Episodes One and Two remain lost...
Exhibition of Busho Virtues!
The sisters, having completed the aquatic decoration of the
Buddhist temple, left early the next morning to avoid the embarrassingly
fulsome praise that would no doubt be forthcoming (modesty
is becoming to a samurai). The party, moving quickly, encountered
the blind mendicant at the crossroads where the canyon trail
intersects with the main road - whimsically decorated with an
ornate festival boat. Squeaker, after offering Eldest's horse,
did successfully convince the mendicant to take another horse
as a gift for aid given in the temple. (Generosity - another
virtue.) The normally polite and even-tempered, Nature seems
rather piqued at the monk- perhaps she feels embarrassed at the
strong - almost animal - attraction for him? He would sire strong
sons, and the older sisters need to keep the family's perpetuation
in mind. (Duty - the primary virtue of the samurai.) Two
days of hard riding sees saintly samurai sisters seek sanctuary,
safely shepherding seven slave sisters. (Alliteration - not
At home, after an unfortunate accident involving a rabid marmoset
and a foiled assassination attempt (Never to be mentioned again!!!!),
Silent, Nature girl and Princess spend the night and the early
morning sampling the sake cellar. Squeaker, no doubt affected
by the plethora of miracles, spent the morning, as has become
her custom, in prayer to the familial Goddess. (Piety - virtue
number four.) Due to that evenings and early morning carouse,
Cousin and Nature had to be bodily manhandled out of the family
keep, causing a late departure.
A few miles outside the valley, the party encounters a large
group of samurai on their way to visit the aunties. After a brief
conversation, the party continued to the last village within
their territory, a mere hour from the bordering fiefdom. The
evening passed uneventfully. However, a few hours before dawn
the twins watch was disturbed by the distinctive sound of a sword
being drawn. (Vigilance - number five.) They awakened
Eldest in a manner appropriate to her rank and position. (A Samurai
is always courteous to their social superiors.)
As they rushed toward the sound, into the courtyard of the
inn they witnessed, almost frozen there, the blind mendicant,
sword in one hand staff in another, the maid Seven, disheveled
on the ground, and two ragged ronin - falling dead as they dropped.
Apparently the wandering monk had interrupted a rape attempt.
His justice was swift and unappealing. (Punning - always a
vice.) While Princeling took Seven upstairs to her sisters
and explained the situation to the others, Youngest continued
into the temple for her morning devotions where she finds the
monk in despair, once again having been drawn into the life of
violence he had forsaken.
The group made good time that day, having left approximately
2 hours before dawn through the land 'held' by their neighboring
clan. The land was uninhabited and marked forlornly by villages
long abandoned. Early the next afternoon, the party rode into
a small clump of houses (too meager to even be considered a village)
with the peasants sullenly gathered in the field. When questioned
about their unusual behavior, they grunt toward the bridge where
a huge poorly armored pike-man demanded a toll. Nature, reminding
everyone of Gran Aunts parting words "Avoid trouble",
was ignored as Cousin rushed forward with sword drawn. Cousin
had been feeling out of sorts of late - having killed no one
and only gently thrashed Nature during the Marmoset Escapade.
(Courage-virtue number six.)
Nature, inhaling to reiterate Gran Aunts words of wisdom at
a higher volume, scented a fuse and quickly identified a lone
gunman on a nearby grassy knoll; well, actually inside a hut.
Eldest and Cousin launched arrows at the hidden assassin, quickly
killing him but not before he got a shot off that struck Squeaker
as she threw herself in the path of the bullet, yet again saving
the life of her less robust twin. Cousin, Nature and Princeling
(feeling a bit less than studly) promptly sliced the not-to-bright
ronin into meaty bits. (Martial prowess - virtue number seven.)
Four - The Wail
The brigands lay where they'd crumpled, blood slowly seeping
into the parched earth. The brief flurry of action was strangely
unsatisfying; the village remained a miserable collection of
hovels, its inhabitants worn down and without hope, and the Great
Temple of Amaratsu seemed as distant as ever. Eldest was reminded
of the Mendicant's words (would that his visage not haunt her
so!): how could more death dispel the scourge that had overtaken
this land? Still, this was not the Sisters' concern. All were
agreed that haste was of the essence, and any future distractions
should go unheeded. This time only godly intervention of the
most cruel and capricious sort could make them stray from their
The village swiftly dwindled behind the party, but the disquiet
they felt only intensified as they rode deeper into the deserted
land. The maids spoke seldom, and then only in hushed whispers;
even Squeaker's customary braggadocio was muted. Toward evening
they emerged from the still woods to look down upon the center
of the valley, and a small walled town located at the confluence
of two rivers. A castle loomed over the town from a nearby bluff.
The older Ishikawas recognized the place as the benighted land's
capital, which they had visited several years previous. Perhaps
here they would gain some answers, or at least comfortable beds
for the night. But as they rode closer it became apparent that
the town, so welcoming and picturesque from a distance, had fallen
on hard times. The outlying fields were untended, the crops drowned
where the irrigation sluices had failed. They drew up to the
gate in the town's wall (in truth nothing more than a large berm
topped by a fence), which yawned hungrily half-open in a most
The party hesitated at this point, and milled about the gate,
peering futilely into the gloom beyond. But then the sisters
drew upon their training, their long hours of drilling and preparation,
and reacted as they had in so many precarious situations before:
they began to argue! Perhaps they should go around the city;
perhaps they should press through; perhaps it was time for supper;
all these options and more were bruited about as the shadows
lengthened and the town, unperturbed, waited in silence. Then
a piercing scream from one of the maids - no one was sure which
- brought the debate to a sudden and inconclusive halt. "There!
