Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

Takimaru

Tentacle God
Moderator
Apr 22, 2010
1,493
#1
Soga Province, Southeast Honrai
927 A.R.


Ren set foot upon the first flight of steps that led upwards into the towering castle, where her lord, Kuroda Toshizo, awaited her arrival. It was just the first in several physical measures meant to slow down potential invaders as much as possible. The castle itself was classic, wooden Honrainese architecture, built on a raised foundation of smooth stone. Its guards, clad in ornate crimson lamellar armor and armed with halberds that gleamed in the sunlight, stood stoically as the Honrainese beauty passed by the checkpoint, dressed in the fine silk threads of a court lady. Though she worked for the same man that they did, the sentries merely understood her to be one of the lord's servants and nothing more. But she was far more than that, indeed. She was a kunoichi--an agent of deception, capable of fooling even her own allies on a daily basis. Under Kuroda's orders she was employed for the purposes of espionage, sabotage, and infiltration... tasks that she had a natural knack for.

Her long journey on foot would take her to the center of the castle at its second to highest point. She would pass many more guards on her way there; after all, a man as despised as her lord had to be as careful as possible. As she entered the room she sought, closing the sliding door behind her, a familiar figure was seated... that of her employer. The man, in his forties, was old enough to be her father, even though he wasn't. Dressed in the garb of a daimyo--a territorial lord--he was a figure of utmost importance in the province, as he ruled over it with an unapologetically authoritarian approach. He acknowledged her presence with a nod.

"... Ren. I have a special assignment for you," pronounced the lord in a deep, commanding voice, booming as it was even during his attempts at a more conversational tone. Some rulers who had inherited their positions were said to let their lives of relative luxury spoil them, becoming self-indulgent and lazy as the promise of unconditional comfort softened their bodies as well as their resolves. But not Lord Kuroda. His steely gaze was capable of cowing nearly any who stood before him, and the hardened, slightly worn features of his face coupled with his sturdy build seemed to directly represent the man's firm and uncompromising nature.

Though he had previously been described by Ren's own late parents as a cruel tyrant callous to the needs of his people, he had a presence about him that made it difficult for the girl to see him as anything other than a capable leader. It was difficult to say whether it was fear, respect, or some sort of odd sentiment that lay in between--but all she knew was that he proved very difficult to disobey. Yet there was still a hint of softness in him that was seemingly reserved to Ren, as he talked to her much more than he did with the others. It wasn't much of an indicator to someone on the outside, but for one who truly knew the man, it was certainly a sign of affection for him to utter more than just a few sentences to a person. With Ren, he could hold entire conversations or lengthy monologues and not seem tired or annoyed after the fact.

As Lord Kuroda's rule was primarily one enforced by military means, he employed agents such as Ren to blend in to certain parts of his territories in order to gauge the level of dissent present in them, as well as reporting the results. She was one of eight spies he employed for this purpose. Each had the responsibility of watching over a general area of each cardinal and ordinal direction; north, south, east, west, northeast, southwest, and so on.

"Many of your tasks up until now have been carried out in the southwestern parts of this land--but this time, I will need you to head east. You will be switching jurisdictions with Isamu." The name was familiar to her. Isamu was a youth she had trained alongside, having entered the fold only several months before she first started. He was a relatively positive sort, with good physical attributes, but had moments of slight awkwardness and was somewhat less skilled in social nuance and grace than the kunoichi. If Lord Kuroda was turning over jurisdiction of the eastern front to Ren, either Isamu had messed something up severely, or it was a situation that only she could handle.

After all, she was one of only two females on the entire team of the lord's espionage division. The other girl, Aya, specialized in a less innocent field than mere surveillance--her skills centered around assassination. In comparison, she was a far more experienced kunoichi than Ren; one who had already spilled the blood of many a would-be usurper or rebel. If Kuroda wanted someone dead, he would send Aya, without a doubt. But this time, it was Ren who was being called in for this mission.

"There have been stirrings of a potential rebellion in the port city of Murakumo," he declared. "This is particularly troublesome for me, as one of the more popular noble families, the Sagami clan, carries plenty of influence there. Their previous head, once loyal to me, passed away not long ago, leaving the command to his son, Sei... whose faithfulness to my cause is questionable at best. Despite his popularity, he tends to keep other men at arm's length--as Isamu has failed to get any insight about his true intentions," he explained, slight tics in his features expressing his disappointment on the matter. "But, apparently he is a womanizer of sorts... and that's where your skills would be most useful." The lord put extra emphasis on the final word of his sentence.

"The assignment is simple. I need you to get close to him, enough so to determine his allegiances--nothing more, nothing less. As good of a listener as you are, I am sure you'll be able to draw something out of him. According to intelligence, he orders courtesans from neighboring towns on a regular basis, so we will include you in the next troupe bound for Murakumo."

Normally, he'd have left a routine briefing at that. But the lord seemed somewhat discontent to do so. Ren could tell--there was more to be said.

Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes for a few moments before slowly opening them once more. "This was before your time... but when I was younger, back when my father had rule over this very province, there was a rebellion. It was led by one of his old comrades in arms, Hyogo. They stormed the castle, getting in by way of a few inside men that had been bought off. Along with my mother, I was able to escape... but my father was not so lucky. His head was put on display as he was labeled a tyrant, a dictator. So the coup was successful. But if the lord, my own father, was such an evil, despicable man like they claimed him to be, would that not lead to a better life for the people living here?"

"It didn't. What resulted was chaos, as Hyogo, the man who took the seat of power, had not my father's judgment nor his resolve. He allowed far too many voices from too many groups to influence him, and he quickly lost control over the region as the different clans fought amongst themselves in a mad rush for that same power. Then, he too, was killed in yet another coup only days from the first. It was... it was chaos. Murder, rape, and looting were rampant, hourly occurrences--and for what? Because of the discontent of a few who hadn't the slightest idea of how to contain the mess they ended up making?"

"It is easy enough for people to want to seek change, to seek a situation different from their own... but it is difficult for them to comprehend the effects of the change they so desperately yearn for. Some might have seen it as tyranny, but under my father's rule, the different clans of this province were at least united. It took intervention on the part of the imperial officials to set everything in order. And when they placed me in the seat as successor, I knew what had to be done. The events simply confirmed what I had known in my heart all along--that my father's policies were not wrong. In any land, there will be those who are discontent with their situation... and there always will be. If I must make a select few suffer, make just a few die, so that everyone else won't have to, then so be it."

A few moments of silence passed by. Ren knew that her lord was deadly serious about such a promise. He did have the capability to be callous and sometimes cruel, often having a hand in executing the accused himself. But this was her first time hearing the story, and it explained much about the motivations behind his steely resolve.

"At any rate, I simply thought it prudent to remind you of the importance of your mission, and of my place here in this castle. You are dismissed. Nobu will see to your equipment needs and coordination as per usual."

Unless she had anything to ask of her lord, the next order of business would be to visit Nobu, a trusted artisan charged with outfitting agents like Ren with all the tools necessary for the job.
 
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Kat

Sex Demon
Moderator
Jan 20, 2011
281
#2
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

CHARACTER BIO AND STUFFS: http://www.ulmf.org/bbs/showpost.php?p=556492&postcount=8



There was a strangeness to walking past all the castle sentries, and odd feeling Ren had never quite gotten used to. Though they saw her as nothing as a servant, and indeed such a fact had been true for years up until the last two or so, she could still feel their eyes upon her.
“Anything is interesting when you're on guard duty... When so little happens, even stuff thats to be normal and expected seems interesting enough to be a short distraction.
That's not why you're watching me though, is it? No... thats a matter of memory, isn't it? Impressions last a long time, even if nothing's happened to confirm them for the longest time.”

It was a casual short of thought process, one that came quickly and naturally to the kunoichi. She knew she was being watched because in her earlier days she wasn't a stranger to mischief... to being in places where she wasn't supposed to be. Though she was never so reckless as to sneak un-permitted into the highest points of castle, places where the heavy guard meant a moment of confusion could end with with the swipe of a blade, doing it elsewhere in the castle meant the “impression” she had made for herself seemed to have stuck... at least with the older guards. It was foolish of them of course, she had other outlets for such tendencies now, and every permission to be here, and if she really had wanted to infiltrate then she would have chosen an approach less obvious than the main path... but behavior was a funny thing, full of errors and fallacies and odd habits that most people never bothered to question or make themselves aware of.
“Perhaps they expect I've gotten myself in trouble again. Even after all this time, they'd probably like to see that...”
The way she carried herself conveyed well enough that this wasn't a visit for some petty scolding. Even if that wasn't a good enough indicator, a quick glance, a brief locking of eyes with any of the sentries, would reinforce the message beyond doubt. While Ren wasn't exactly intimidating, especially to armed men who were larger than she was, her eyes had a strange fire to them that made them good at conveying certain moods... a strange way of making people “feel” what she was thinking even as her face stayed under perfect control. While her eyes conveyed no threats to the sentries, they also conveyed that she was not intimidated either, and that they had nothing to be satisfied about.
For the sentries, there would be no other information, nothing that would indicate her true purpose for the visit with her lord. They would be left having to wonder at things that were beyond their station, although the kunoichi figured they would probably assume she had been called to be given instructions on how to make preparations for an important guest or some other matter that would concern a common servant. Either way, they would not impede her progress.

