Part I: Night
Barely past midnight and the whole town was woken up. Defiant screams, fueled by liquid courage and the desperation of those hanging to the shreds of what little reputation they think they have left. Threats against the Devil that had shamed them earlier in the day. Threats against the whole town. Better to leave it a smoking ruin than let it be a place unafraid of their antics.
There was a shred of sympathy left for them in this blind heart. They had lost much that day: four of their friends, whatever self-respect they had left. Couldn’t help with the latter, but felt an apology was owed for the former. It had been a senseless massacre, and had Sasuke found wisdom instead of foolish heroics a single death or a deep wound would have been more than enough to scare our assailants off. As it had happened, Sasuke’s wretched death had left them all ronin dead in turn. It wasn’t something to feel proud about.
But of course they wouldn’t listen. Caught up on the single person that had shown them as cowards to all. In the middle of all of them, paid no mind. Four ronin, the leader drunk as a monkey, his followers not quite so much. Drunkards don’t make for great warriors, but there were too many of them to fight off at once. Worse, they could easily torch the whole place down before being routed.
Fortunately, they hadn’t come to fight. At least it wasn’t their plan, they would have gotten to it at the slightest. They were instead messengers and brought a prophecy of their own future wickedness. One of their leaders was the screaming drunkard. Little Brother, they called him. Real name best left unknown, lest his exploits reach back to his hometown and shame his family. He delivered once the Devil made his appearance. Some bragging and a threat. They would all be back in three days and take over the town with their leader, the unsurprisingly nicknamed Big Brother.
They then left, and as late as it was there was talking to do. A swordsman, Takekazu Nagao, offered his services, for a price. The town’s only guard came out of hiding and offered to be of any help that didn’t involve risking his life. He had at least some money stashed to pay mercenaries. Someone had to travel to the next town over and see if more could be found. A small temple lay half a day away, a common refuge for those who couldn’t fight. Those who could, there’d be a need to teach them how to. And everyone needed to get some sleep.
Part II: Three Days Left
Plans were made. Alan would accompany the women and children to the temple. The local guard would travel to the next town seeking mercenaries. Takekazu-sama would teach the locals how to fight. The Devil, he’d need a fighting chance and there was no one to spare for that. Other than a blind girl who didn’t want it known that she could hold her own in a fight.
So the Devil went to the old abandoned shrine to acquaint himself with the local spirits, and he got a beating to show for it. That was… fun. He wouldn’t become a swordsman in three days, but he showed enough potential to at least surprise the ronin once if needed. They wouldn’t expect the foreigner to know the sharpe end of a blade after all.
Back in town things were progressing. Everything was serious and gloomy, but they were trying their best. Takekazu-sama was… shaky. Maybe he wasn’t sure if the money was good enough, or if he was brave enough. He sidestepped talking about how he had become a sword for hire, and there was probably something there that would explain his off attitude. But that would need more time and sake to divine. Before anything else, it was time to, finally, take a proper bath.
The foreigners took a bit of convincing to join in, but they were receptive to the townsfolk’s displeasure at their smell. Matis-sama related his visit of the temple and they were… bizarre. The temple had been vacated by their occupants. There were no signs of violence or of a struggle, they had just left not long before. Instead of monks, the refugees and Matis found crows. Lots of them. They wouldn’t enter the sacred spaces but would follow around. Crows often were the heralds of Kenku and of the dark portents they announced, even if themselves were at worst tricksters. Not a development worth mulling too much about…
Takekazu-sama left soon to survey the town. They had been talking about installing some defenses. No time or skill to build a wall but maybe they could at least funnel them through to make the fight winnable. It was a good thing to study further, but there was a suspicion that more was going on. They would have to make sure of that later.
Evening went through with no further incident. Everyone needed to unwind after an intense day, to drink a bit and try be merry and not think about the incoming gloom. It didn’t work out too well, the jokes wouldn’t find laughter, but everyone tried. Meanwhile the crows were watching Amal. The portents wouldn’t become clear yet, but they may have little to do with the incoming ronin…