The next morning, the 10th day of the Horse, the group awakened to another sunny day. They quickly break camp and prepare to depart for the far west coast to book a ship back to the mainland. As they finished packing up camp and preparing to depart the cloth they had used to cover the dead assassin’s body suddenly caught on fire. The group just stared at disbelief at this phenomenon without knowing what to do. Seeing that the samurai were not going to soil themselves with the act the Tortoise ashigaru ran over and did their best to bat out the flames. They were finally able to get the flames under control. After a little investigation they determined that the tattoo brands had somehow caught flame when one of them had been displayed to the open sunlight. Isawa Masanori decided the most prudent course of action was to give the assassin a proper pyre. They stood around as Isawa gave the proper prayers and then using a scroll from his scroll bag lit the dead assassin’s body in an intense fire that quickly reduced the body to ash.
With the matter of the assassin’s body settled the group was ready to depart. Isawa asked Shinjo if he would like to try tracking the second assassin. Shinjo answered that it would be his pleasure to do so. Isawa gave him leave to choose three of his companions to accompany him. After some deliberation Shinjo choose Kitsu, Akodo and Hida to be the ones to ride with him. Isawa wished them luck and he, along with those staying behind with the caravan, departed down the road while Shinjo and his group moved thru the jungle to spot where they had found the dead assassin.
Once Shinjo and the rest reached the location of the dead assassin Akodo pointed to where he had seen the other on the horse. After some searching, Shinjo was able to find the tracks of their quarry. A couple times they saw places where the assassin had stooped for some unknown reason and others where they had backtracked in order to cover their tracks but Shinjo was able to successfully determine the correct tracks. After about an hour as they were riding along the path Akodo, using his family’s famous strategic ability, was able to spot a trap set right before Shinjo would have set it off. After some inspection they were able to follow the trip line into the tree tops where Shinjo saw dozens of bamboo spikes hidden. Deciding to set off the trap from a safe distance they retreated a good fifty feet and Shinjo shot the trip line to set it off. Almost immediately after hitting the line the area was abolished by a rain of bamboo spikes. For the next twelve seconds bamboo spikes rained down in a forty foot radius circle from multiple angles. Finally when it ended the ground was covered by bamboo spikes. Shinjo carefully moved around the area and once again picked up the trail in spite of the damage caused by the trap. A little later they became upon stream where the tracks disappeared. Shinjo looked around on the surounding embankments but was unable to find any new tracks. Akodo mentioned that they could have Kitsu try to ask the kami where their target had gone which Kitsu replied to with that he was not that type of shugenja (not for the first time).
Unable to figure out if their prey had gone upstream or downstream, the group considered heading back to the caravan. Kitsu then decided to ask his kharmic ancestor, the first Ikoma for guidance. Kitsu asked if the assassin they were pursing had gone upstream. Upon receiving the answer of no thru his kharmic bond he told the group that their quarry had headed downstream. The rest of the group, trusting Kitsu’s divine abilities, followed the stream down for quite a while until they came upon a dead horse on the embankment. Shinjo identified it as the hybrid horses used by members of the Imperial Families. It seemed the horse’s throat had been cut and then its body dragged around the area bleeding. But even this attempt was not enough to keep Shinjo from once again finding the trail and leading forward. Some time later it was Hida who identified a trip wire seconds before Shinjo would have tripped it. This time they were unable to identify what kind of trap it was. Remember how large the area was before they retreated over a hundred feet away with Shinjo just barley able to make out the location of the trip wire. He once again was able to perform an amazing shot and set off the trap. Almost instantly they heard a series of large popping noises that sounded like fireworks. Then all the trees in absolutely huge area, almost a hundred feet radius, started to fall over. It took about eighteen seconds for all the trees to fully collapse and come crashing to the ground. Once the dust and smoke cleared the entire area was almost completely flattened. Upon inspections it seemed that a series of small black powder bombs had been set into cuts in each tree setting up a chain reaction that brought the trees crashing to the ground. But even this could not stop Shinjo from finding the trail. About twenty minutes they saw heard voices thru the trees. They quickly rushed forward and rode out into the clearing shocking the rest of their caravan they had come upon. It seemed that the assassin had doubled back to the road farther down.