Movement by the gate!" Silent dropped from her horse and
crept forward to investigate, only to find a stray piece of paper
drifting listlessly with the wind. But now the gate had been
broached, and there was nothing for it but to proceed inside.
If the city yet held life, it was not in evidence. Squeaker took
the point, vanishing up the street as the others followed at
a slower pace. She detected no one, but knew from painful experience
that this did not mean she was truly alone. And so, trying to
act nonchalant, she slipped her mirror out from its case to examine
her surroundings, hoping that Amaratsu would once again grant
her true sight. But the barren street was exactly as it seemed.
Still, there was something about the mirror that fascinated her
- so shiny! -so that she could not put it down (much like the
village idiot back home with his piece of tinsel). "I'm
pretty," she drooled as the rest of the company road up.
Silent grabbed the mirror and peered within. "No you're
not," she said in disgust. But the spell had been broken,
and Squeaker started up the path once more.
Then from out of an alley sprang a nightmare vision of slashing,
slathering, many-toothed death! Horses reared in white-eyed frenzy
as the Ishikawa attempted to draw their weapons and make a desperate
last stand! Only Nature retained her composure, for her uncanny
affinity with animals revealed to her the sickening true identity
of their foe, and she knew resistance to be futile. "A puppy!"
she cried, as the yapping creature, evidently a chow of some
sort, leapt into her arms and lapped eagerly at her face. Only
Squeaker managed to resist the thing's charms, and warned, "It's
a demon! Best kill it!" But she'd said the same about everyone
they'd met up to this point, and had only been correct some 40
percent of the time, so she was ignored.
Thus reinforced, the company rode deeper into the town. The road
dipped gradually towards the river, the structures in the area
being raised up on solid foundations of stone to thwart floods.
The rush of water grew louder, but when they rounded a bend in
the road their view of the riverbank was blocked; someone had
erected a makeshift barrier of wagons and barrels across the
road. Squeaker crept up to the barricade and, finding no one
about, clambered over. The rest of the group, showing no surprise
that Squeaker had once again disappeared when physical labor
was called for, set about clearing the street so the horses could
While her companions strained and cursed at the wagons, Squeaker
sauntered down the road to a bridge that spanned the river. A
wooden platform, perhaps provided for fishermen, extended over
the water and under the bridge. Peering into the gloom she saw
what she at first took to be a mound of detritus, but on second
look she realized it was a human figure. Judging from the sake
bottle the snoring stranger lovingly cradled, it was just some
drunken vagabond, passed out after a long binge. Still, this
was the only person they'd come across in the city
her bow, she lobbed pebbles at the man until with a start he
awoke. He was naturally somewhat wary, finding himself confronted
by a samurai in full battle gear, bow at the ready, but Squeaker
managed to coax him up onto the road with the promise of a dram
or two of sake. Thus fortified, he introduced himself as Bentu,
a priest from one of the town's shrines. He could offer no explanation
for the town's state, or how he had come to be passed out under
Meanwhile the wagons were finally pushed aside, and the rest
of the party moved forward. Princess had already gone ahead,
but returned to report spying a light in one of the windows of
the castle. But if such a thing had existed, it was gone now,
and, anyway, it was no concern of the Sisters'. Edo was their
goal, and beyond that distant Cathay waited! It would take more
than a mysterious light to draw them off track! Determinedly
ignoring the castle, they road down to the bridge. There they
forced the priest, though he complained a great deal, to mount
up, and they quickly passed through the remainder of the town
until they reached the fields on the other side. Here they set
up camp and, watches placed, bedded down for the night.
As dawn neared, Seven woke up to begin preparations for the new
day. In fact she woke up sooner than usual, for she felt a vague
disquiet. Something about the camp was not right
she realized what was missing! When both Princess and Squeaker
were on watch together (against the others' better judgement,
but the twins were insistent), they kept up a continuous stream
of muttered insults and curses, which the rest of the company
had learned to filter out. But now the camp was too quiet; the
twins were nowhere to be seen! And they were not the only ones
missing, as the dissolute priest Bentu had slipped away as well!
Seven was quick to wake her superiors (that is, Six through One),
who huddled to discuss their options. In the end they decided
to make breakfast.
The samurai eventually roused themselves and, learning what was
up, searched for the missing trio's tracks. None were found.
And so, with a last glance towards Edo and fabled Cathay, they
broke camp and trudged back into the city. Something - or someone
- would have it no other way! Approaching the castle, Nature
detected the smell of freshly brewed tea emanating from a nearby
shrine to Jeso, god of agriculture. She entered the building
with Eldest, to find the priest puttering about his kitchen.
He revealed that the twins had escorted him to the shrine, and
then left. Prodded further, he recounted the events of the last
day he could recall before Squeaker found him under the bridge.
The master of the castle had summoned him to preside over the
birth of his child. While in the middle of the ceremony he had
taken a sip of sacramental wine, and could remember nothing further.