Upon reaching her lord, Ren would listen attentively to the details of her assignment. Even as her mind took in the details, parts of it were running in the background, filling in blanks and drawing conclusions. It was important that this process happen automatically, information was a great asset, but one that's potential was extremely easy to miss and not take advantage of. It did not escape her notice that territory was no usually hers, or that things had reached a critical point yet if she were the one being sent... but these facts were filtered out to a low priority for now, more immediately relevant ones preoccupying her subconscious.
“Regular basis... so either something is happening to them, or he's the kind who gets bored of women quickly. The second is more likely, if they were turning up dead or something, not even a family like the Segami could keep it quiet.
This could make things difficult, it might only leave me with a short window. It would be helpful if there were an easy answer for WHY he tires of his courtesans so quickly, but it's probably just part of his male nature.
Still... he might just find the typical nature of regular courtesans to be boring. Praise and submissiveness might not be as much of a fantasy to someone so important already as it is for most courtesan's usual clientele. Or perhaps grief over his father's passing has left him confused and not really sure what he wants. All things to consider...”

The details of the kunoichi's assignment concluded without much more information, although what she had wasn't bad considering gathering information was her job anyway, however the silence that followed was charged... there was more to be said. She waited patiently, even curiously, not sure what to expect.

What followed was a surprise Ren could have never guessed. She was used to her lord talking at length with her, but the story he had told this time was unexpected and completely new. She couldn't figure out why exactly he had chosen to tell her any of this. Was it some sort of sympathy? Her own father had opposed the very lord speaking to her right now... and gotten himself killed for it... gotten her mother killed too, and many in her home village who supported him. It would have been completely justified for her to feel some kind of hate or anger over it... but she didn't. She had seen her father as a fool, a greedy fool who had thrown away his life for nothing and took everyone close to him down with him, leaving her all alone in the world. If anything, she was grateful that she had been taken prisoner by Kuroda's soldiers. Instead of being killed she had been a political prisoner, left in the care of the castle servants for a few years... but even after the war was long over and her use a bargaining chip was gone, he had chosen to spare her. She never had any second thoughts about where her loyalty lie... so then why?
A warning? No... no it couldn't be a warning or a threat... it had to be some kind sympathy or attempt to relate. She needed neither, but more surprising was that she hadn't expected it. Her lord was harder for her to read than most... or perhaps she simply didn't try out of some kind of strange respect. Either way, she was left unsure of how to reply for a few moments. To have been sympathetic or comforting wouldn't have been proper, by all the rules of courtesy it would have been an insult to imply that he needed her sympathies... yet at the same time to give thanks was an equal faux paus, it would have made her resolve look weak or questionable, made her look like a crying child who was bugging her lord just to get herself consoled... perhaps if she had been in a different mood, hadn't just been given an assignment, she might not have cared as much. Still, she had to answer with something, as ignoring the story was also improper for the pure sake of rudeness.
“True lessons, although I fear they're hard ones to teach so easily. I do not wish that sort of experience on everyone, as it seems the memories that come with it never really fade...”
Hopefully it was a satisfactory answer, one that neither asked for sympathy or pitied her lord with it, but still acknowledged a shared experience they both had... well almost, there was one key difference, one key difference that escaped a small comment as Ren reached the threshold of the room on her way out.
“She sounds very brave.”
The smallest bit of envy tinged the kunoichi's own voice, a bit of jealousy that her own mother had chosen to take her own life in the end, rather than trying to protect her like Kuroda's had for him. She quickly drew attention away from the comment though.
“With your permission, I'm going to take a few of the herbs from the garden along with me.”
From cooking to medicine to poisons, growing and working with herbs was an interest the young kunoichi had developed to a level rivaling most alchemists, and as such she had practically free reign of the garden. Permission was something she knew she didn't have to ask at all, but then again getting permission wasn't why she had asked... but with that she left to make preparations.

For a simple observation mission, weapons and other such deadly implements were dangerous for the role Ren was to be playing. There were of course, plenty of weapons that a kunoichi could hide or conceal. It was a fact she was sure Aya knew well, and even she herself knew being completely defenseless was a bad idea; even if she wasn't out to kill anyone. In this case the main question was a matter of many she would bring. The more she had to hide, the more chance of something being discovered and questions being asked... Her next visit would be Nobu, an artisan who could make such tools and weapons as the situation called for it, and she would decide how much to bring after seeing what he had to offer.
“At the very least I need one of those hollow kanzashi...”
The tool of which she spoke was a hair ornament, in this case a hollow one she could put some poison in that would leech the poison out through a needle when a certain part of it was squeezed. It was a fairly easy to conceal (or rather, wear openly), something that wasn't likely to draw much attention on it's own, but would make a good emergency tool if something went wrong.
 
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Takimaru

Tentacle God
Moderator
Apr 22, 2010
1,493
#3
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

"Yes... experience can be a harsh teacher, indeed," replied Kuroda, his visage stoic in spite of his apparent agreement with his subordinate's words. "Such lessons only need be applied to those who are in dire need of them. I am glad that you have come to understand the necessity of my rule by simply observing. Some people fail to understand as much, even in death. But you are a quick learner. I appreciate that," he concluded.

It was his odd way of paying a compliment, of saying that her work on his behalf did not go unnoticed. While Kuroda came off as callous and uncaring towards some of his subordinates, Ren would occasionally receive a tinge of positive reinforcement. She was one of the few, if only, people he bothered to do so for. Whispers among commoners of the man's cruelty were fairly frequent, especially in the more rural areas, but in her position Ren knew him as much more than just a faceless authority to whom taxes were paid, or a stern figure to bow to. Even some of his concubines hadn't the privilege of hearing as much from him as she had--why she was sometimes employed as his personal confessional booth, it was hard to tell. And for now, she wouldn't bother spending much time in guessing the reasons behind such behaviors. All she knew was that this man, as powerful as he was, had come to rely on her in some form.

"Mm. Do what you must," was all that he said in response to her request to use the garden, a beautiful and diverse sight in its own right. He wasn't one to place excessive limitations on Ren's tools during a mission, especially if he deemed it a particularly important one. If anything, he spared no expense when it came to monitoring--or disposing of--his subjects.

The lord continued to sit in thoughtful silence as Ren left his domain to navigate the maze of corridors that made up a majority of the castle's upper levels. It was designed to confuse and throw off would-be invaders, with many of the rooms, doors and hallways bearing strikingly similar features. However, those who lived here knew their way around, and Ren was certainly no exception. As some of the other guards and servants moved about the castle, she could easily discern their locations from the telltale squeaking noises of the wooden floorboards--nightingale floors, as they were called, deliberately designed to make sounds when someone walked upon them, in order to alert Kuroda and his aides of would-be intruders.

But Ren was far from one of those, at least in this castle, and so she could traverse the squeaking floors without needing to pay conscious attention towards the shifting of her own body weight. A trek down to the lower floors of the building, on the way to the exit, took her to Nobu's forge, where a variety of exotic weapons could be seen hanging on the walls. Nobu himself, a somewhat plain-looking, bespectacled man in his mid-thirties, was said to be a genius of sorts when it came to devising sophisticated tools for Kuroda's agents to use, and his numerous 'projects' only helped support such a reputation. Even the larger weapons he forged were not one's standard fare of swords and spears. After all, soldiers from the other towns were all too accustomed to facing opponents wielding such common armaments, but less so against more exotic fare, like chained sickles, claws and grappling hooks, pronged truncheons meant to intercept or break blades, and double-weighted throwing chains, amongst nearly countless others. In addition to being a skilled craftsman, Nobu was also a fairly capable weapons expert, with a deep understanding of the mechanics behind his own creations.

"That you, Ren?" asked Nobu without looking back to confirm whether or not his guess was a correct one. As the kunoichi moved in, she would find that the man appeared to be tinkering with a small device on his worktable. It was some sort of steel cylinder, about the size of a paintbrush, though slightly larger, about seven inches long and half an inch thick. "Good timing, I was looking for someone to show this little number to. Don't believe Lord Kuroda has you taking someone out as an objective, but if things go horribly wrong in whatever you're doing, this could very well save your life. I call it a 'sleeve dart', because it's small enough to fit inside your... well, your sleeve." After making a few last-second tweaks to the device, he showed it to Ren, then pushed the cylinder into itself, compacting it into a roughly half its size. Nobu then loaded it with a small dart, held it in his hand and pointed towards a round wooden target he kept on the wall. A single press of a button on the weapon caused the dart to go flying out at surprising velocity, hitting the target dead center and lodging in firmly enough that Ren knew it to be capable of breaking skin or piercing light clothing.

