lid on the pot as he poked the fire with a stick for a moment. Shado simply stared at him, a look of incredulousness plastered on his face. Taro was already continuing. “If you do it right, you treat the meat, it becomes a treat for me to eat.” Shado just shook his head.

“How long has that one been in your head?” Taro gave a smile as he stared off into the camp.

“Way longer than you’ll ever get me to admit to.” Taro stood up, stretching slightly as he turned to face his squad captain. “But, you didn’t come here to question me on my diet, so, mind telling me what’s on your mind Captain?” Shado paused for a moment, before snapping his fingers a couple times.

“Right, got a request from the top. Yousuke-dono is setting up some kind of challenge to the masses. Anyone can step forward and try to beat his chosen warrior, and if they do, there’s a massive prize that goes with it. Money, fame, women, who knows.” Taro paused for a moment as his eyes widened slightly.

“So you’re telling me...they’re giving us a free shot at one of his personal retainer?” Taro asked, and Shado simply nodded.

“I wouldn’t say a free shot, but sure you can fight them.” Taro was practically jumping around on the inside, but he managed to bring his outside demeanor back under control slightly as he simply smiled rather than broadcast a childish display of anticipation.

“So, do we know who this warrior is then?” Shado gave a smile in return, which worried Taro more than the actual fight did.

“It’s Amaya-san.” Taro cocked an eyebrow at this as he stomped out the small fire.

“She’s Yousuke-dono’s strategist and analyst, isn’t she?” Taro asked as Shado turned and started walking, to which he in turn moved to keep up.

“Among other things, I would say that’s the main one yeah. Have you talked to her at all?” Taro gave a slight shrug.

“She was there when I was first hired, also a couple times around the camp. She fits her role very well and seems like a nice enough girl.” Taro nodded once. “Kind of makes me question how she got to the role she is today, but that’s none of my business so I don’t bother to pry.”

“Probably for the best.” Shado stated as they continued their trek through the encampment. “I will say this though, she’s a rather accomplished fighter from what I’ve been able to see.”

“I’d rather gauge that for myself.” Taro stated, while also mentally adding; and I wish they had picked a male opponent.

It wasn’t long before the duo managed to get to the fairly large opening that had been cleared for where the trials were taking place. Shado and Taro managed to push themselves through the crowding soldiers to the front, and were graced with the sight of a man landing face first into the dirt hard enough to make more than half of the men in the crowd wince in sympathetic pain. Taro looked at the soldier who was barely moving on the ground, several cuts and bruises were already evident on his face as a couple of other soldiers moved to get him off of the ground.

“I tried to tell you.” Shado stated, making Taro shrug his shoulders once more.

“I’ve been beating these troops into shape myself for the better part of a couple years now, that doesn’t really frighten me much.” Taro stated as he got a look at Amaya herself, who was standing confidently in the center of the makeshift arena. Her arms were folded, matching the serious expression on her face and giving a somewhat comical ‘guard’ stance that Taro wanted to laugh at but knew would not be appreciated. Behind her and in a space all of his own was the very man he worked for. Yousuke-dono sat on his horse, allowing him a prime vantage spot to witness the carnage that his retainer was doing to the masses. Taro looked off to the side and saw that, including the man he just saw fall, there were a couple of others looking rather defeated as well. Yet despite the fact that she had obviously fought several people already, she showed no signs of combat, which was impressive for someone of her stature. Taro wanted to challenge the Warlord’s retainers, but he also didn’t want to fight a woman. He put a hand to his chin as he weighed his options.

She was obviously a warrior, otherwise she wouldn’t be here. She was not only capable of taking damage, but expected it as stated by the previous reason. Still, he felt like his hand might be somewhat stayed instinctually because of her gender. A challenge was a challenge right? He had hoped that he would fight some of Yousuke’s personal guard, and this was about as close as he was going to get without moving up the man’s military ladder. In the middle of his reverie, a hand dropped on his shoulder, forcing him back into reality.