But he couldn't worry about it now, as he had to begin preparations
for the Harvest Festival
the Festival was several days ago!" Eldest
said. The priest's face blanched as he realized that he'd neglected
his duties. Because of his dereliction the harvest would surely
fail! Grabbing a nearby glass, he cursed the sake therein, blaming
it for leading him astray. He continued his ranting, putting
the glass down, when suddenly Silent (who everyone had thought
was still outside) impulsively grabbed the goblet and drank its
contents! The priest stared in horror as Silent proclaimed it
the best sake she'd ever tried. "And well it should be,"
the priest sputtered, "for it is the blessed sake of the
gods, left over from the last Harvest Festival! With it I was
to consecrate the fields, as we have done since time immemorial!
But now the cycle is broken by your unthinking act, and the town
is doomed!" Silent was somewhat taken aback by the priest's
vehemence (but otherwise feeling pretty good about the episode),
so when he ordered her out she did not resist. The others followed,
happy to have the shrine's thick walls muffle Bentu's spittle-flecked
Thinking to placate the priest, the Sisters searched their bags
for more wine, only to discover that their collective bottles,
wineskins and well-hid flasks were empty! But surely the keg
Many suspicious glances were exchanged, and the maids were obliged
to walk in straight lines and touch their noses, but no ready
explanations were to hand. The priest's decibel level having
descended, Eldest went back into the shrine to resume the interrogation.
Just in case the priest tried to slip out, Silent made her way
to the back of the building, where a pleasant garden filled a
small courtyard. Cousin searched the area of the nearby bridge
for signs of the missing twins, where she noticed the print of
a delicately tooled sandal. Surely only Princess would be vain
enough to wear such unsuitable footgear on campaign! Cousin ran
to inform her companions, who mounted up and rode toward the
castle in haste! Silent, loitering in the garden, was not missed,
but soon enough caught up to the others as they assumed their
customary stance outside the castle walls, discussing at length
the merits and shortcomings of several possible courses of action
which, theoretically, they might take at some point in the future.
Eventually the group moved within the castle's outer redoubts.
The maids, trained to prepare lunch no matter how perilous the
situation, froze in their tracks and then began a tremulous wailing
as they realized the food, like the liquor, had vanished! And
just when everyone was starting to feel a tad peckish. There
was nothing for it but to press on, into the inner courtyard,
and then the stables, both of which were as deserted as the town
below. And yet a yellow ribbon on the ground, and then two sets
of footprints, revealed that it had not always been thus. Surely
Princess and Squeaker had passed this way recently, and may still
be within the castle compound! Eldest, not one to crassly shout
for the two, began instead to sing, hoping they were still within
earshot. But when the last stanza of her bawdy roundelay had
echoed from the castle spires, the group heard not the expected
hoots and retching noises from the twins, but a baby's piercing
cries from somewhere within the keep!
It was decided that Nature Girl was best suited to handle the
situation, though she herself had some doubts. Leaving the maids
to look after the horses, the Ishikawa strode into the main hall
of the castle. It, too, was deserted, but the cries seemed to
come from the second floor. Nature Girl hesitantly walked upstairs,
the others following at a distance. At the top of the steps she
came to a hall, and as she drew closer to the baby the air grew
redolent with perfume. At the end of the hall she came to a door,
and pushed it open to reveal a luxuriously appointed bedroom,
with an expansive view of the valley, and a crib by the bed:
the source of the baby's wails! She took another step, but a
sudden pang of hunger drew her up short. Damn the maids and their
poor inventory skills! She drew her sword and advanced again,
but with each step she became increasingly ravenous, light-headed,
and weak. Some fell sorcery was at work here
. With her
last ounce of strength she fled the chamber, to crawl halfway
down the steps and whisper a warning to her sisters.
But Cousin was having none of it! She'd be damned if she'd let
some little brat get the better of her! She strode up the stairs,
Nature Girl's grasp too feeble to hold her back. As she neared
the top the hunger hit her, a gnawing, painful hunger, as if
she'd fasted for days. But she shrugged it off, and advanced!
Another few steps, and her stomach was a cavernous pit, her body
running on the last drabs of energy left it. Her brain starved
of fuel, she kept going! She reached the hallway, and as she
took one last shuffling step she saw her arm, the muscle burned
away, the flesh stretched tight about the bone
The others heard a horrible clattering noise at the top of the
stairs, as of a bundle of sticks dashed haphazardly to the floor.
And then the only sound was that of the babe, its greedy, incessant
cries seeming to strengthen as they echoed out over the empty
town, a howl of pure selfish need that encompassed the barren
valley and was not satisfied, could never be satisfied, even
were it to devour the very life-force from the earth itself
Episode Five - A Manifestation of Vices
After viewing a long, dull but beautiful kabuki presentation,
the family got back down to business. Cousin was determined to
be a lost cause (PRIDE perhaps the
most common failing of the Samurai class, and in Cousins' case
quite lethal.) so Eldest brother, grabbing the starving Nature,
dragged her from the hallway and ordered a retreat from the fortified
castle back down to the surrounding town and tried to enter the
small temple of Jizu, the grain and harvest God. However, the
priest, Bento, was having none of that, standing firmly behind
the closed and locked door, haranguing Eldest as a "sake
thief", samurai ruffian and general bad guy. Pleas of aid
for the emaciated Nature were going unheard over his tirade,
(focusing mostly upon the stolen sake) until Princeling arrived.