"Actually takes a bit of practice, but you get the idea. Aim for the neck, just like with a blowgun, and definitely add poison. I'll let you take it, if you promise to treat it well. Otherwise, I've got the usual," said the smith, motioning to the veritable arsenal of weapons upon the wall. "For the big weapons, I've added more kinds of walking staves with hidden swords and other blades... but I guess that depends on what you're doing this time around. What role are you filling this time? If you can't pack too heavy, I also have these," he added, opening a drawer to show Ren her options. Shuriken (throwing stars) in various forms, both straight and disc-like; metsubushi (blinding powder) stored in eggshells; tetsubishi (caltrops) kept in a tubular case for quick scattering; neko-te (fingertip claws). Last, but certainly not least, was a series of weaponized 'kanzashi', or hair ornaments, each with their own poison reservoirs. It wasn't the first time Ren had taken these, but they were only really suitable for disguises that involved being a higher-class type of lady. After all, a kanzashi wasn't the type of accessory that peasants or peddlers often possessed.

"I'm also working on some other things, but if you've any requests, I'm sure I can figure something out within a day... depending on how complicated it is," said Nobu. "Let me know."
 

Kat

Sex Demon
Moderator
Jan 20, 2011
281
#4
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru



Ren would excuse herself with a bow, grateful that her diversion comment had been allowed to work even though she was sure it hadn't gone unnoticed. This was not the appropriate time or place to get into personal feelings, despite the momentary slip, and she had no further reason to linger. It was unlikely there was anymore information for the kunoichi to gather from her lord, after all gathering information was her job and he would have no reason to hold anything back anyway. Perhaps she'd have better luck with Isamu or the troupe she was to travel with.... but there were other preparations to make first.
The softly creaking floors would trace Ren's decent to the lower level, despite her not being heavy enough to make as much sound as some of the others on the floor. The sounds were a small thing, but with enough practice one could tell the size of anyone on the floor without seeing them... their size, the way they moved, even if they were wearing something weighty like armor. It would come as almost a second nature to the kunoichi... however she knew she wouldn't always have the constant luxury of such a convenient information system on all her assignments. It's absence was a good reminder of just how important the advantage of good awareness was... although, as she knew, there were always other ways to achieve that goal.
“I'll need tools, outfits fitting my role, and whatever information I can get from Isamu... even if seems like he got nothing of use on Sei. Even the location of some safehouses or supply stores could be useful if he's set any up, since I haven't had a chance to establish any in the area...
Yes, that should cover everything major. I'll grab some herbs on my way back to pack up, then be ready to leave with the troupe tomorrow. Given the information I have to work with right now, there's not much else to do. This will probably be a matter of improvisation mattering more than preparation...
Either way though, the tools part will be the most important. Most weapons won't fit my role, but going without something for an emergency is just foolish... so Nobu will be my first stop.”

The first stop would be a quick one, as the smith's workshop was right within the castle grounds.

“Yes, it's me. I guess I'm not the only one who's gotten good at reading these floors. Mind if I come in?”
Ren would wait for a small nod or approving looking before crossing the doorway's threshold into the workshop, even though there was no reason she'd have been denied... in fact the tinkerer looked eager to show her his latest project.
“Scary to think you could kill a person just by getting close enough and pointing at them.” she commented taking the weapon in her hands to examine it after the demonstration. While she had none of the technical expertise that Nobu had, there was still a fascination with trying to discern how the device worked. Such fascination wouldn't keep her from forgetting why she was here though.
“I'm afraid I can't take it this time, maybe next time.” she finally answered, setting the weapon aside “Hiding things in my clothes might end up being a bad choice for this assignment, and something like that would be hard to explain away. It's better if I stick to things that I'd be able to wear openly. To be honest, I only came for the usual kanzashi...”
Despite the kunoichi's admission, she did give the other tools a looking over. For the most part, they would all meet with the problem of being something no courtesan would have. Dangerous or suspicious enough to raise questions if she were caught with them. One did catch her eye though.
“I think I could get away with a set of the neko-te. They're small enough to look like something a woman might use for a little bit of rough play, if they had partner who with an interest in that. At the same time they don't look large or dangerous enough to be the preferred weapon of an assassin in any kind of real fight, especially if I were to paint over them and make them look more ornamental than anything... yes, I think I'll take a set of those, I'll have time to paint over them tonight.”
In addition to the claws, she would also pick out a kanzashi in the shape of a white flower, with some some extra ornamental bits hanging down along the side. The needle that went through her hair would have hollowed out metal core, and the ornament itself would have a small reservoir to hold poison until pressure on the ornament squeezed it out through the needle. It was a poor weapon for a prolonged fight, in fact it would probably one be good for one shot, but the element of surprise it brought with it was invaluable. It also had an advantage in being one of the few weapons good for poisonings, as most strong poisons tended to degrade within hours or even minutes when exposed to open air. The ornament's airtight reservoir would ensure that wouldn't happen.

“If I need anything else, I'll send a letter back and have it delivered. It might take a few days, but this assignment itself may end up taking longer than that... although I couldn't really say for sure at the moment.
If everything goes well, I probably won't even be using the claws or hair ornament. Yes, that would be ideal... It'd be a shame to damage something so beautiful. Thank you for the help.”

With that the Ren would excuse herself and continue on with her preparations. The next priority would be outfits befitting her role. While Ren had plenty of her own outfits of her own, many of them were in her stashes in her old territory and she was reluctant to use the ones she had back at the caste, as those were an “emergency” supply of sorts for when she would have less time than this to prepare for an assignment. No, her next stop would instead be a seamstress in town named Miyabi, who had helped provide her with outfits on more than one occasion already...

Spoiler
 
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Takimaru

Tentacle God
Moderator
Apr 22, 2010
1,493
#5
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

"Haha... when you walk these floors day in, day out, they become familiar to you, like a close colleague, or perhaps a treasured friend. Considering how often you are away on missions, one might say that I've grown even more accustomed to the uguisubari than you," replied Nobu.

By the 'uguisubari', he meant the nightingale floors, which Kuroda's castle was famous for. Provided, it wasn't the only fortification with such devices in place as a safeguard against intruders, but it was said to be one of the first to boast the clever installments. The quirky inventor was also prone to speaking of certain inanimate objects, these floors included, as he would people.

Many of the items within his shop were his own creations, and while they were 'just tools' to some at the end of the day, he nevertheless held a degree of reverence for them. He had always stressed that if one maintained their weapons properly and did not neglect them, then the armaments would serve to be reliable partners in return. In a way, he was right. Blades needed to be polished and sharpened after each use; some solutions could not be allowed to go stale at the risk of losing their potency. While it might have seemed an unnecessary belief, it did lend itself to some degree of practicality.

Nobu couldn't help but beam at the kunoichi's assessment of the lethality of his newest invention. "Isn't it? It uses a spring, which stores up potential energy, specifically elastic potential energy, when compressed. I use a latch to keep it in place once it's pushed in, and a trigger device to release all of it..." he began to explain, only to find Ren passing up on the offer. "Oh! Fair enough," replied the smith, not to be discouraged. After all, certain missions often required very specific loadouts, and he of all people understood as much. "Good choice. I also have some kakute for that purpose, if it's more your flavor," said Nobu, producing a few rings with spikes on them. They were small, discreet, and could nearly pass for a similar purpose.