“Are you rethinking fighting her?” Shoda stated, a sly smile on his face. “No one here would think any less of you if you did, obviously they’re not stepping forward.” His words were correct, but his tone was pushing Taro on, as if he needed the extra nudge. Taro brushed the man’s hand off and gave a smile.

“Stand back and watch how it’s done.” Taro said, his tone slightly more serious and dangerous as his mind already started adapting to the battle conditions that he was expecting. He stepped forward into the circle, his left hand resting on the hilt of one of his swords as he took up a spot opposite of Amaya. He turned to face Yousuke, bowing deeply.

“Yousuke-dono”. He stated, his voice void of all previous humor that was lacing his words just seconds before, his face as stoic as stone. He turned to Amaya next, and gave a small genuine smile before giving another bow. This one wasn’t as formal, his arm sweeping out slightly as he did so with a bit of flourish. “Amaya-san, a pleasure as always.” The difference in tone between the two people was almost light and dark as he straightened from his stance, a touch of levity gracing the air between them.

“If you would have me, I will be your next opponent.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yousuke Haru Character Portrait: Amaya Character Portrait: Fujimaki Taro

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To say that the past month had been an adventure would be an extreme understatement. Not only had Jiu traveled across the sea as a stowaway, which had been a terrifying ordeal in and of itself, but he finally accomplished a lifelong dream of setting foot in his beloved Japan. He'd spent the past month simply traveling the country side looking for clue's about his master's whereabouts and soaking in the scenery. Best of all, every new tea house was an excuse to stop and experience life. It also just might have been an excuse to drink his sorrows away in some sort of home away from home.

Unfortunately for Jiu, alcohol was not free and there was the pesky need for food and lodging; a fact he grumbled over as he had stumbled into town the previous day. He could only make so much money with his wooden pipa and he had yet to meet someone willing to take the chance of hiring on a drunken swordsmen. His coin purse was getting lighter and lighter and he was soon going to need a more permanent solution to his constant money problems.

'Oh well.' Jiu thought as he walked through the well kept and bustling streets. He firmly believed things would work themselves out the way they were meant to, even if that meant him begging with a hungry stomach.

Hopefully it wouldn't end with a hungry stomach.

It wasn't long before Jiu had made his way to a rather busy tea house. He couldn't explain it but he never really had to look for them, it was like he was magnetically drawn to the chaotic laughter and merriment that existed in all drinking houses. This particular tea house was exceptionally loud and Jiu felt his usual smile grow even larger as he entered, eager to see the cause of such joyous uproar.

He was somewhat surprised to see what he assumed were a group of samurai, or simple soldiers more likely due to their more simple looking demeanor, irregardless of rank however they had been in the midst of a particularly loud song praising a 'Lord Yousuke'. It was immediately clear to him that these men were extremely inebriated, a fact that made it all the easier for him to slip into the middle of the group.

At first he was greeted with suspicion, one man even reached for a blade. But a quick round of drinks for everyone, followed by another, and then another, and Jiu had made life long friends. Or at least that's what one particularly loud square faced soldier was barking at Jiu before he flat out passed out at the table.

Not only was Jiu genuinely enjoying the company of the soldiers, who had taken it upon themselves to explain how their “Great and powerful Lord”, had improved life for everyone, but he felt he had learned quite a bit of information. His ears particularly perked up when they began speaking of a tournament of sorts, they made it sound like an opportunity where anyone could prove their merit in a fight against one of Yousuke's personal warriors.

“Any one, you say?” Jiu asked before downing a final cup of sake, a mischievous grin on his lips as he thanked fate. Perhaps he could finally prove his blade was worth purchasing. At the very least he hoped he'd be drinking tonight, having just spent just spent the last of his coin.

The next day Jiu awoke sometime before noon, wasting no time he hurried off following the directions the old soldiers had given him the previous night. They told him they looked forward to him getting torn apart. Surprisingly for as drunk as his drinking companions had been their directions were amazingly accurate. It hadn't taken him long at all to find the large clearing that was the makeshift arena, the large circle of shuffling men a clear sign that fights were indeed already taking place.