He, implementing the plan hatched with his twin, proceeded
to kick down the door and strong arm the raving priest up to
the temple of Ameratsu. Eldest, in a burst of leadership, ordered
the maids out to the countryside to dig up something to eat.
The party moved up to the main temple. Squeaker (demonstrating
the vice of WRATH, again a rather
common weakness among the most noble) berated the not-so-holy
one into asking the Goddess for another gift of sacred sake so
the priest could bless the fields and bring fertility back into
the region. Bentu's prayers were for naught, and Squeaker's mirror
only reflected the image of Silent, who had been left at the
"not the largest temple nor the smallest temple" in
the town. The priest, bemoaning the loss of his sake cup, refused
to pray, so Nature returned to the Grain-Gods' temple to recover
Meanwhile . . . Cousin was still dead and . . .
Silent was investigating the garden of the fertility god -
surprisingly the only area in the town, fortress and countryside
with any life. In fact, one large bush was filled with delicious
red berries. Hungry, like every other living being in the cursed
town, he began to sample them . . . and sample them again, unmindful
of the needs of the others. (Two vices in one act - both GLUTTONY and AVARICE.)
Feeling revived after the sweet sacrilegious snack, Silent began
to ransack the temple, collecting anything of value. Nature arrived
and repossessed the sacred sake cup, then transported it with
Silent back to the temple where Youngest was mid-harangue against
the priest Bentu, basically blaming him for the state of the
town, the death of Cousin and the impending arrival of Disco
Nature noting the berry stains around Silent's mouth, tasted
the remains only to have her tongue go numb. With the arrival
of Silent, Squeaker turned her attention to him - had he not
drunk the sacred sake, they would have not been in this mess!
The only hint Ameratsu's mirror presented was the unwavering
reflection of the Sake swiller. Silent was unconvinced of the
necessity and efficacy of prayer in general, and was uninterested
in joining the prayer-a-thon.
Eldest, growing bored of the useless piety, ordered Princeling
(The SLOTH Poster Child) to accompany
her to check on the maids. As they rode from the fortified city
they encountered one of the packhorses dead on the roadside,
apparently partly consumed. Looking up, they spotted the maids
perched up on top of a stone dike, waving wildly. While Eldest
contemplated the frantic gesturing, Princeling (Slothful does
not mean stupid.) turned her horse towards the city and fled.
Eldest soon followed and quickly passed him, perhaps the horses
were responding to Princeling's recent insistence on horse barbecue.
Eldest pulled up and looked behind at the slower Princeling only
to see a boiling brown field following them! The quickly-moving
mass overtook Princeling, his horse falling. Luckily, the most
lovely of the seven brothers deftly slipped from the saddle and
ran forward to the safety of the city. His horse was immediately
buried and consumed.
When the two of them had returned to the high temple; Eldest
began to barricade the main gate. (Paranoia
- rather virtuous considering the time and place.) Soon the temple
was filled with the dry rustling sound that heralded the arrival
of an ant swarm, attracted no doubt to the plethora of horses
on the hoof. Eldest once again ignored Princeling's suggestion
to sacrifice the horses to slow the horde. At Nature's insistence
that Silent had flammables in his satchel - since he was otherwise
occupied with bandaging his arm that had been slashed open by
Youngest, who had become convinced that his blood was a necessary
ingredient to make the divine magic manifest - Eldest ransacked
the bag and retrieved a white, greasy material kept in an ewer
of water. Eldest sprinkled the material randomly on the stairs
just as the mendicant monk scrambled over the first barrier seconds
ahead of the ravenous insects. As Eldest set fire to the front
steps, Nature too was a burnin' for the hunky blind man. (LUST) Distracted by the attraction between
the two (ENVY), Eldest lost track
of the flames as they spread up and into the temple.
Meanwhile . . . Cousin was still . . . D E A D! DEAD, do you
The group picked themselves up and retreated to the temple
of Jizu, where Squeaker continued to attempt to extract the correct,
heartfelt prayer out of the now two-days sober priest. It was
for naught. Blood and water do not sake make. Nature, who was
watching the streets, reported seeing a legion of emaciated undead,
likely the remains of the villagers, that was shuffling up towards
the bridge that led to the temple of the grain god. More of the
flammable material was spread on the bridge and torched. Eldest
got to experience a thrill few Samurai are gifted to share within
their lifetime - the joy of burning a rival family capital to
the ground. Regretfully, he missed out on the lamentation of
Bentu, the priest, dumped the blood and water mixture out
from the chalice and proclaimed once again "That it is no
use!". At that instant, Princeling, scenting sake, (Is drunkenness
a subset of gluttony or a manifestation of sloth?) asked the
blind monk if he had any. As fate would have it, the former samurai
had not been within the confines of the cursed citadel long enough
for his provisions to have disappeared. As Zaitochi turned his
sake over to the shrill Squeaker, the arid sound of an insect
army approached from the other side. The party split, some facing
the undead army, others the legions of ants, fire being their
only weapon. As a side note . . .. Cousins' desiccated body was
amongst the horde at the river crossing. She was pushed back,
aflame by spear point, into combustible crowd and then fell into
Meanwhile the priest began praying again, to no avail. The
mirror remained fixated on the image of Silent. Then Youngest,
struck with inspiration that only true desperation creates, added
a drop of Silents' blood to the sake and ordered the priest to
start yet again. And lo, the sake was transformed. Now, with
sacred sake, the garden in the back of the not-too-small temple
was blessed. Youngest called the retreat to a sacred space where
she hoped neither the dead or cursed could follow.
of the Gods
The young woman reclined on the polished marble steps, and
twisted the thong of a sandal as she made a face at her companion.