"Some clients are more into that kind of thing nowadays, aren't they? Being tied up and having pain inflicted upon them, maybe vice versa? Or so it's what Aya tells me. If what I've heard from her is correct, you can even get away with carrying a bit of rope or other such restraints for excuses of 'play' or what not. Just make sure you don't end up in a bind yourself, alright?" Despite his quip, it was a sincere wish for her to succeed. He couldn't help but smile at her last words. While the tools he created were certainly helpful for Kuroda's operatives and soldiers, they couldn't compare to the asset that Ren herself had become for the lord.

~~~~~​

After Ren made her choices, she knew who to visit next: Miyabi. A tailoress by trade, she was responsible for providing Kuroda's agents with disguises of various sorts. She even made everyday clothing for them, as well as handled repairs on any tears or damage on such articles. Ever the fashionable type, she also possessed an extensive collection of fine silk robes and dresses. If Ren was looking to impress with wardrobe alone, a visit to the tailoress would definitely be in order.

It wasn't a terribly long trip for the kunoichi to Miyabi's shop, as many of Kuroda's most trusted artisans lived within easy walking distance of his castle. Not half an hour later, Ren would arrive into the district where the shop was located. On the way, she would see many familiar sights. Lined with numerous cherry blossom trees, this part of the city was beautiful. Numerous shops and inns lined the streets where she walked, and those that worked there simply slept and lived in the same buildings where business was held. It was a simple setup, but it worked. This was known as the 'Togashi' District, where only the most elite artisans thrived.

Kuroda taught Ren that regardless of the form of government, there would always be 'haves' and 'have-nots'. Those that resided here were clearly of the former, within the lord's favor thanks to their beliefs and official allegiance to his cause. Those who didn't, lived in much poorer conditions, but that was a result of their own choices, stressed Kuroda. To modify one's own beliefs was a small price to pay for a comfortable home, a cozy job, and the means to live. The lord was said to have never failed in properly providing for those who supported him. Ren was no exception, as she never found herself wanting for material needs while in his care.

Her connections with Miyabi was proof of that. But when she reached the shop, she would find that no one was there. When that was the case, there was generally only one other place the seamstress could be found, and that was where Ren headed to next--the 'Nami' District of the pleasure quarters, where Miyabi's older sister, the beautiful Kiyomi, worked. In Soga Province, indulging in extramarital sexual delights was not considered a cultural taboo--even Lord Kuroda had paid many a visit to the luxurious area. The wives of men in Honrai were for the most part their domestic caretakers, and often little more. On the other hand, for romantic love or at least sexual attention, one needed not go much further than the Nami District. It was home to the 'oiran'--girls who, while perhaps considered prostitutes by someone unfamiliar with the culture, were first and foremost entertainers, talented ladies with few equals in the realms of beauty, grace and social skill.

Ren arrived at her destination, the White Blossom. This pleasure quarters was the premiere location for finding only the most beautiful and high-class women. Common whores needed not apply here. Those who worked in this large house were often great poets, artists, calligraphers, dancers, musicians and singers of high renown. For Ren it was a place of many fond memories, as she learned the more peaceful and calming aspects of her profession in these very chambers. It was also home to her first sexual experiences, which, while pleasurable, were mainly considered business transactions, tools of the job, above all. After all, that's what they were first and foremost to the women here.

But despite the supposed detachment, it took nothing away from the warm, welcoming feeling that Ren experienced simply by stepping in to the lobby. The atmosphere was designed to do just that for anyone who entered--it worked. The girl assigned to the front door at this time was Harumi, who Ren knew personally and played musical ensembles with. Roughly the same age as her, she learned many of the same things at the same pace. But without the need to learn the 'extra' skills that Ren acquired, Harumi was able to focus solely on the sort of work typical of oiran girls. "Greetings, dear customer," she started, before noticing Ren. While the kunoichi's appearance might have been a surprise, it certainly didn't show on Harumi's face, as her grace and composure was well-practiced. "Hello, Ren. Are you looking to help us entertain a customer tonight? Or are you here for someone else... I believe Miyabi is upstairs, in Kiyomi's room."

Ren was granted access to the upper levels of the building, floors that, like Kuroda's castle, she knew quite well. In the room that was mentioned, she would find the seamstress that she had been looking for, Miyabi. Kiyomi was also there. While perhaps a decade older than Ren, she hadn't lost much of the beauty from her youth. If anything, she had gained more of it in a way as her look matured, her appearance only getting better with age like fine wine.

"Oh! Come on in, dear!" said Miyabi cheerfully.

Kiyomi gave Ren a knowing smile and a nod, beckoning her in as well. "So nice of you to visit us for once... I do wish that you would come by more often. If only Lord Kuroda was willing to be more generous with you," she lamented aloud.

While the older sister was more subdued in her behavior, the tailoress was always upbeat, even a little gossipy at times. "I'm guessing you have something lined up very soon, hmm?" The woman ushered Ren in front of a mirror, looking her over with careful scrutiny. "Mm... have you lost a little weight since we last saw each other? So what's the mission this time around? Looking to get in someone's favor?"
 

Kat

Sex Demon
Moderator
Jan 20, 2011
281
#6
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

“The rings would be a little rougher than scratches with claws. Still... perhaps they would be the better choice... easier to conceal and quicker to put on. Even wearing them openly shouldn't be too hard, given the role I'm playing. Traveling or working for someone personally is more dangerous than working at an establishment... men of weak virtue have been known to crave things above their station, and are the most likely to take it by force if they have the chance. It's not unheard of for the act to happen... and that fact alone means nobody could begrudge me feeling the need to protect myself. I would hardly be the first woman to do so.”
There was a strange awareness to speaking the words. While the kunoichi hardly considered such an event to be the biggest threat to her mission, nothing she was saying was necessarily false. Though she knew how to defend herself much better than a typical courtesan, she was still a bit on the small side and the risk was always present, whether her threats simply be someone lecherous or enemies of a more dangerous variety. Such was physical fact... a fair tradeoff for the other advantages her gender granted her, but also depressing in a weird lonely kind of way. Now wasn't the time to feel bad about it though.
“Yes, I'll take the rings instead. Keep the claws. As I've said, I'm hoping to not have to use any weapons at all, but if I'm forced to, these are probably the better of the two choices... wearing them won't stop me from improvising as much if it comes to that.”
With that the kunoichi turned to leave the shop, taking her tools with her, but not before one last remark.
“I hope you're wrong bout the rope thing. It's not like the Blossom didn't teach us about it, but I'm afraid I probably don't have the same streak for causing pain as Aya might... and being on the opposite end isn't as easy to escape from as it sounds if the other person knows what they're doing.”
It was something of a shockingly casual comment, given the subject, but sometimes that casualness served as a good coping mechanism, especially with so few people to confide in about such matters.

~~~~~​

Walking through the Togashi district was always a bit of a strange experience for Ren. On one hand there was an envy she felt towards those who lived here, a slight jealousy that they had been more blessed than her... but on the other hand it only served to reaffirm her belief in her Lord's lessons and make her feel like she was doing the right thing. There was a beauty of the district was possible because of the unity and productivity that happened when everyone was aligned to the same goal. Ren was able to appreciate that beauty, find it awe-inspiring compared to what she had known earlier in life... and the facts were that it outshone anything the poor or un-compliant were ever able to produce. Unfortunately she wouldn't have much time to enjoy it, Miyabi's shop would be empty when the kunoichi arrived... although she had a good idea where to look next.
“... I was hoping to avoid this today.”

Ren's next stop would be the White Blossom in Nami District, which was in an area known as the city's “pleasure quarter', at least among the high class. Though the girl had no particular distaste for the quarter itself, she had been hoping to avoid a visit to the White Blossom in particular. Though she had spent much time there in the past learning many of the arts she'd need as a kunoichi, and even had some happy memories of the place, visiting was always awkward.
“It can't be helped I guess...”

Even Harumi at the front door had started to throw off Ren's usual composure. Many of the oiran girls current at the establishment had been there when first started her training... and many were already plenty experienced at the time.
“Y-yes. I'm here for Miyabi.” she answered after a brief clumsy moment of silence.
Though Ren had known such a formal greeting was just part of the job for Harumi, it still felt like something more. Harumi was among the girls here when she had begun her training... and though Ren had become proficient in the skills of an oiran NOW, when she had started out she was laughably inexperienced... shy and a bit awkward even. To be greeted so formally, felt like teasing from an older sister, as if it were a test of how much she remembered... a test she had just failed in a moment of being flustered. No matter how much the kunoichi had improved or tried to stay serious, the girls here would remember her from less graceful days.
It was... embarrassing, even if she knew it was just teasing and not meant to be spiteful. Few others could get this kind of reaction from her... but the some of girls here had grown close to her during her training, acting much less formal and more like a family after business hours, and had learned exactly how to get around her usual guard.
“...”
Struggling for something to say, the Kunoichi finally resigned herself to defeat and followed the other girl upstairs. There was no point fighting it. It wasn't like this was the first time she had lost a game like this to one of her “older sisters”.

If Harumi had been able to chip Ren's composure, the Miyabi and Kiyomi were able to pierce right through it. Their welcomes had been exactly the opposite of the formal one she had received at the door earlier, but the effect had been just as deep, if not more. By the time Miyabi had ushered her in front of a mirror the kunoichi could feel her face burning red.
Being fawned over wasn't something she had been used to... at least not like this. While men had done such fawning plenty of times in the past, that was almost always attention she had wanted and worked for... or attention she was able to get away from or put an end to quickly. In either scenario she had some control over it and was the one making it happen. To have it happen without her effort or control was a feeling she had a hard time getting used to, especially given how long it had been since she had last visited here. Perhaps it was partially a result of having nobody this close at the castle or having grown up resenting her parents... the reason didn't really matter much now. Either way, the attention wasn't entirely unpleasant, despite the embarrassing nature of it. If things had been different she might have been content to just let it happen... to stay a part of the “family” forever... but alas she had an obligation to Kuroda now, and part of her that knew she would never be happy with that kind of life forever; part of her still burned for the day when her obligation was fulfilled and she'd have complete control over her life... never having to subdue or fake her personality ever again as the oirans had to do nearly every day... never having to fake getting close to anyone ever again and instead being free to let it happen for real...

