Chapter 39: The Fool's CardMature

Raitoguchi scanned the horizon as the group entered Tartus.  Taito had become a fox before entering to avoid rousing the citizens' suspicions.  He perched now on the samurai's shoulders as the city was surveyed.  The town was hot despite the patch of grass that bordered on side of the city and the ocean that flanked the other.  The people walked with various forms of shade over their heads.  Straw hats and baskets could be seen bobbing over the top of the crowds that flooded the streets.

Raitoguchi knew this place.  He'd been here before with Okuninushi on several occasions.  There was a slaver here who had for a long time worked for the god.  He had also had his eye on Raitoguchi for just as long.  Okuninushi, the god of healing.  He'd always healed his pupil without leaving scars.  That was worth a lot in the slaver's sells.  Okuninushi had always protected him before, but now he felt he could easily protect himself.

He wouldn't dare attack me now, as strong as I am, Raitoguchi thought.  And on top of that, it would be a lot smarter than paying for an inn.

He knew they were all worn and tired.  None of them had had a bath in a long time.  They were all covered in dirt and blood.  Aside from that, they had also missed a lot of meals.  It would be foolish to go delving into the depths of Jigoku in the state they were all in now.

He raised his chin and spoke up, "Look, there's no need for us to seek out Yshmal now.  We should take advantage of being in a city.  I know that we have rested under Sekuroku-san's protection before, but it would be wise to find an inn and stay one more day out of harm's way.  Get some food, a bath, supplies, whatever you need.  We'll leave tomorrow in search of Yshmal."

Nytahl glared at him, "And since when did you decide to start being helpful?"

"If you want to go down into Jigoku in the state you're in now, be my guest.  I certainly won't follow you until I'm prepared."

Shalius turned to face him, "While I'm getting weary of his sore attitude as much as the rest of you, I do believe what he says is true.  We can't just prance into Hell expecting a warm welcome, so it will be a good idea to take our time here."

Everyone reluctantly agreed and they started out in search of an inn.  Raitoguchi set Taito on the ground, "Now go on and take care of them.  I'm staying with Monosuri-san."

The kitsune glared up at him but followed the others as he was told.  He knew he couldn't argue with anyone in his current state.  He walked among the others as Raitoguchi slipped off into the depths of the swarming crowds.

As the group approached the inn of their choice, they realized Raitoguchi wasn't following them anymore.  Shalius looked down and noted how his "pet" (Taito cringed a bit at the word) had been left with them.

"He couldn't have meant to leave us completely," Shalius commented.

I'll tell you about that later, the fox thought.

"Well, if that's the case we don't need to worry about it," Johnathan commented.  "Let's just get our rest.  He probably went to go gather those supplies or something."

The travelers agreed on this and went into a room where they could freshen up.  They would go out to get their own supplies the next morning.  Their room was small but comely, with a bed for each of them and a small lantern which filled the room with a warm light.  The group of companions got their baths and food and came to sit in a large circle in the floor to eat.  The environment here was much better for discussing their plans than the pub below them.  Taito had changed back into his human form and was leaning back with a kiseru in his mouth.

Shalius looked up at the fox, "So now.  What has happened to Raitoguchi?  I suppose you know?"

"As a matter of fact, I do.  And if you don't mind, someone's going to have to go after him."

Nytahl frowned, "I beg your pardon?"

The fox sighed, "He's gone to the home of Hide Monosuri, a slave trader that lives in this city.  Our boy is pretty confident he can protect himself but--"

"And what makes you think he can't?" Shalius said.  "He's more than capable to me."

The kitsune leaned forward, "None of you have been around as long as I have.  I know that slavers depend more on their brains than their brawn.  There's not a chance that Rai-kun will make it.  Someone will have to go get him.  Odds are by the time you get down there he'll be drugged and on the slave market."

Johnathan frowned, "Well, let's just go get him now."

"It isn't that easy.  He'll probably be expecting it, and if Rai isn't already drugged, he'll more than likely put up a struggle.  He's stubborn."

"That's fine with me," Shalius growled.  "I've been looking for a reason to set him straight."

The fox turned a fiery glare to Shalius, "You should all be ashamed of yourselves."

"And why is that?" Nytahl spat.  "He's been nothing but a nuisance since we left that cave.  We'd all be better off without that bad attitude of his!"

Shalius spoke up now, "No one needs to listen to him or be in that horrible presence of his.  He's doing nothing but dragging us down."

Kalton remained quiet, looking a bit unnerved.

The fox stood and tucked the kiseru under his sleeve, "You don't understand.  I think I have right enough now to speak my mind."

Johnathan threw up an arm, "Go ahead, but don't expect us to agree with everything you say."

Taito frowned, "Raitoguchi's attitude is a byproduct of the internal conflict he now faces.  Inside him, he is battling with the forces of his master.  Okuninushi's wrath is within him, and it is tormenting him.  You see a pessimistic jerk, but in truth he is clinging to the walls inside himself, screaming and crying, burning in his own personal Hell...  I'm surprised he can even carry on as he is now.  He is vulnerable even in this state.  He is mentally vulnerable.  Okuninushi took these steps to ensure his safety, but our rushed state got the better of him.  That ritual isn't done, and until it is Raitoguchi will act the way he does: only able to feel pain, anger, and frustration...  If someone doesn't go to save him, then you are all traitorous beasts..."

Kalton looked up, "I will go.  I have promised before that I would protect my friends.  He is no different."

"Thank you for your offer," Taito bowed, "but I don't think this is the job for a priest.  Stay here and look after the rest of your comrades.  Shalius, this will take place in all probability in a market.  Sporting those kind of muscles, you should be able to push past the crowed more easily than anyone else.  You can buy him back or just steal him, it doesn't matter to me.  If you decide to steal him, know that we'll have to leave immediately afterwards.  If you decide to buy him, I can easily provide you with the money.  Now please make your decision..."


Raitoguchi stepped into the doorway and looked around.  It had been a while since the last time he'd seen it, but it was still a very comforting place.

Hide came out of a back room and held his arms up, "Raito~!  What a pleasant surprise!  I had been wondering who had come in my door without so much as a knock.  But don't worry about it.  How have you been?  And what can I do for your... generous master?"

"I'm not here for my master, Mono-kun," Raitoguchi said.  "I came here to rest.  I'm on a journey, and I'll have to leave tomorrow.  This is a lot better than having to pay for an inn."

The man smiled and nodded, "Ah, I see.  Then come, come.  I'll get you a bath and some food.  You should have a good night here, yes?"

After Raitoguchi was clean he sat by the slaver in front of a plate of food, "What is this?"

"A special dish for you, my friend.  It's a bit of an experiment, but my slaves approved.  I think you will as well.  I made you some sake as well; it's there beside you."

Raitoguchi looked down and bowed, "Thank you."

"It is my pleasure.  Now, let's eat. Itadakimasu~!"

Raitoguchi skipped the polite phrase and simply ate the meal.  It seemed fine to him, nothing special, but the rice wine seemed.... off.  His body soon started to grow warm, and he began to feel tired.

"Mono-kun....  What did you...?" he fell back.

The slaver smiled, "There's a good slave.  You'll sell for a lot on the market, my doll."

Raitoguchi sat up but stared blankly ahead.  He was no longer conscious.  The slaver's drug had made him silent and completely obedient to any master's whim.  He was perfect now.

"Go to bed, my doll," the silver-eyed slaver whispered.  "We'll have everything set up in the morning auction."

The samurai crawled weakly into the cot behind him after a long pause and went immediately to sleep.

The End

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