"How can they be so
"Brave?" suggested the young man beside her, idly.
The tone in which he said it indicated that he was anything but
impressed by this attribute.
"Well, didn't they know in the first place that stopping
in that village was likely to be a disaster?"
"I imagine so."
He gestured towards the hill behind him. "Probably they
felt that he wanted it."
"Do they generally do what he wants?"
"Only when they feel it will help them out, I imagine."
She raised a perfect eyebrow in scornful contempt. "This
quest! Such a foolish thing. It puts me all out of patience with
Her companion grinned. "I think it has its benefits for
Lying on his stomach, he pushed up onto one elbow and looked
at her mockingly. "Your penchant for toying with them."
She burst out laughing, and gave the beautiful youth beside her
a shove. "Me? You're positively beastly."
"Well, only on a bad day. Mostly, it's for their own good."
This was said with false piety.
"You're fooling no one, Galan. Least of all, me. Who invented
a giant white crocodile?"
"Don't forget the crab."
She smiled. "That was lovely. Don't you ever feel the tiniest
bit guilty, though? I think we're supposed to help them out."
Galan laughed outright. "Oh right. Actually, I think he
wants us to
. keep them on their toes as much as possible.
Which suits both of us
"Why is that, do you suppose? I mean, why keep them on their
He shrugged. "Because we can. Because they deserve it."
He reached down, and parted some of the grass growing at the
side of the temple steps. "Look now."
His companion, Liesa, tried to peer over him to see. She was
forced, though, to get to her feet and move around him, to kneel
down in the grass and study the grass beneath his fingers. "I
can't see a thing."
"Lazy." He parted the grass a bit farther apart, until
there was a hole the size of a fist between his hands. "Look
Liesa looked into the hole, through which sunlight was shining.
Through it, she could see sky, clouds, and much, much farther
down, a patch of earth. If she squinted a bit, she could make
out a village, a castle, a cliff, and a small group clustered
at the base of the cliff. "Are they in trouble again?"
she inquired. "I thought they had settled down for the night
in a camp of some sort."
"Don't you pay attention? And besides, I thought the ants
were your idea."
"Actually, they were my idea," said a new voice, as
an older man crossed the courtyard of the temple, and approached
them. He propped one leg on a step, and watched them peer into
the hole again. He grinned, the white teeth of a predator showing
through his trimmed black beard. "Humans have quite a distaste
for the insect world, I find."
"You're the worst," said Liesa. "We try sometimes,
at least, to show compassion. I'm often quite sympathetic to
them, and have helped them out lots of times. You should try
to cultivate mercy."
"I'll leave that to you, my dear. I feel my skills lie in
"And suffering." The smile widened. "But don't
let me stop you. What are the little dears doing now?"
"What with your ants, and Galan's ravenous creatures, they
appear to be in quite a fix. They seem to want to go back to
that castle, but most roads to it are blocked by hordes of nasty
things. What was in that castle, again?"
The man with the beard leaned closer to Liesa. "All the
evil in the world."
"If it is, you must have put it there."
"Strangely enough, I did not. I believe that he did."
This was indicated with a jerk of his head toward the distant
hill again. "He seems to have a serious quest for them,
actually. Something dealing with real evil and real virtue
just a lot of sport."
Liesa considered this, with her head cocked to one side. "Yes,
I believe you are right. There is something more serious afoot.
Something real enough to make him concerned."
"If he's so concerned, why doesn't he just make them succeed,
then?" asked Galan, wearily.
Liesa shrugged prettily. "That's just his way."
The bearded man chuckled. "I believe he loves mischief as
much as I do. Pray, continue, with our group, though."
"Well, the one they've nicknamed 'Silent' seems to have
a rope and is attempting to scale the cliff to the castle. I
must say, that's rather brave, isn't it?"
"Well, I believe she might make it. I suppose she means
to pull the others up the same way. It does save them a lot of
time. She seems to be one of the more resourceful ones, coming
up with inventions and different things to help them. Yes, I'm
sure she's going to make it."
"Let me see." The bearded one looked languidly into
the hole, and made a slight gesture with his hand. Far below
them, they could make out a small figure, as it hung in the air
for a minute, poised, and then plummeted down the cliff. It landed
on the ground, looking broken and pitiful, before the entire
wall of cliff collapsed on top of it.
Galan and Liesa were united in indignation. "You pushed
her down the cliff! You deliberately pushed her for no reason!
You are a monster, Dreuss."
He tried to look solemn, but ended up breaking into laughter.
"Don't pull the long faces! I couldn't help it, I swear.
I will be good from now on."
"See that you are, " snapped Galan. "I've half
a mind to give them extra aid, now."