“I sure hope not-” Ren answered with dismay towards the comment about her weight “Talk like that and you're gonna make me afraid I'm getting even smaller!” she continued on, not even trying to be formal anymore.
While most would have considered the question a compliment, Ren saw it only as more teasing. Her figure had never been of any concern to her, weight-wise, but she had always wanted to be taller. Unfortunately at age 19 now, the chances of that happening were slim, the desire becoming just one more small thing that those close to her could poke fun at her for.
“But yes, I'm supposed to get close to someone and see what I can learn. Nothing too dangerous, if everything goes according to plan. The man in question seems to have a thing for ordering courtesans from the neighboring areas. Tomorrow I'm leaving troupe heading in his direction. Sorry for the short notice, but I'll need a set out outfits fitting the role...designs that would be popular in Murakumo, if possible...”
The kunoichi paused for a second to think over anything she might have missed.
“Anything that can give me an edge over the others courtesans would help, since I'm not sure why exactly my target goes through them so fast, so I'd also like to borrow a koto.” she continued on, referring to a stringed instrument similar to a harp on a board. She didn't particularly enjoy playing it, but she had a lot of talent for it.
“The fact that I'm from Soga's White Blossom should be enough, but sadly not everyone knows what they've been missing here.” she finally finished up playfully.
With nothing else coming to mind as an immediate need, Ren now found herself content to let Miyabi fidget around, measuring her or whatever else was necessary for the tailoring process, and leaving Kiyomi to make any suggestions of her own. Of course both were also free to simply pass some time with more personal talk too. Though the kunoichi would need everything requested ready and delivered by morning, and though she still needed to see what she could learn from Isamu sometime tonight about what was previously his territory, there were no other pressing concerns in the immediate moment.
 
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Takimaru

Tentacle God
Moderator
Apr 22, 2010
1,493
#7
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

"Of course, of course!" replied Nobu in response to Ren's ponderings of unscrupulous men who sought to take what they wanted from traveling oiran. It was a frequent enough occurrence, depending on the individual province, and much of the kunoichi's job was to gauge the concerns and dangers involved in the roles she played--be it a low-class peasant or a high-class courtesan. Whatever role she took, she had to absorb it completely, understanding the ins and outs of a given lifestyle or profession. One role that she could not easily change, however, was that of a woman, and while it was a potent weapon in and of itself, it was also a liability in many cases.

"Far easier is it to want something than to work for it, isn't it? Such is the plight of many men. I suppose I should feel quite fortunate, though, as my main want is simply to work!" he added with a chuckle and a shrug. Of the men she worked with, the weapons master was perhaps the least lecherous of them all, making it easier for the girl to speak about the more risque aspects of her job without feeling terribly intimidated or even judged. He had a wife named Yukiko, as Ren recalled, though even she had to concede that the man's first love truly was his work. The piles of weapon blueprints scattered all about the shop spoke volumes as to his dedication as an artisan. This portion of Honrai, a large island and one of the oldest regions said to have been the origin of the first Emperor, valued such extremes in its culture; either one dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to an art, or didn't bother at all.

"Though, yes, the rings could even be concealed as any other fashionable accessories when faced inside; you can even close your hands with them, as you know. One can wear a ring at any time, but less so a neko-te. Fair enough," he concluded, taking a moment to dig through one of his many drawers in the back. The smith returned with a set of four silver versions of the weaponized rings, fashionable enough to pass as innocent pieces of jewelry. "There we go. I'd have gold ones for you instead, but that would require a bit more in the way of budget, ahheh. Maybe you can put a good word in with Kuroda? Not that he doesn't listen to me, of course... but whether or not he thinks it's a good idea to gild a few, easily-lost weapons is another matter."

