‘The Picard’ sailed leisurely in the waters of the Reisui. It was a single-masted ship that could support up to thirty sailors and carry a small garrison of soldiers across seas.
To reach the Karasuma village mainland, one has to take a vessel from the last port in the Bay of Daiwan. Two days in the sea, along the coast, brings one to the Semai canyon’s mouth. The canyon, overflowing with turbulent water, wedges its way through the Youjin mountains. It is a murky, mile-long pass and further opens into the downstream waters of the Reisui which overlooks the river valley. The origin of the river is at the base of Chojo hill- the territory of Karasuma village.
The Overlord of Karasuki village was Itou Uno, a scrupulous man who made very few appearances. He had delegated his uncle and Chief Bursar, Masateru Uno, to hold trade talks with Karasuma. The negotiations were to be completed before the Goddess Festival of the village commenced.
It was to be a landmark trade deal that would transform the economies of both villages. Karasuma was a warrior village, while Karasuki was a trade and banking village. It made sense for both communities to come together during times of peace.
As the ship emerged from the canyon into the Reisui mainstream- the sun illuminated Chojo hill, which loomed high in the west. It would take around three hours to row to the upstream docks. Chief Bursar Uno instructed his Navy Captain to moor the ship at an old jetty nearby. It was time for his second breakfast, and his guts did not appreciate the bobbing of the vessel.
The Reisui formed rapids in the area, making it quite challenging to navigate the ship smoothly. The party would've already reached Karasuma the day before, were it not for the numerous meals of the Chief Bursar. It had been five days since they left Karasuki, while they could have finished the journey in three days.
The Picard carried twenty-one seafarers. Masateru Uno, the Navy Captain, and seven crew members- a cook, four oarsmen, and two personal lady-servants of Uno. The ship's crew was slaves from Karasuki.
Karasuki was heavily involved in the slave trade and boasted a skill camp to train them in different vocations. Slavery was their primary economy. Over the years, it had made them the wealthiest village on the continent.
Apart from the above, a military protection squad of seven from Karasuma village accompanied Chief Bursar Uno as his personal escort. They had been sent over by Overlord Mikashita, by land, as a gesture of respect. Captain Yorokobi Miyamoto led the elite squad.
Uno had also hired four mercenaries for his protection. They were outlandish-looking sell-swords with strange blades- much in contrast to the well-dressed and disciplined Karasuma squad. They kept reminding the Chief Bursar how many epic warriors they had defeated in the past. Yorokobi had scoffed at them several times already. From his experience, mercenaries were all bark and no bite.
As the crew anchored and tethered ‘The Picard’ to the land, Uno emerged from his cabin. The lady-servants made a spread of breakfast on a wide bench.
A fifty-year-old, obese, balding man, one could easily mistake the Chief Bursar for a grey walrus from a distance.
Captain Yorokobi leaned on the deck, sharpening his blade with a whetting stone. He had already assigned three of his squad to disembark and stand guard on land. Bandits, very often, hid in the canyon or the jetties to rob merchant ships. The other three guards kept a watch on the deck, facing the mouth of the canyon.
Masateru Uno: “Captain Miyamoto, would you care to join me for breakfast? I have broiled prawns, pigeon pie, and ale to wash it all down."
Yorokobi felt sick to his stomach, looking at the greasy food so early in the morning.
The Captain was a man of few words and had risen through the ranks through hard work and discipline. At the age of twenty-eight, he was already a master of kitsu, the magic system of Kinheni.
Yorokobi had awakened the Miyamoto eye, a visual prowess specific to his kin. It vested him with chlorokinesis- that is, control over plants. However, ocular abilities were sparingly used by warriors as they rendered the users blind for several hours. Especially the rookies.
The Captain was both skilled and a hard-liner. For a man of his abilities and rank, gluttony was sinful and punishable.
He kept his ideas to himself.
Captain Yorokobi: "I am flattered that the Chief Bursar feels I am worthy to dine at his side. However, I must politely decline. The warrior code allows only two healthful meals a day. And Karasuma warriors worship the warrior code."
Masateru Uno: "If you say so, Captain. We, of the Karasuki village and the Uno clan, think differently. It is important to worship the belly as many times a day as possible."
He patted his rotund belly and chuckled loudly. Then he proceeded to gorge on his second breakfast noisily. Yorokobi looked away, cringing from the sight.
The docked ship was fastened firmly to a post. It bobbed very lightly in the ebbing water. The dilapidated jetty jutted out of a clearing, about two hundred feet in length and half of that in breadth. The morning sun shone across the denuded terrain. Birds chirped musically from a forest that began from the treeline ahead.
Yorokobi heard a low whistle. It was from one of his squad members standing guard on land. First, the Captain rushed to his feet and alerted the deck guards.
He took off lightly from the edge of the deck, jumping high in the air and landing softly, ten yards ahead, beside the land guards.
Yorokobi: “What’s wrong? Report.”
Guard 1: "We sensed a presence."
Yorokobi: “A beast?”
Guard 2: "First, we thought it was a beast. But beasts don’t come this close to the rapids. There are watering holes upstream-”
Guard 1: “-and villagers certainly won't venture this far from the mainland. There is always the fear of bandits."
Yorokobi: “You have done well to summon me. Where did you notice the presence?”
Guard 3: "It appeared out of thin air somewhere in the foliage of the trees ahead. The only way that is possible if someone-"
The Seiton technique was used to help store weapons in an alternate raiki space. In other words, it helped in making things disappear, which had great utility in traveling with heavy weapons. Kin lords and a few Hyougi of Karasuma could use advanced Seiton to teleport themselves over distances ranging from a few feet to a few miles. Seiton teleportation was effective in both fight and flight. It was rumored that the traveling warrior Lord Heydrian could travel over twenty miles through this technique.
Captain Yorokobi took a deep breath and eyed the dense forest ahead. Had a kin-lord come to welcome the Chief Bursar? No, that was not likely.
There were artifacts in the black markets of the outlands that could help one teleport. Perhaps it was a bandit targeting a seemingly harmless party?
Yorokobi: "We are a military escort from Karasuma, escorting Lord Uno of Karasuki. Make yourself known, stranger! Or prepare to be assailed!"
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