"Oh, I promise, I promise. But it was worth it, to see the
look on your face, little one."
Galan's face flushed with anger, and he jumped quickly to his
feet. "You need to learn a little more respect, I think."
"Certainly, and you are just the one to teach it to me."
For a moment, the air between them crackled with tension, and
they eyed each other, Dreuss with sardonic amusement and Galan
with simmering rage. Then, Liesa gave a shriek. "One of
you just trod on my hand! Stop it this minute, I can't see a
thing!" The moment broke, and the two relaxed slightly.
Galan was still resentful, though, and he gave the other man
a dark look before lowering himself back to the ground. "Perhaps
you better stay out of my way for a while."
Dreuss grinned. "Good as gold. Just pretend I'm not here."
"Will the two of you stop it? The little humans need some
help at the moment. Stop being so selfish. Oh! That's so sweet."
"They're taking the body of their fallen sister with them,
binding it to the back of a horse."
"Why on earth?"
"To give it a proper burial, I imagine. I think that kind
of thing is important to them. Now, pay attention for a bit!
They've gotten back on their horses, and are determined to get
to that castle. I think they can be rather scrappy, sometimes.
It can't be pleasant for them."
"In heaven's name, what is that sound?" They all listened
for a moment.
"I believe the priest is praying," said Galan dryly.
"Yes, listen. He is pleading with us not to kill him in
the castle. Every so often, one of them hits him, and he blurts
out another prayer for mercy. He's also praying that he'll escape
from the group. I don't think he's with them, entirely by choice."
"Well, I do think he should stay, don't you? They might
need him, and he's getting on my nerves. He stays, definitely."
"Interestingly, the monk doesn't want to escape, does he?
Or maybe it's just that the particularly attractive one doesn't
want him to escape. She is suggesting that they be bound together,
or some such thing, for safekeeping."
"Safekeeping?" said Dreuss with a broad smile. "Certainly.
Liesa, my dear, perhaps I should keep you as safe, as well."
"Ugh! Just put that thought right out of your head, "
said Liesa with an expressive grimace for Galan's benefit, and
a seductive smile for Dreuss's as Galan turned his head.
"Just so," said Dreuss. "Ah, your priest seems
to be making his move." As they watched, the priest suddenly
broke from the group and made a wild dash for the woods. "I
believe you wanted him to stay?" He flicked the priest with
his finger, and watched him go flying, with the eldest sister
landing squarely on top of him. "There, my good deed for
"They are showing more sense this time," murmured Galan.
"They're stuffing their ears with something, so they can't
hear the baby's cries. And they're advancing rather cautiously.
Not like the last one who just charged into the castle, despite
my warnings, and died in the hallway."
"Poor thing. That's two of them dead already. Doesn't he
feel for them?"
"I wouldn't worry, if I were you," said Dreuss. "While
he doesn't feel especially sorry when they die, he does allow
a sort of resurrection, and they often pop up again in all sorts
of forms. I imagine you'll see those two creating havoc down
there, after a while."
"One of them has a mirror in which they seem able to things
they ordinarily wouldn't see. Is that your doing, Galan?"
"Well, you are being especially kind lately, aren't you?"
"Yes, that's something I expect I'll soon tire of doing.
Look how useful it's proving, though."
They watched the group proceed carefully into the castle and
up the stone steps to the upper floor. The youngest of the sisters
carried a mirror, into which she kept peering with every footstep.
Her diligence paid off, since only she could see the invisible
figure of a samurai warrior at the top of the stairs. The others
looked around in puzzlement, at hearing the sound of a voice,
yet hearing nothing.
"Who's the warrior?" asked Liesa with interest.
They could hear the sound of a male voice, crying, "Murderer!
I will have my revenge!" At each word, the priest broke
into fresh wailing and sobbing, obviously terrified at the noise.
The voice seemed to move towards the priest, and its rage seemed
directed at him, in particular. The others apparently sensed
this, for they kept a protective circle between the voice and
the priest. The deep voice continued to accuse the priest of
"What did this priest do that was so bad?"
"He was a coward."
She shrugged. "He's only a human."
"Well, his cowardice resulted in several thousand deaths.
That's why this warrior wants to kill him."
"Maybe we should just let him. Do you want to keep watching?
I'm tiring of this story, anyhow."
"Liesa, show some patience. I imagine we'll soon be reaching
the crisis point."
She pouted slightly, and continued to watch.
One of the sisters was dragging the priest up the stairs, past
the invisible voice, and into the upper hallway, as he sobbed
and babbled incoherently the entire time. The rest of the party
continued to attempt to battle the unseen foe, a difficult feat.
Each of them fought with the particular skills at their command,
whether staff or sword. One or two of them received wounds of
varying degrees of severity from the invisible warrior, while
he was virtually impossible to touch.
Liesa began to laugh, behind her hand.
.an idea I gave them." The thought afforded
her tremendous amusement.
The two men glanced at each other, and Galan rolled his eyes.
As they watched the group battle, they noticed that two of the
girls began to toss an object back and forth, then lose it down
"What on earth
"Can't they keep their hands on it?" said Liesa with
disgust. However, they appeared to recover the object, and the
owner of the mysterious item suddenly hurled it against the unseen
enemy. Suddenly, his form appeared in the air before them, picked
out in solid white.