"So it is," he replied regarding the matter of ropework. "For what it's worth, I hope that this time around, you get a client who is as... well, as normal as possible."

~~~~~​

Harumi was quick to notice Ren's blush, and was unable to help but grin at the other girl's silence. "My... it isn't THAT hot in here, is it?" she teased. "I was just mentioning that you ought to come see us more. Just like old times... or are you having all of the fun without us? Either way, don't be a stranger~" She gave a sly smile before heading back downstairs.

Miyabi and Kiyomi towered over the diminutive Ren in comparison. Provided, they were taller than most oiran, at over five and a half shaku each, though the latter had a few sun of height over the other. It gave the siblings a very motherly sort of feel to them, with Miyabi the open, talkative sort, and Kiyomi having a more graceful, mature air. While they were related and had a degree of familial resemblance, more noticeable were their differences, helped along by their separate career choices.

"Oh, don't fret now!" exclaimed Miyabi in response. "It's just that I hadn't seen you in a little while, so I forget just how cute you are," she explained, standing behind Ren and placing her hands on her shoulders.

Kiyomi, always of a cooler disposition than her sister, added on to the comment in a calm voice. "Don't begrudge your natural gifts, now. At that size, you give the perfect appearance of being fragile, delicate, as a woman should be... not to mention, innocent--a quality all too useful for lowering the guards of men, and of course, earning their cash." It was an idea that Ren herself might have entertained at a few points--that she had been chosen by Kuroda due in part to her fairly unassuming appearance. But ultimately, she knew that her apparent loyalty to his cause was no small factor in the decision.

"Ooh. A man from Murakumo, hmm? A fashionable town, that one, but luckily for you I have just the material for it ready. Let me just take a few measurements to ensure that you're just as I remember," said Miyabi with a wink. The tailoress produced a long strip of silk, marked at regular intervals. This simple piece of fabric was a vital tool, one that she used to measure clients with, and so she would stoop down slightly to check Ren's sizes with relaxed swiftness and ease.

"Perfect. Don't worry, you haven't changed at all! Oh, wonderful youth... Well, the style in Murakumo isn't that much different from here, luckily. It's all about the long sleeves, and tight waist... though of course, ornate designs are important for someone hoping not to look like a total commoner. I'll only have time to make one more for you, if you have to leave so soon, but luckily I do have a few colors available. So which would you have--plum, peach, or sky blue? I can take you back to my shop if you wish to have a closer look at them."

"Oh, let me have her for just a little longer, sister," remarked Kiyomi, taking a moment to stand up and walk to a nearby wall panel, before sliding it open, revealing it to be the door of a hidden closet.

"So, a koto? I know it's your best instrument, but do you intend on carrying it around with you everywhere? I'd imagine a shamisen or shakuhachi might be better in terms of portability. But, since you asked for it by name, I suppose you're really looking to impress. It is the most romantic of the musical instruments, after all. At this rate, he is just as likely to keep you by his side forever just to play this for him, fufu... so long as you haven't gotten too rusty."

She revealed one of her fine kotos, a thirteen-stringed zither made from the wood of the empress tree and polished to a shine. The ends had ornate carvings of ocean waves, ivory inlays of stylized clouds, and chrysanthemum patterns made from luminous shell. Length-wise, the instrument was nearly as tall as Ren herself. The head oiran gently set it on the floor for her former trainee to take. "Do return it as it came though, yes?"

Afterwards, she sat down in her previous place, upon a fancy cushion on the floor. Using chairs was not the norm for oiran; they practiced sitting on their knees with form suitable for those of the high class. Even when Kiyomi was relaxed and casual, she carried such a disciplined manner of doing something as simple as sitting down. It reminded Ren of the way her hand-to-hand instructor, Jigoro, stood and moved; seemingly always with purpose, never lazy or slouched. By extension, she had been taught in much the same way, leading the kunoichi to move rather gracefully at a subconscious level. Any clumsiness she might have had in her youth was now a footnote long forgotten.

"So," asked Miyabi. "Do you know anything about this guy, or are you just going in to play it by ear, so to speak?"

Kiyomi exhibited a knowing smile. "You should be fine even if it is the latter," she remarked confidently. "After all, you've been trained in womanhood by the very best. Fufu... I remember when you first came here as a girl. So young and naive! And, of course, your very first client, not an unimportant man by any stretch of the imagination. I thought it suitable to throw you to the wolves right away, so to speak," she reminisced aloud, showing not the slightest hint of concern for any outward embarrassment her former trainee might have exhibited.

"Luckily for you, he took your stuttered words and blushed cheeks as a wonderfully flattering reaction to his own person, and it worked out quite well... especially for a first-timer. And now, here you are, a petite flower, beautiful in your own right. You could very easily have been amongst our top seats if it weren't for Lord Kuroda's plans. But then again, it is thanks to those that you were brought here to begin with. I must say, despite all of the whispers about your origins when you first arrived to Soga Province, you've blended in perfectly. Just know that if Lord Kuroda ever chooses to retire you, that we'd welcome you to the White Blossom with open arms. After all, we could always use someone within our own ranks capable of handling the rowdier customers themselves. There was one here just the other night, actually. Most men of high birth have manners... but others handle their alcohol so poorly so as to reveal that they've the heart of a peasant. A shame, really."
 
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Kat

Sex Demon
Moderator
Jan 20, 2011
281
#8
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

Though Ren was getting used to the “atmosphere” in the room with Kiyomi and Miyabi, she still couldn't help but redden a bit and advert her gaze at the comments of how she was “cute”, and “fragile” and “delicate”. The kunoichi herself had no aversion to these qualities, had no real reason to take them as all that offensive or demeaning... but the whole situation was one that was out of her control, one where she had no counter of her own to the teasing. To have said anything back, especially to one of her mentors, would have been disrespectful if it weren’t done with the utmost tact. However Kiyomi knew the kunoichi too well for for any amount of tact to work; and Miyabi, though not quite as much of a “mentor” as Kiyomi had been, was perfectly content to ride along with her sister's influence.
For now all Ren could do was ignore the affectionate teasing and focus on more important matters... although staying focused while being measured was also somewhat difficult, as the kunoichi had some ticklish spots that would get the slightest flinch out of her even as she tried to stay composed.

“Lets go with the blue.” Ren answered in regards to the tailoress's question on color. Although the kunoichi herself didn't know much about color or fashion, and knew Miyabi could have made ANY color look good, she at least TRIED to give it some thought.
“I picked some accessories earlier, silver and white flowers, they'll go together best with a cool color like blue. I mean, Plum is cool too, but it seems a bit harder to make work with white and silver, right? Blue goes better for a kinda “crystal'ish” look I think.” she finished up on the topic of outfit before addressing the elder sister.
“I'm traveling with a troupe on the way there, I'm figuring anything I can fit in a trunk I can have them transport for me. I'm not carrying it on my back, so it won't make me fall over and cause any damage to it...” she continued with the slightest bit on an “unamused” tone in her voice, but not enough to be outright combative or disrespectful.
“Anyway, it always was my best instrument. Even if I did lose some of my talent at it, I'd be just as quick to pick it up again as I was the first time... I don't really think it's the kind of thing I'd forget though. Although maybe I had better bring a shakuhachi too, just in case I need to appeal to a different kind of taste. I'm not sure I remember as much with that one, but I have tonight and the trip over to Murakumo to practice...” she pondered aloud, referring to a small wind instrument similar to a flute.
“At any rate, I AM looking to impress... but I hope I don't get TOO lucky. Clingy men are the most troublesome to deal with, and I'd rather not have to sneak away when the assignment is over. I suppose whatever happens is what happens though...”
Focusing on important matters had been a fine distraction from the teasing... for awhile. But it seemed Kiyomi wasn't going to let her off that easy. Unfortunately for Ren, her discussion had been a perfect segue to even more embarrassing memories.

“H-hey! Don't talk about that! Besides, I got better!”
Once again the kunoichi's composure cracked into outright protest, although she knew Kiyomi would take it only as a victory in a game between them, rather than a sign of disrespect. To be fair, her mentor was right, she HAD been incredibly awkward when she first came here for training. Shy, timid, even afraid of other people. It was a far cry from the way she was able to read people now and play any role that suited her goals... but like performing slights of hand to an audience that knew the trick, it simply didn't work here at the White Blossom, and THAT was one of the few things that could consistently leave the girl flustered, at least for a moment...
“Everyone's OK though... right?” she went on in regards to the “trouble earlier”, showing she really did care about everyone there, although she knew the answer already. She had never felt unsafe here, and never been hurt, so the chances of such happening were extremely low. Either way, hearing an answer for sure helped.
Regardless of the answer though, she would move on to the final bit of important discussion soon afterwards. After all, business was business, even between all the teasing and catching up on current events.

“Hmm, no... I don't know much about my target. But what I do know is worrisome. My assignment is merely to gather information, nothing dangerous in and of itself, but from what I've heard that may end up being more difficult than it sounds. I've heard, the man goes through courtesans on a regular basis. It's possible he is simply a womanizer or pervert who tires of women quickly and sees us as expendable. It is also possible that he's extremely picky and looking for a particular kind of woman that he just hasn't been able to find yet. Either way, these facts could make my assignment difficult if they come into play before I've learned what I need to learn. Kuroda had another agent in the area earlier, but I don't think I'll be able to learn much from him, as the target in this case seems to keep other men at a distance...
I'm honestly not really sure what to make of it all, but I don't really have much else to work with either.”

Ren had shared a lot of information, enough that someone could probably figure out the details of her assignment if they wanted to ask around... but it was just her, Kiyomi, and Miyabi in the room, and unlike the guards and servants at the castle, they were aware of the work she did. As far as Ren was concerned, there was nothing wrong with sharing information with a mentor. At the end of the day, it would still be up to her to complete the assignment herself and use her own judgements... but any advice or perspective she may not have thought of before could end up being just as much help as any set of skills she had learned.
 
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Takimaru

Tentacle God
Moderator
Apr 22, 2010
1,493
#9
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

"Silver and white flowers? A versatile choice, overall," commented Kiyomi.

"Even the plum would work quite well with it. Better than if you had chosen gold, really!" Miyabi chimed in cheerfully, seemingly impressed with Ren's selection.

"I would say that I hope it's all to his tastes... but you know how it goes, sometimes," said Kiyomi in reference to the clothing arrangements. "All of the fretting over details done by women goes ignored all too often by men intent on pursuing more primal concerns," she lamented aloud. "And yet it would be worse not to bother."

"Isn't that the truth!" commented her sister. "But if it weren't for all of that, I'd be out of a job, so I guess I can't complain too much, hee."

"At least this time, you seem to be sparing no expense for this particular man... so I can't help but commend you on that," remarked the mistress of the White Blossom before moving to her stash once again, with her usual grace, and procuring a shakuhachi--a flute fashioned from bamboo--along with a protective wrapping for the koto, made from layers of silk and leather. Handling them with all of the care that she expected her former trainee to take, she then laid them alongside the instrument she had first presented to Ren.

"If you truly are a student of the Blossom, then there isn't any reason why you shouldn't impress him with at least one of these," came the head oiran's expectations in verbal form. "And yes, clinginess can be such an issue sometimes, can't it?"

Miyabi shrugged. "Well, he should understand your profession as an oiran at the end of it all, since you're coming to him as one..."

"True, dear sister. Though I must say, if there is anything not to be underestimated in this world, it is a man's lust for a woman. However fleeting it might be," added Kiyomi.

When the topic moved to teasing, Ren's flustered reactions only earned her more subdued giggles and demure smiles from her 'older sisters'.

"Oh, you... we're just reminiscing about old times~" cooed Kiyomi, encouraged if nothing else by the kunoichi's protests. "And no, everyone is fine. Haruo took care of them." This man she referred to was the establishment's bouncer of sorts, Haruo; a bald, hulking eunuch whose muscular build betrayed typical expectations of others like him.

Her expression straightened somewhat afterwards, however, showing that she was always keen to talk of more serious matters when needbe. "Some men are like that, indeed. Once they have their fill of a certain 'dessert', they tire of it so quickly. Though I know perhaps less than you do, based on my experiences at this establishment with many a customer, my guess is that he samples them just once or twice before dismissing them. If he was the abusive type, I can't imagine him acquiring too many oirans for long, unless he is particularly powerful."

"Hum. I hope not. Well um, maybe he won't end up so clingy after all?" asked Miyabi, her mouth crinkling.

"Hard to tell," replied Kiyomi. "Either way, a man like that is likely all too used to women trying too hard for his attention, if the ones that visit the White Blossom are any indicator--and they come from all across this land. Try a more subtle, cool approach. In other words... just be yourself," she suggested. "Perhaps there is a reason that you were chosen for this to begin with."

"I never told you this," she then added, "but one of your previous 'customers' returned here a few weeks after your training was finished, looking for you. He was so taken by you that he was to ask for your hand in marriage... but as you know, an oiran is not to be married if she wishes to continue that profession, and the same goes for you I imagine, especially being one of Lord Kuroda's women. And his meeting with you was while you were only beginning to develop your skills," explained the mistress.

"But my intent here was not to tell you of missed opportunities, Ren. It's to remind you that you should have confidence in yourself... and who you are. A lovely girl, that is. That, more than the charm and the etiquette you have learned here, can be an asset in itself."

Kiyomi sighed. "But I'm not here to keep you all day, of course, much as I'd love to."

"Yes, it's my turn to have her," Miyabi chimed in playfully before inviting Ren to stand and follow her. "After all, I've some fabrics to show you, and I'd rather you see them for yourself before I get to work on them if you want the kimono done in time before you leave tomorrow. You can always pick the koto up later, right?"

"It's not going anywhere," said Kiyomi. "Although you can carry it yourself, I can also have Harumi or someone pick it up tomorrow if it's more convenient. Besides, if it's an excuse to see your cute face once more, then I'll gladly hold onto it for you until tomorrow, since it's the shakuhachi you've been meaning to practice with, hmm?"

With that, Ren was free to take the instruments of her choice before taking her leave, though not before getting a few passing greetings from some of the other girls in the White Blossom. It was slightly draining in its own way to come here, as she simply could not visit without being pulled into extended conversations, moments of 'catching up' with old friends, and other such distractions.