Meanwhile the caravan had continued on it uneventful way. Kakita and Shosuro rode at the front composing a sadane about their inhospitable and rude hosts, aka, the Mantis. After several hours of trying to put the verse to song they decided to take a break. Not much later they heard a loud series of explosions coming from off in the jungle. Knowing that their duty was to protect the scrolls no matter what they waited patiently for their comrades to return. Less then an hour later as they were riding down the path talking among themselves their comrades broke thru the tree line startling them. The two groups conveyed the information that had learned and Shinjo tried to pick up the trail once again. Unfortunately the path was well traveled and had footprints, hoof prints and wheel marks from dozens of recent travelers. Akodo asked Isawa if he could help find any information from the kamis about anyone coming thru here recently. Isawa communicated with some of the earth kamis but the only information they were able to relay was that a human had passed thru this area at some point in the last several hours. After hearing about the traps it was suggested that Shinjo and some others ride ahead to make sure there were no ambushes or traps waiting for them. Shinjo decided to take Akodo and Hida again but Kitsu had had enough of traps for one day and decided to stay with the caravan.
Shinjo, Akodo and Hida move about a mile ahead of the caravan and continued their ride. It was quite uneventful until they finally spotted smoke from a village in the distance. As they came over a small ridge they saw a medium valley filled with rice patties and a small cluster of buildings at the center. As they rode into the village the heimin of the village kneeled before them as they passed. It was close to sunset and the people were finishing their work and were heading home and to the local inn. The three samurai saw a traveling peddler packing up his wagon. Akodo asked him if he had seen anyone new come into town that day which the traveling merchant answered that only some simple peasants had passed thru and most of them locals or were well known. Thanking the man for his time they made their way to the inn and informed the little old lady innkeeper of the near arrival of the caravan.
Meanwhile, the two samurai-ko were bored with the constant riding and the disappearance of most of their comrades. With this in mind they decided to harass the shy and nervous Kitsu. They rode with him in between him thanking him for all his assistance lately and how helpful he had been. Kitsu just stammered and said that it was his phonor and pleasure to help them. After a while they spotted the smoke from the village as well. Isawa was a little grateful that some of the preparation had been finished already. The group quickly went to their rooms after dinner to make up for the rest they had lost the previous night.
The next few days passed without incident and reliable weather. The caravan made good headway and arrived at the port city a couple hours before sundown on the 14th of the Horse. Isawa looked at them and said he would confirm their passage on the ship expecting them. He told them the name of the inn that they would be staying and that they would be departing at first light and asked that they try to stay out of trouble for once. Hida asked what should they do if trouble found them again. Isawa just shaked his head and left towards the docks with Shiba in tow.
The group stored their gear and the inn and separated going their separate ways. Akodo just strolled around for a bit looking at the city and visited the blacksmith to see if he could find a better saya for his no-dachi. Kakita went to the local couriers and sent some silk she had found to an artisan friend back at Shiro Sano Kakita to make a new kimono for her. After that she returned to the inn, passing Hida on the way out, to play her biwa for a bit. Hida wrote a couple of letters (one to his master and one to the Tsi blacksmith) and headed to the courtier that Kakita had used, after getting directions from her, to send out his own letters. Kitsu had seen a couple of geisha houses and had disappeared inside. Shinjo had decided to visit the local shops and was harassing the shopkeepers for their inability to perform commerce correctly. Shosuro disappeared to parts unknown. As Akodo made his way back to the inn he saw a sweet dumpling merchant and bought enough to share with his comrades. As he approached the inn he noticed Hida and Shosuro coming from opposite directions and Shinjo yelling at one more innkeeper about giving samples. The four met at the entrance to the inn and Akodo gave each of them some dumplings. They heard biwa music from inside and figured that it must be Kakita. They went inside and shared the sweet dumplings with Kakita. After several hours of singing, playing and drinking, with even Hida and Akodo joining in at one point, Hida proposed a toast:
“I am thankful for the people who have saved my life in this journey and have entrusted their life to me”.
They shouted their agreement. Finally they all headed off to bed to sleep of the sake and see what the next day would bring.