"What is that?"
"Face powder," said Liesa with simple pride. She sat
and preened with such obvious pleasure in the idea, that her
two companions laughed in spite of themselves. "That was
a tremendous idea, I think."
"Well, it appears to have helped them greatly. They've actually
hit something by now. I do believe you've evened out the battle,
sweetheart," smiled Dreuss. "They may yet live through
this little episode."
"Listen to that priest," said Galan. "Suddenly,
you can't stop him from speaking." From below, they could
hear the sounds of incoherent rambling, as the priest sobbed
and moaned. Eventually, his voice broke into recognizable sentences,
and they could hear him giving the history of the bitterness
between the warrior and himself.
"He was the lord of the castle, and the father of that hideously
screeching baby. He claims the priest murdered the child. Can
he not stop going on and on like that? Ah, the girl with him
keeps hitting him every so often. Very useful, to keep him in
line. In any case, the priest caused the death of this baby by
not responding to a plea of the father's, it seems. Instead,
he ran and hid. That is the gist of what I am hearing."
"Are we supposed to assume that this baby is somehow supernatural?"
asked Liesa. "What could have caused that, unless its father
or mother was a god?"
"Preferably its father," replied Dreuss. "You
get a much more divinely-endowed infant, in that case. It's in
the genes. I'm pretty sure I'm not the father. At least, I don't
have any recollection of any tryst with a woman in that castle.
I suppose Galan here could have fathered a baby or two."
"Could and has," snapped Galan. "But as you say,
that place doesn't inspire any memories."
"Well, it could be anyone," said Liesa, reasonably.
"We can hardly ask everyone here if they've spawned a baby
in that shabby little village. That's hardly significant to what's
going on there, anyhow."
"You know, whenever something unexplainable happens, he's
often the one behind it." They all gazed at the farthest
temple on the highest hill, in silence.
"You mean, did he father this baby?"
"Hardly," said Dreuss. "It's possible, but not
usual, at any rate. He doesn't go in much for that sort of thing."
"No," said Galan, "he leaves that to you!"
"Who better equipped? But, my point is that he may still
be behind this. After all, he controls most of the major battles
in the world, good and evil, life, death. He controls the kinds
of things that govern whether or not these supernatural occurrences
happen on earth."
"We could just ask him then, where this baby came from,
and how to help the band of sisters destroy it?" suggested
"That's the last thing we could do. You know that all this
must be figured out alone
both on our part and on theirs."
"Hmmm," said Liesa in frustration. Then, "Just
how many children have the two of you fathered anyhow? I haven't
had any dealings with humans. Don't the two of you have any more
taste than that?"
"Apparently not," said Galan dryly. "In my case,
some, and his, probably lots."
"You know, we're missing the entire battle down there. What
is happening by now?"
Dreuss peered down at the earth spread out beneath them, again.
"Well, at this point, there seems to be a lot of chaos ensuing.
I can see many of Galan's delightful zombie creatures, some adult
and some child. Some have been hacked, many have been set on
fire, most are covered with face powder. Very untidy. I believe
I can make out the body of the samurai on the floor. Most assuredly,
he has been hacked in half. That was well done. But there do
seem to be an awful lot of zombies left, yelling and going up
"How disgusting!" said Liesa. "That one there
has its head on fire, and is attempting to put out the flames
in the carcass of a half-eaten horse. What disgusting little
"Not just any disgusting beast
I think that was one
of their very own band. The one that Dreuss pushed off the cliff.
By now, she is reveling in her state of zombie-hood."
"They seemed to have dispatched most of the other creatures,
and are actually making it down the hallway. Look, one is them
is dancing down the hallway and singing some hideous dirge about
favorite things. How very strange."
"They're strange at the best of times, you'll find, my dear.
The important thing is that the priest and his nemesis have actually
made it into the bedroom of the infant. They've discovered the
"I imagine those would be the bodies of the mother and infant,
the wife of the warrior and their child."
"But I thought the baby was alive and screaming?"
"Some incarnation of it. This is no doubt its human self,
that has been frozen in time in some way."
"It's very twisted and hard to follow," complained
"Consider its author."
"For once, the priest is doing something useful," said
Galan. "Look, he's blessing the bodies, and I believe it's
having an effect." They could see the priest praying and
sprinkling the ceremonial sake on the bodies. At each drop of
the wine, fizzles of steam rose from them, where the drops struck.
As the fizzing spread, the bodies began to twitch with life.
"It's having an effect on someone. Look!" exclaimed
Liesa. The zombie creature, which had been one of their own,
suddenly ceased its exertions to put out the flames on its head,
stared around in horror, gave a tremendous cry, then made a wild
dash for the cliff and flung its body over the side. It was quickly
consumed by the ravenous ants. The three watched speechlessly,
and had no comment to make.
"Look at the bodies! They're actually coming back to life."
As they watched the forms of the two in the gauze-draped bed,
their movements increased more and more, until they became the
human forms of a dying woman in labor and a female infant, crying
lustily. "She's hacked in half," pointed out Liesa.
"I don't think she'll make it, at any rate."
"In spite of his screaming and sobbing and fainting, the
priest is being forced to do something of use again," said
Dreuss sardonically. "See, he's blessing the infant. I imagine
that may have been what caused the problem in the first place.