~~~~~​

Assuming she made it through such small talk unfazed, she would then follow the seamstress back to her shop. It was a small and slightly cluttered establishment, for a person that was reputed to craft some of the finest wear in Soga Province. But Miyabi's reputation was well-earned, one that was put on display for anyone to see; a collection of intricate robes was lined up along the far wall, behind the main counter. These often changed every other week, and as expected, there was an entirely fresh set this time around as well.

"If you want one of these, too, I could always modify one to your sizes... but, I figured you'd like something custom made, so yes. Here are the fabrics," said Miyabi, laying out rolls of her finest material for Ren to touch and feel for herself. Silk, silk brocade and satin weaves made up a few of them, though the colors were available in each. "Whichever you like! If there's a motif you want, I'll do my best to replicate it." Naturally, if Ren chose to engage in any sort of conversation, she'd be glad to engage in nearly any manner of gossip.

"Good? Good. Well, like I said... stop by more often. Don't be a stranger!" urged Miyabi, grinning, when Ren finally said her farewell for the time being.

~~~~~​

This left Ren to seek out Isamu, her colleague previously in charge of the area encompassing Murakumo. She knew him to be one of the more diligent shinobi as far as physical exercise went, and as such, he could be found in one place during his spare time--the training grounds not terribly far from Kuroda's palace.

It would be early evening by the time she reached his location. There was Isamu, at one edge of the courtyard, across from a training dummy that had dozens of shuriken buried into a spot just beneath its 'neck'... and several others scattered around beneath it.

However, he was done practicing his throwing, so it seemed, as the young man could now be seen in the prone position, doing push-ups. Push-ups with one arm, and two fingers, no less. A small dark spot on the ground, just beneath the position of his face, was apparent, and the sweat dripping from his chin made it clear how hard he had been working. It was like him to constantly push his limits in such a manner, though while it helped him in some aspects of his duty, it hurt him in others--ones that Ren excelled at.

"Oh... hauhh... hey, Ren. What's up? Come to train with me?" he asked, pushing himself up one last time before taking a seated position on the ground. His face was drenched in sweat.
 

Kat

Sex Demon
Moderator
Jan 20, 2011
281
#10
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

Ren was quiet for most of the walk back to Miyabi's shop. It would be easy enough to say this was because she was grateful for the break from everyone in the Blossom... but this wouldn't be the right answer. It would also be easy to say that she was thinking over what Kiyomi had said... this would be a bit more accurate, sort of. As far as actual advice went, nothing Kiyomi had said had actually surprised Ren all that much. All of it was theory the kunoichi had already considered and ran through her mind herself already. The rest of it though, the admission she had heard for the first time, THAT she wasn't sure how to react to right away and, unusual for the kunoichi, it would keep her withdrawn and obliviously preoccupied for a bit. It wouldn't be until she was actually actually back at the seamstress' shop that she would surface from her thoughts and say anything about it.
“It's kinda weird... to think there was someone here who wanted my hand. Weirder still to think I didn't know all this time. The man could still be around and I wouldn't even know it.”
The kunoichi's words came from nowhere, possibly even interrupting Miyabi if she was in the middle of saying something or other. Ren wasn't sure, she hadn't been paying attention, most unusual given her normal attention to deal and resistance to being distracted, and even the informal way she was speaking right now wasn't usual for her.

"It's not that I'm ungrateful... it's the opposite actually. I was so young and unsure back then that being taken in as someone's wife might have sounded appealing compared to spending my life as a servant at the castle or going through training to do what I do now with all it's risks and uncertainties. I could have spent my life being protected and pampered and cared for instead..." she gave a small laugh, with the slightest tinge of sarcasm.
"My mother was like that... a proper little flower that did whatever my father asked of her... even as a little girl I remember not being able to understand it. She had no other interests outside of serving him. It was such... a dead end, a waste of a life. I used to think it was a sacrifice that came with having a child... but even in the end she chose to die with my father rather than even try to protect me!"
The kunoichi had become aware that her voice has raised in volume, taken on a bitter tone, but she quickly reigned it in and got back to important matters.
"Sorry... I guess I got a little distracted there. I've never really known as much about fashion as you, so I'll trust your judgement on this."
With that Ren would excuse herself, feeling awkward after her outburst and wanting to leave anyway.
"Oh, and thank your sister for me. She really did keep me from making a bad choice before I was ready."

~~~~~​

Back towards the castle grounds, it wouldn't take Ren long to find Isamu. While she didn't know where he was beforehand, indeed she usually couldn't be sure where ANY of Kuroda's other agents were at any given time, she had a hunch that had turned out to be correct this time.
“Still at it it this late into the day? Working out frustration I wonder... or just the same diligence I always remember?”

“Hmm... no, not exactly.” the kunoichi answered in response to the training question. Her refusal wasn't out of any kind of laziness or lack of ability. Indeed she was actually better conditioned than most girls her age on account of training... but there was a limit to what she could do while keeping up a physique suitable for her roles. While there were some exceptions, for the most part being soft and vulnerable was the cultural ideal for appealing to the tastes of men. To have become too toned or hardened would have been a mistake.
“Perhaps if I had been born male instead instead... or was tall enough to actually be intimidating...”
It didn't really matter though. In the grand scheme of things she was actually grateful not to have to spend so much time on physical conditioning. Unlike the other skills required for her job, it wasn't the least bit interesting or engaging... there wasn't much to actually learn as opposed to just going through the same cycles of tedium and strain over and over again.
“So much effort for... well, maybe it's not a completely underwhelming payoff.” she corrected herself mentally with a glance at her fellow ninja. Though she wasn't really attracted to him on any kind of personal level, part of her couldn't deny that, at least physically, there was an attractiveness to the bodies of men willing to put in the time and effort to sculpt themselves. Still, there was business to discuss, and Ren had far more composure than to let such passing thoughts distract her in any obvious way.

“I'm leaving tomorrow for Murakumo.” It was a blunt way to start the conversation from the kunoichi, in a way it was highlighting the fact that she was taking over the other's assignment. However fact were facts. She meant nothing spiteful over it, and it was expected that her fellow ninja would be able to see that and not take it personally.
“Kuroda gave me a brief overview of what's going on, but I wanted to see if there was anything else I could learn personally. Even if it's nothing about the target, if there's anything worth pointing out about life in area or any particular details like current events or supply cache's, they could be invaluably useful. Should you get assigned to the northwest while I'm gone, I have maps with a few small safehouses marked off. Admittedly the disguises I have there might not fit you or be of much help, and I don't keep many weapons, but there's money and other provisions if you need to keep a low profile, and a few contacts who are loyal to Kuroda. Dried herbs too if you need to make medicine or poisons... but be careful. I know this stuff by heart, so I don't keep written recipes around, a mix up could be fatal. It's not much, and I'm not even sure if this is how you normally handle missions, but I figured I'd make the offer and see if there's any help you could give me in return.”
Just what Ren would get in return, if anything, wasn't certain. Her and her fellow agents often operated independently, unaware of what the others were doing and each responsible for their own affairs. Still, she wasn't particularly possessive of her own preparations, and anything she could get in return would be better than starting from scratch in an unfamiliar place.
 

Takimaru

Tentacle God
Moderator
Apr 22, 2010
1,493
#11
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

Miyabi would listen to Ren's story with no shortage of sympathy. After all, it was rare that the kunoichi had visibly expressed such a level of frustration in her presence, even if such trace levels of bitterness might have seemed relatively tame to an outsider or a total stranger. But for the tailoress, who despite being a regular contact had not been exposed to quite as many displays of the petite beauty's true feelings as her sister, it provided a rare glimpse of insight into Ren's true feelings. From the look on her face, however, Ren's answer didn't give her anything to be concerned about. It was only natural, Miyabi believed, for a child to seek the love of their parents, and so one to find themselves suddenly denied of it had good reason to harbor at least a smidge of resentment, if not much more.

Smiling, she shook her head softly. "No... I don't blame you in the slightest. But even if some of those memories are painful, they brought you here to us in the end, and I have to be glad for that. Maybe it was meant to be! And to think, now you've grown into someone who doesn't simply need to be protected and coddled... yet you could make many men want to, even then," added the seamstress, as positive as ever. "As for Kiyomi, sure, I'll let her know, though I think she sort of has an idea of how you feel already," she said with a shrug. "She's good like that. And besides, if he was THAT good a man, I'm sure she'd at least have considered it..." she trailed off while folding some garments.