Jiu made his way to the front of the crowd just in time to see a would be opponent literally flying through the air before colliding with the ground in a cloud of dust. The sound the man made on impact caused Jiu to slightly wince, an act he exaggerated by cringing his whole body. It was time to start acting like an idiot.

He watched for another moment as a new man entered the ring carrying himself with all the poise of a true warrior. First the newcomer spoke in regards to a man on horseback, a man he had called Yousuke.

'The Lord Yousuke?!' Jiu thought to himself excitedly, adrenaline surging through his veins at the realization that the highly spoken of lord was attending the event. Perhaps fate truly was smiling on him.

Realizing he was in desperate need of a drink Jiu quickly untied the small black gourd at his waist. It had the kanji of 'Ox' on it and he wasted no time lifting the hard hollow gourd to his lips, three long swigs later and a wipe of his chin and he was ready to go.

Turning his attention back to the scene unfolding, Jiu watched as the man began to speak to the woman. She was obviously far more dangerous then Jiu would have thought, had he not seen her display of sheer strength. The man asked if she'd have him for her next opponent.

“Wait! Wait! Me first!” Jiu's sharp voice squawked as he bumbled into the arena. Immediately he caught many eyes as he swayed to and fro in a strange jog of sorts, the only thing seemingly keeping him from toppling over was the white staff he clutched in his right hand. Whenever it seemed like he was finally going to fall the staff would keep him ajar at the very last moment.

“Oh high and mighty lord of lords.” Jiu began towards Yousuke's direction in his barely passable Japanese, his words slightly slurring together and borderline sarcastic. He didn't mean to come off sounding so insulting but he honestly didn't know how to properly address a Lord. That fact combined with his strange accent made him come off as quite a strange sight. Of course his odd clothes and toothy grin weren't helping matters either.

Not knowing how to be proper, he did the next best thing by copying Taro's bowing moves and gestures while stringing together all the flowery flattering words he could come up with. “It is my humblest-est of honors to prove my worth before one of your stature.”

He finished with another of Taro's bows, although this one was much more flamboyant and nearly resulted in him falling over his feet-at least that's how it appeared to those with an untrained eye.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yousuke Haru Character Portrait: Amaya Character Portrait: Fujimaki Taro Character Portrait: Shimamoto "Jiu" Ni  Zi

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Cowritten with blackrider and Quakernuts

It would appear that her next challenger was Fujimaki-san. An unusual fellow, in some respects; Amaya had spoken with him a few times, which was true for most of those ranked officers in the army. His position was irregular as it was, which, should he prove adequate to the task, would make for a good candidate to the squad she was trying to assemble. It was fortunate, then, that he’d decided to challenge. Her eyes flickered for a moment to Yousuke-dono, who seemed as amused as ever by the spectacle of soldiers fighting a strategist, and her lips twitched into a smile at Sasuke. He’d had a little too much sake, perhaps.

“Your challenge is accepted, Fujimaki-san. You are permitted to use whatever weapons or implements you should wish. I encourage you not to worry about harming me. There will be enough other concerns to occupy you shortly.” It was a warning, of sorts, but delivered without a shred of arrogance. Amaya was good at what she did—it was why she held the rank she did. Some tended to forget this fact upon looking at her, because she was small and female. She didn’t resent it, but neither would she fail to punish someone for it if they held back out of some misapplied notion of mercy.

She was stepping forward to bow in the traditional manner before a bout when another voice carried over the din, and the owner of it came flailing after. Amaya’s brows drew together over her eyes for just a moment, and she snorted softly, the sound escaping as a little huff of air. She raised a brow at Yousuke-dono, but these matches were hers to conduct and therefore hers to construct.

“No need for turns. I will fight you both simultaneously. Teamwork is, after all, just as vital a skill as solitary combat. If you should best me, you can face each other.” That should assuage any concerns about credit going where it was due.