The baby was stillborn, yet never properly blessed. An invitation
to the very kind of spectacular evil he controls."
"I think the woman is dead in fact," said Liesa. "They
are putting a torch to the bed, and setting the room on fire.
The baby seems to be okay. In fact, they're taking in with them.
I hope they mean to set the castle on fire, because I think that
is what's going to happen."
"Yes, probably they hope to destroy all Galan's creations,
and kill any remnant of evil left inside. The place seems to
be going quickly, what with all the wood inside, and all the
wine splashed around. Never fear, Liesa, the human creatures
have made it outside."
"Well, I'm glad of that," said Liesa, although by now
she seemed to be losing her enthusiasm and her interest.
"Yes, they are losing no time in mounting their horses,
and tearing down the castle road with their now-human child.
Fortunately for them, I don't see a sign of an ant or zombie
for miles. The scene is positively pastoral."
"Except for that thing," said Liesa with disgust. "Now
Dreuss grinned. "Just the half-burned, half-torn, half-crushed,
dirty and bruised body of their fallen comrade. Once again, they
are taking it with them for burial."
"How nice," said Liesa faintly.
"Happy events are breaking out all over the place. Down
by the river, a lot of women are shrieking with joy as they see
the band ride up. It seems to be their servants, an incredibly
silly group, even for humans. Yes, there is much clapping of
hands, and squealing with pleasure, and admiring of the newborn
infant. A touching finale."
"What happens now?" asked Galan.
"I suppose they'll make camp, tidy up a few messy details
here, and decide whether to ride on or go back. The usual affairs
that have to be decided."
As they watched, the party did indeed return to its former campsite
with the maids and the infant. Everyone settled down to the task
they liked the best: the maids to fish, and tend to wounds, and
exclaim over the state of the hair of one of the sisters; the
baby to sleep; the sisters to rest in exhaustion; and the priest
to babble continually.
"He's telling them the entire story. I want to hear this
part," whispered Liesa.
They could hear the faint sound of the priest's voice drifting
skyward, as he recounted the tale of what had happened. Apparently,
the lady of the house had been deathly ill upon her labor bed.
The lord of the house, who had grown increasingly strange in
later years, demanded help for his wife and the unborn child.
Yet, because of his anger and irrationality, no one would come
to aid either one of them. Finally, the priest was dragged, protesting,
from the temple, and taken by force to the castle. In his haste
and state of drunkenness, he took ordinary sake with him, rather
than the sacred wine. As a doctor or midwife, he was completely
useless. The father, in anger and desperation, cut his wife open
and removed the child physically. Though, the priest tried to
bless the dying baby, all he succeeded in doing was to leave
the portal open for evil to come to this place, through the body
of the dead and unblessed infant. When he awoke, months later,
evil had come to the town and everyone was destroyed. As he finished
his tale, he indicated his plan to live the rest of his life
in a remote cave somewhere, to atone for his sins.
"I don't think they'll let him off that easily," snickered
Liesa. "No, I thought not. He'll be made to take the baby
back to their ancestral home first, at any rate."
"And then he'll live out his life in a cave."
"Hmmm, maybe. These things have a way of not working out,
"Well, that's all settled. I don't think there's much more
to watch tonight. They all seem to be in various states of injury
or coma, and I don't think they're going to do much besides sleep
and take watch tonight. I imagine we can all go entertain ourselves
in a more amusing way, at this point."
"Wait!" said Galan. "Look at that! One last thing
to torment them!"
While the others dozed around the campfire, the two sisters on
first watch, sat up in horror as the figure of a pale child appeared
at the edge of the camp.
"It's nothing," said Liesa impatiently, "just
some village urchin who has wandered over there."
"No urchin," said Dreuss, with interest. "I can
smell the magic from here. Something's afoot, and it's probably
not something pleasant for them."
"Dreuss, what are you doing to them, now?" asked Liesa.
"For heaven's sake, let them rest this night at least. I'm
"Sweetheart, this is none of my doing, I promise you."
He shook his head. "Not mine. I'm equally weary of this
"It's not mine
As one, they all turned and gazed at the far temple of He Who
Sits Apart. Understanding dawned upon them, as to the origin
of this new threat.
Liesa shook her head. "You know, we're not the only ones
who have earned the name 'capricious.' I think he delights in
it more than anyone."
"If so, and he's involved, there's nothing more we can do
in any case. Their fate is in his hands. Come on, the pair of
Galan replaced the grass at the base of the temple steps, and
the three of them sauntered away carelessly, without a backward
In which our heroes meet Raven, spent the night in a manicured
forest and manage to avoid having tea with an unusual daimyo.
In which our heroes find a body in a woodlot, Sanjo and Gorobei
join our little party and it rains.
In which our heroes reach the plain of Sekigahara and find
an inn and it rains.
In which our heroes find that the hospitality of the Ishikawa
is expensive, Zatoichi meets an odd-colored sixteen year old
girl and Squeaker finds an impossible geneaology. The storm grows
In which the storm breaks violently, there is unmitigated
slaughter and Nature experiences an apalling string of bad karma.
Cousin and Zatoichi come with a hair of death, as does Sanjo
the spearman and the mysterious Lady Ishikawa comes in our of
the rain. But where is the golden girl?