Deciding to press on immediately rather than stay and rest after their arduous battles, the exhausted party set out. Taking the Imperial Road toward Kyuden Miya ensured swift travel, and they made camp less than a day away from the home of the Imperial Herald. That night, Bayushi Mamoru returned to the party in his merchant disguise, pursued by minions of the Shadow Dragon. When Sanjuro Tatsuya and his companions proved more than capable of defending themselves, even half-asleep, the ninja withdrew.
Sanjuro Yuzuki took watch as the others tried to bed down for a little more rest. Deprived of anything interesting to do, the former Spirit of Meido entertained herself by using her new nemuranai to fish. After almost an hour of patient waiting and a mighty heave, the Mongoose diplomat landed… the kami of the river itself.
Forsaking yet another night’s rest, the party hurried to Kyuden Miya, convincing the gate guards to let them in despite their suspicions of this ‘ronin band’. Early-risen townsfolk merrily gossiped over the birth of the Miya Daimyo’s heir, a boy: every time it was mentioned, Sagura’s mood became more dour. Tatsuya and Yuzuki shed their disguises, the Dragon’s hostage longing to see family after so long and Yuzuki eager to speak with her long-time friend. Only Kasuga Kiyomi took the time to count the months that had passed: seven since the marriage between Daichiko and the Imperial Herald, not the nine expected from a blessed marriage.
That didn’t stop her from wanting to be the first to hold the tiny, adorable bundle.
Following the example set by the Mongoose, everyone save Mamoru removed their ronin attire and greeted the Daimyo and his wife as friends and family. The Scorpion wandered the town as a merchant, picking through rumor and gossip before presenting himself at the celebratory feast.
Only the Phoenix remained morose. That child was his, to his mind, and the dishonor of his actions weighed heavily upon his mind.
He sought an audience with his former lover, and Daichiko granted it after meeting with Yuzuki and Tatsuya. The Miya Lady and the Phoenix Heir discussed the child, her life, and their past relationship. Sagura claimed that they should reveal the child’s true heritage, lest this new life be tainted by dishonor. Daichiko held that in the eyes of the Empire, no matter what else, the child was Lord Miya’s: her son would not be haunted by her past.
Sagura turned to sake for comfort, and later his friends for advice. Due to the Phoenix’s profoundly ill-chosen and drunken words, his request for aid was rewarded by a sound drubbing from Mamoru, a sharp word from Kiyomi, more sake from Yuzuki, and quiet support from Tatsuya. On advice from the Spirit of Honor, Sagura sent a letter to his lord and father detailing his crime, asking for judgement.
Tactless words to Kiyo, Kiyomi, and Toshiro, a looming hangover, and the final repercussions of his choice seven months ago combined to hound the young blademaster’s thoughts as he gazed up at the stars that night.
Everyone rested, awaiting what the morning would bring.