The whole time Amaya had been speaking Jiu had been doing his best to stretch out his body, a process that looked quite comical as he flailed his arms around and did a couple squats. It was as if despite what was going on Jiu couldn't keep his body still for more then the span of a few seconds. Suddenly his last attempt to stretch out his legs resulted in him literally crashing to the floor in a painful looking heap, instead of picking himself up though, he simply lay there. He was hoping to lull Amaya into thinking he wasn't worth her attention.

This woman truly wanted to fight them both at once? And with their choice of weapons no less. Jiu thought she had to be extremely skilled or foolish, or perhaps just the perfect mixture of both? He wasn't sure but regardless he was determined to do his best to catch the eye of Lord Yousuke, or more importantly, gain access to the man's coin. So that meant now was no time to hold back.

As Amaya finished up her comments on teamwork and explaining how the victors could fight each other Jiu slightly sat up, quickly piling most of his belongings together that he had no intention on bringing into the fight. In moments his staff, sword, and pear shaped musical instrument all sat a good foot away and the only "weapon" he still clutched in his hand was one of his signature hollowed out gourds. Unlike the black 'Ox' gourd Jui had drank from moments ago this one was more redish in color and bore the kanji for 'Dragon'.

“Before we begin perhaps I could offer a drink to my new found friends, yes?” Jiu asked before he himself took an exceptionally large swig. He'd spoken with all the sincerity he could muster before offering the hollowed out gourd to both Taro and Amaya, all the while trying his best to hide the mischievous grin curling across his face.

Well, this one was a weirdo. Fortunately, Amaya was rather accustomed to dealing with those. Yousuke’s army took people who could fight or had other valuable skills, and the reason many of them were available in the first place was because they would never fit in with a conventional army. If they were ronin, they were either not good at following conventional rules, not of noble enough blood to become samurai like they wanted to, the wrong gender, or whatever. This one looked like a lush, and acted like one too, though she could detect that there was something else there as well, from the way he never quite faceplanted or hurt himself, however precariously close he seemed to get.

She was almost a little insulted when he chose to stow his sword with the rest of his extraneous belongings, and she decided right off the bat that this one was not already part of the troops, from how much he was carrying. He was probably looking for a way in, then. Fine by her—she neglected to tell him that there were much easier ways to join up.

“No, thank you.” Her reply to the newcomer was simple, blunt, casual—as though she regularly received the offer of alcohol before a match and thought nothing strange of it. Deciding, however, that it was high time to get on with it, she curled one hand into a fist, placed it against the opposite palm, and bowed, coming back up and settling into a relaxed stance.

“Whenever you are quite ready, gentlemen?” Threaded in the manner of address was a subtle note of irony; perhaps only she would address these particular people as such. But for all the lightness of tone, her face was impassive. She intended to take the challenge as seriously as any other, no matter how bizarre it would seem to anyone else.

Taro was in the process of analyzing Amaya as an opponent, his thoughts mixing to what type of style, speed, strength, and weapon she would be using. When it became clear that her lack of a weapon came from the purpose of not using one, Taro nearly gave a smile in amusement. He moved to take his swords off of his hip when another new comer had entered the field. Taro stared over at the man, irritation bubbling beneath the surface even though he refused to let it show. The way he carried himself, with a stumbling befit of only the most drunken fools was enough to make Taro groan inwardly. Enough, stop embarrassing yourself and walk away Taro thought to himself as the man continued to address Amaya.

Taro's hands stopped disentangling his swords from his hip for a moment as the man asked to test himself against the lord's strategist. Taro had already opened his mouth to let the man know that the fight was already his, and that if he planned on battling anyone he should do it sober. Instead, Amaya beat him to the punch and nearly left him speechless. Fighting? Together? Teamwork? I don't even know this man's name, let alone what he could possibly bring to the table in a fight? I wanted to test myself against you! That was supposed to be the deal! WHY?!

"If you would feel that to be the best option Amaya-san, I will comply." Taro stated, gently inclining his head towards her. She was part of Yousuke's personal retainer, and as such held almost equal rank in Taro's mind. Due to that reason, none of his personal concerns about the clumsy swordsman made it past his thoughts. He removed his blades from his hip. "Tsukehara-san, do you mind?" Taro stated, his tone respectful as he handed his blades to his Squad Captain. He then removed his jacket and placed it on top of the swords as well. This revealed that his gauntlets did not go all the way up his arms, instead stopping at the elbow and revealing scarred skin as a result. Before returning to the field, he stopped at a rack of weapons, and grabbed a wooden training sword, testing it's weight before walking back to the man and standing beside him.

"I am Fujimaki Taro." Taro stated, grabbing the gourd from the man. "And I would suggest grabbing something...even if it's just a stick." Taro stated, having grabbed the training sword for the simple fact of being able to unleash his full ability without having to worry about serious injury on Amaya's side. He took a swig from the gourd, his eyes went wide, and immediately started coughing and spitting into the dirt.

"That...That's pretty strong." Taro's voice came out raspy and weak as he handed the gourd back. He pounded his chest a couple of times, straightening up and letting out a breath. "Alright...let us begin." Taro stated once he got his voice back, holding the sword out in front of him with two hands in a combat stance.

And then you drunken fool, if we win this, I will beat your face into the dirt for disrupting my solo chance at this!

Taro launched forward, his speed surprising for his size as he brought the sword down in a standard straight arc.

Watching Taro down a decent sized gulp of the awamori made Jiu immediately like the man. Regardless, he refused the man's sound advice to grab a weapon, a fact he would surely soon regret.

Jiu wasted no time with responding to Taro, his mind solely focused on the fight now. Although in all honesty he couldn't have responded if he wanted to, his mouth still full of the same foul tasting liquid he had offered to Taro and Amaya moments ago. Quickly springing to his feet far faster then any drunken man should have been able to Jiu did his best to take advantage of the momentary distraction from Taro's attack.

Quickly making his way to the left side of Amaya, Jiu started his own assault, an act that consisted of a disgusting display that had him actually spitting out all the alcohol he had been storing behind his drunken grin. If he was lucky some would get in Amaya's eyes, if he was unlucky he'd cover Taro in a fine mist of spit and alcohol. Deciding it was well worth the risk he followed the dishonorable act with a particularly well timed attempt at a leg sweep.

Amaya was extremely quick on her feet—it was, in fact, one of her primary advantages as a combatant. As she’d chosen to forgo weaponry in this instance, she was going to be making heavy use of the fact, since she would need a way to work distance to her advantage without the ability to stave anyone off with her naginata’s length.

Fujimaki’s first blow was a standard-enough starter, meant likely to test more than to actually hit, and she didn’t have any trouble avoiding it, simply smoothly stepping just far enough to the side that adjusting to hit her would overextend him more than he should be willing. It was no sooner than she had done so that the other man stepped in close, spitting his alcohol at her in one of the most unconventional opening maneuvers she’d ever seen. She ducked it, rolling sideways towards him and away from the leg sweep, coming up well under his guard. Surging back to her feet, she aimed a punishing strike with the heel of her hand for the underside of his chin.

The attack was one that Taro would have been extremely disappointed if it had connected. Within that small instance though, he got a small feel for just how fast Amaya was going to be. If anything, he was pleasantly surprised. Well, at least he was until he felt something wet cover his face and a portion of his upper arm. He slid away, wiping his face as he looked over at Jiu and figured out immediately what it was he was cleaning off. He just spit at me...at her? Great, now we're adding bodily fluids to a list of possible attacks. Taro thought to himself as he watched Amaya expertly dodge Jiu's attacks and deliver a punishing blow to his chin. Serves you right. Taro thought as he readied his sword for another strike.

He pushed forward, his sword held low at his side as a straight slash cross wise seemed like the most logical choice, but right before it would have connected, Taro stamped his foot down, stopping his movement. His left hand reached out into a direct palm strike meant to impact center mass.

Jiu suddenly realised that not only was this woman strong but she was exceptionally quick, a fact painfully obvious as Amaya's responding strike exploded across the bottom of his chin. His eye's widened in a moment of sobriety as the blow briefly lifted him from his feet. An average man probably would have been sprawled across the ground from the sheer force of the strike, but luckily for Jui years of constant beatings had taught him how to take a punch like a pro. In his mind simply still standing was testament enough that he was worth the brief attention of Lord Yousuke.

Clacking his now-sore jaw up and down while shaking the stars from his eyes, Jiu immediately regained his composure, his body swaying to and fro in an erratic unreadable pattern. Tossing his dragon gourd towards his pile of worldly supplies, he assumed a more proper stance. Turning to his side with his left leg pointed towards Amaya he let his left arm follow suit as it extended outwards in Amaya's direction, oddly instead of fists or open palms both his hands were curled together as if they held invisible cups of sake. Keeping his right hand close to his chest he began to circle Amaya while he continued his drunken sway, his body ready to bend or fall an any direction needed to dodge a blow.

Standing nearly a full foot taller then Amaya, Jiu was doing his best to use his longer reach to his advantage, staying just out of her range as he waited for Taro to present him with another opening for attack. “Sorry about that!” Jiu hollered over towards Taro, a wide grin still spread on his face betraying any true feelings of regret. “I'll get you a drink later!”

Almost at the exact moment Jiu finished speaking Taro had struck yet again, feigning an attack only to follow up with a quick open palm strike to Amaya's chest. Not hesitating for a second Jiu literally threw himself at his opponent from behind with a fierce spinning kick towards Amaya's back left leg.

Caught in something that was roughly a scissor formation and well aware of it, Amaya made note of the fact that both had proven adaptable enough to the other’s strategy to get her into such a disadvantageous predicament. This was not to say, however, that she had no way out—merely to acknowledge that they had done much better than one might have expected.

Being in the middle of a scissor formation was unwise, and so the logical thing to do was get out of it. Knowing that Fujimaki was coming in behind her but unsure of exactly what he was doing, she made a judgement call, jumping to avoid the spinning kick to her leg, torqueing her body to land facing him. The sword slash she’d expected was aborted, and the follow up blow landed, if only just, so she bent backwards like a reed when the blow connected, taking away most of the force. Rather than snapping back up from the bend, however, she turned it into a short, efficient flip, landing slightly to the left of the stranger.

Taking advantage of the fact that he was still not as steady on his feet as he could have been after his low kick, she grabbed one of his wrists and twisted it behind his back with a spin, grabbing with her free hand onto the fabric of the back of his shirt, then shoving him forward and towards Fujimaki with surprising strength, releasing her grip on both.

A surprisingly deft move, not expecting that one. Good work. Taro thought in response to Amaya's movements. He had hit her, of that he was sure, but it wasn't enough. She quickly adapted, moving in such a way Taro had to wonder if her body was made of water as she landed and pressed the attack. She immediately went after the Drunk, grabbing his wrist and twisting it back in a standard arm lock. By the time she had launched him as a human arrow towards Taro, he was already moving out of the way. He sidestepped to his right, grabbing the man by the collar and whipping him around so that he was facing Amaya once again, preventing him from falling to the ground. Taro stood there a moment, wiping his own face more for the expression than the need. "You know...if I was wearing my jacket when you did that...I would be more than a little unpleasant towards you." Taro stated, but gave a wicked smirk afterward. "Instead, try to hit her at least once? That could help both of us."

With that, Taro was launching forward again, jumping in the air slightly as he reared his sword back for a very powerful one handed thrust.

It was easy to tell Jiu was slightly embarrassed by the way things had been going for him in this fight, his usual rosy cheeks an even deeper shade of scarlet as Taro redirected his flight path. He tried to play off the scene with a friendly quip back at Taro. “I was just saving my real skills for you, but if you insist.”

Back on his feet and determined to prove he was worth something, Jiu's smile had turned from friendly to fed up. Well, in all honesty his signature big goofy grin remained unchanged and genuinely kind looking. But he was fed up damn it!

Jiu threw himself (quite literally) back at Amaya with the renewed vigor of a madman. He'd closed the distance to Amaya in two quick leaps, landing beside her in an odd imitation of a frog. Locking eyes with her he let out a loud almost convincing ““Ribbit”.

Springing to his feat in the blink of an eye he pressed his attack. For what seemed like hours (but was probably only a few short moments) they went blow after blow. At first Jiu had been doing extremely well dodging her attacks, his body bending and contorting in ways that looked rather surreal and impossible to the human eye. It was actually a rather impressive sight watching the man whose body seemed to have a mind of its own.

The blows that did connect were extremely painful but watching with an expert eye it was obvious to see the way he leaned into or guided the strikes to lessen the impact of the hits on his body, one occasion he even headbutted Amaya's incoming palm with nothing more then a laugh and a 'tsk tsk' sound.

Despite his combat style looking completely random and made up on the fly, there was an actual method to his madness, a fact that became apparent as Taro was closing in on the hopefully distracted Amaya.

He wasn't sure if what had happened next Amaya had allowed or his plan was working perfectly, either way mere seconds before Taro's attack connected Jiu had snaked his left arm around Amaya's right in a successful yet strange looking arm lock. Now all he had to do was use his superior strength to hold the poor girl in place. And being a man that was a simple task, it was not like Jiu was fighting a demon or something here.

Given that this was an assessment, Amaya was, to a point, willing to play into various gambits and allow herself to be, in some ways, maneuvered and steered into situations that were disadvantageous for her. The strategy that was her primary strength, she eased back on, keeping track of how she believed they were thinking, but primarily just defending, rarely becoming aggressive unless someone pressed, and in this way drawing out the confrontation so she could get a sense of what their skills were like.

After a particularly rapid exchange with the stranger, she found herself in an armlock, and she conceded that the newcomer had done quite well to get her there. Not bothering to struggle in his grip, she instead devoted the seconds she had before Fujimaki got there to escape in a different fashion—first, she stomped hard on his foot, a strike that could look ill-aimed, but actually hit one of the pressure points on the foot. His resistance to the pain of the strike seemed to be greater than she had expected, but it was either painful or surprising enough to loosen his grip just enough, and she slipped out of the hold like a fish—just in time to avoid what Taro had aimed at her.

One minute Amaya was there and the next she was gone, leaving Jiu with one extremely sore foot and a wooden sword in his chest. With practically no time to respond he had received the full force of Taro's attack, a sickeningly loud crack sounding from Jiu's ribs as white hot pain shot through his head. Clutching at his chest with a look of actual surprise on his face he staggered for a moment, gritting his teeth in an attempt to stay up. For the first time since ariving in the arena his smile was gone. Finally opening his mouth to speak all that came out was “Jacket”, and with that he collapsed to the ground in a motionless heap.

Well...unintentional but not entirely upsetting. Taro thought to himself as he looked at the crumpled pile of drunken swordsman on the ground. Taro simply walked around him, twirling his sword in his hand as he came face to face with Amaya once more. This time, it was how it was supposed to be. Just him and her, and already she was proving to be a challenge worthy of his attention. He held out his left forearm, taking the wooden sword and slowly scraping it against his gauntlet until just the tip was resting on his armor. With a slight smirk, he bolted forward once more, increasing his speed until she was right in front of him.

Several slashes filled the air as Taro swung in multiple directions to try and catch Amaya off guard, each attempt countered by either a side step or a deft redirection with the palms of her hands. Finally, on a downward stroke, Amaya took the extra step forward inside Taro's guard, clamping down on his right wrist with both hands. With a slight twirl akin to a dance, She twisted and brought Taro's arm along with his sword behind his back. He grunted slightly from the awkward position, but didn't waste any time countering. He bent forward, releasing his grip on the sword and allowing it to slide off his back into his left hand. Rolling forward, he forced Amaya to let go or be dragged down with him, ending with him slightly dusty and less than a couple feet from her.

No time should be wasted in a battle, so again Taro pressed the attack, but instead of his standard strokes, he reversed the direction of his blade so it curved along his forearm. This time, he took that extra step forward, forcing himself inside her guard and swiping every which direction. There was no room to move nor redirect as Amaya was forced to bring up her arms and bear a punishing barrage of attacks that finally ended with a kick to her opened palms, having placed them exactly where they needed to be in order to minimize the damage done.

Amaya flared her arms slightly, most likely to get rid of the slightly numb feeling, but Taro didn't give her long as he rushed forward once more, his sword back into the standard fighting style of slashes and thrusts. Instead of trying to dodge for awhile before pressing an attack, Amaya reached out, grabbing Taro's free hand and spinning around to his back before he could react. She was learning, as she didn't bother to even try to draw out the hold. She twisted hard, hard enough to snap bones, something she must have known Taro would have been able to counter or at the very least, she had to be hoping as Taro forced himself into a very awkward frontal roll to avoid snapping his wrist.

He landed hard on his back, feeling his breath leave him for a moment before returning and rolling to his side, scrambling to his feet. He stood there for a moment, his weapon in hand as he looked at the girl that was giving him so much trouble. She wasn't breathing heavy, but Taro could swear there was at least one bead of sweat on her person. Even as he thought this, a salty sensation entered his eye as well, and he nearly laughed. Obviously he was in the same position. He twirled the sword slightly again before bringing it up beside his face, the palm resting on the butt of the handle as the blade was pointed forward, ready for a thrust. She was good, he would admit that much, but no one was perfect.

With that in mind, he pressed forward once more.

Amaya was entirely still as Fujimaki approached, her facial expression having deviated little, if at all, in their entire exchange. She still seemed to be, more than anything, observing. As her remaining opponent rushed her, she settled back into a loose stance, knees slightly bent and arms partly in front of her, almost as though she simply intended to take the hit.

What she did do was something considerably different. Her timing had to be perfect, and fortunately, in this instance it was. When Fujimaki’s sword moved to strike, her hands lashed out, viper-quick, her palms catching the blade mid-stroke. Rather than absorbing all of that force herself, however, which would almost certainly have knocked her off her feet, she turned it into motion, letting the loose positioning of her form flow naturally into a twist, applying Taro’s own momentum in a way that ultimately worked against him, forcing him to give up the blade or fall, much too close to her to be safe in the seconds afterwards.

The bokken was hers, and she smoothly gripped it completing her spin with a strike not to anywhere especially vital, but rather to his arm. An innocuous hit, or so it would seem, at least until his arm went numb. Now she had both the weapon and one more useable arm than he did—though she had to admit to some surprise when he recovered quickly and attempted to use the dead limb as some sort of bludgeoning instrument. Her brows drew together, a spark of amusement lighting in her eyes, but the match was done now. She knew what she needed to know.

Ducking under the swing of his arm, she came up on the other side, hopping into a seemingly-effortless roundhouse kick. With his defending side missing a working limb, she connected with the side of his head, dropping him.

Rolling her shoulders out and cracking her neck to either side, she finally allowed the spark in her eyes to be reflected in the rest of her, a grin blossoming over her face. Bowing to both of them—though the stranger was out cold and Fujimaki’s consciousness was debatable—she turned to Yousuke and lofted one dark brow. “I think I like these two.” In her usual brisk manner, she pointed out a few of the other fighters she’d sparred with thus far that day, assembling her new strike squad in an efficient manner, and then calling for medical to come attend to those too injured to leave the area on their own power.