"Mm, on second thought, maybe not. She doesn't look it, but she can be possessive sometimes, you know? Mainly of her girls, though. Either way, I'm glad you took it so well. I think I'd be pretty angry if someone told me as much after the fact... but then again, I do like having my own business instead of watching out for some brats, so there is that. I guess we have to be thankful for where we end up sometimes. Anyway, I guess I should stop talking and start sewing. I'll see you in the morning!"

~~~~~​

Though he was shirtless, Isamu naturally paid the matter much less notice than Ren did. Compared to her, he wasn't known for being particularly sharp in the area of social nuance or finesse, even if his capabilities in terms of manners were still better than that of your average peasant or artisan; the latter of which was a disguise he often took.

The raven-haired shinobi was, however, easy enough to approach, with a relatively handsome face and an easygoing aura that some could consider the opposite of Kuroda's. That, combined his generally friendly demeanor, left many to confide in him, accidentally or otherwise, which made him suitable for information gathering even if his specialty was mainly in the physical realm. In spite of the villagers' trust in him, however, he would only reserve true openness for his colleagues--a category which Ren fell into neatly.

But the kunoichi went straight to business in terms of subject matter. Her contemporary didn't seem to mind at all--if anything, he expected as much. "Oh, right! So you wanna know info about it. Guess I should ask you about yours, too, since I'll be covering that area for the time being. Maybe longer, depending on how things go. As far as customs, they really aren't too different. Nothing you have to adjust, speech-wise, I think..." he trailed off, tilting his head from side to side to get the kinks out of his neck. "The maps would be nice. Any people I need to keep an eye on in particular?"

"Murakumo itself is a pretty rich place, if you compare it to the rest of the eastern side. Lately, it's starting to become something of an onsen town, in addition to its port activities. More people have been moving in and building around the springs they find. Which makes sense, I guess, especially as it gets a lot of people from the mainland--even some foreigners. As for places that I frequent... I'd check in with Masao, the owner of the Kinosaki Inn, if you need a place to stay for whatever reason. They even have their own spring, if you care to soak. Just tell him that you're with Kiichi, and he'll know what to do," explained Isamu, picking up a nearby rag to dry his perspiration.

"I don't keep weapons in that room, though. If you want anything like that, or just a place to stay should things get too bad, I have a storage shed just west of old Kunimitsu's forge, where I worked as an apprentice. Technically, it's his... so be sure to introduce yourself first, else he get suspicious. Again, I'm known as Harusame Kiichi there, so you can say we're related or something--I did mention having a few sisters. But you can even show Kuroda's crest if you have to." What he referred to was the crest of Kuroda, a triple-leafed symbol signifying government allegiance. All of Kuroda's spies carried it on an accessory that could be shifted or modified in such a way that the seal would be otherwise hidden. That way, even if the piece of evidence was discovered, it wouldn't actually provide any solid proof unless the inspector knew exactly how to open it.

Isamu went on. "The shed itself just has smithing tools, but if you want to access the things that Nobu made me, check under the floorboards to the far right side from when you enter. And my third cache... it's in Lord Sagami's castle. Underneath his fifth guest room on the right wing, where I stayed when I worked as a servant. There isn't quite as much as with the shed, but there are even some poisons, wistwillow and foxpoint. Just the basics, so you'll need to bring anything more uh, complicated. I know you're more knowledgable about those than I am." Wistwillow, as Ren knew well, was a sedative; foxpoint, on the other hand, was deadly in the right doses.

"As for Sei... well, he's... kept himself in the inner keep, for the most part. The only people that go in and out of the castle itself are servants, trusted bodyguards, and of course, oiran, which... I imagine you're going in as," he said in a quieter voice, averting his gaze. "Mostly the latter. But he likes to keep even his own guards and servants at a distance, even then. He's been ignoring his father's old advisors and spending most of his time with the women. I'm sure he's just grieving in his own way, since his old man passed kind of unexpectedly, but our lord just wants to make sure that he's not thinking of making his own sovereignty or anything like that. After all, I think Lord Kuroda's got enough issues to deal with in the form of the other daimyo."

He paused for a moment, quietly pondering any missed details, then looked back to Ren. "Anything else you need to know?"
 
Last edited:

Kat

Sex Demon
Moderator
Jan 20, 2011
281
#12
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

"Please, follow me then." Ren answered, heading back towards the castle for her maps in response to the shinobi's quick response and helpful attitude towards the business at hand.
"Hmm, Murakamo sounds more lively than many of the places in the northwest. There arent as many attractions for foreigners or their money. Most of the communties are small and rural, and even in the cities people aren't quite as modern as we are here. Tradition holds strong there, and most people are willing to tell anything and everything to a wandering priest or priestess... but those people aren't exactly guliable per say. They know their own culture, and they'll sense something is strange if you don't know the same histories and stories they do. Claiming to be an initiate or a trainee helps, but that can only go so far, and it probably won't convince anyone from the actual temples or monastaries, which are unfortunately quite common in the region.
I'm afraid without knowing specifically what community Kuroda will want you in, I can't get much more specific than that as far as contacts or people to look out for goes. The safehouses with contacts will be marked off on my maps, but I've probably gone far longer since checking in with them than you have for some of yours."

Ren grimanced a little, catching something else that might have been mistake in how she had handled things, possibly a subconscious choice that had happened without her realizing it.
"I never mentioned having family when I was there. I think most people assumed I was a traveling oiran because my parents were dead... or that I had been taken in by one of the temples, depending on which disguise I was using. I was using the name Honjou Haruka back then, if you try passing as a relative it might cause some curiosities as to why I never mentioned any family members before, so perhaps it'd be better to claim to be some other kind of associate."

Ren would memorize all the details of the verbal exchange as she made her way to her room in the castle. Even while calling to mind details of her own to share, she had always had a good memory for things she had heard spoken. While normal people might only commit large details to memory, and then forget even those a day or two later, the Kunoichi had become adept at not letting her brain filter out anything... perhaps it was because every detail was a clue to how someone thought that her brain would take some time to examine and commit to memory every one... or perhaps it was just a natural aptitude. Maybe both. Either way, within a few inutes she would be at her destination, showing off the maps she had made of her old territory before folding them carefully and handing them over for her collegue to study.
"Conveniant how quickly some people will become cooperative once you flash something official in front of them." the kunoichi continued in regards to crests. She had one of her own of course, an easily hidden playing piece that only showed the crest on the back when heated over flame. A "pawn" piece in a twist of irony that could be interpreted a number of ways.
"I rather dislike using it though, intimidation makes people hard to read and only works for so long before they become unpredictable. It's something to be used very carefully."
With nothing else to be gained in the way of discussion, she would bid her colleague to leave her and go over what she had so far.

"Sedatives and deadly poison, a few weapons outside of the castle itself, smithing tools, and somewhere to stay. The smithing tools are probably of no use to me, it's not role I'd be able to play well. The Inn could be useful, but not the safest place if things go wrong... It'd be foolish to count on the owner being willing to hide me or cover me with a lie if trouble is following me, but otherwise it could be of use. That leaves the weapons, the foxpoint poison, and wistwillow sedative. I shouldn't need to use any of them, but having the weapons there without needing to transport them on myself isn't something to complain about, and the herbs can be mixed with more benign ingredients for different effects. Wistwillow can be diluted and combined with common oils to dull the pain of surface wounds without drowsiness, and foxpoint mixed in small amounts with blackblood seeds can purge the body of most ingested toxins... and both those secondary ingredients are used in everything from cooking to children's remedies."
For now Ren filed most of what she had learned as possible assets for later, but the herbs in particular were helpful, and those would help guide her last preparations for the day. A trip to the castle gardens for ingredients would be her last task before packing up an assortment of mundane essentials for the trip tomorrow. Any plants or herbs that could be useful without looking suspicious would be worth taking a small amount of, and her own kanzashi she wanted to fill with a mix that would bring about spasms and pain. Nothing deadly per say, but enough to buy her window in an emergency... as someone dealing with spreading tremors and cramps would hardly be in shape for a fight or a chase.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Takimaru

Tentacle God
Moderator
Apr 22, 2010
1,493
#13
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

"Sure," responded Isamu, who began to follow the kunoichi at her suggestion to acquire the necessary charts. The manner in which he walked was not a flat-footed trudge or a careless drag, but a careful and smooth distribution of weight, which by nature, produced very little sound. It was a trait he acquired through countless hours of consistent training, drilled into his body to the point where moving in such a way became second nature. So much so that he would need to actually put effort into walking more like a normal civilian, lest he seem too careful by default.

And while this might have hampered his abilities in pulling off a convincing disguise against far more observant types, such a thing was far from his specialty. That field of expertise, impersonation or 'hensojutsu', would belong to the girl walking next to him, whose style of moving was more keen to change depending on the situation. If Kuroda needed a specialist to scale a castle wall or navigate treacherous layouts, he would call Isamu. But if he needed someone to gain the trust of a given target, to learn their ins and outs through observation and knowledge of human tendencies, he would summon Ren.

"That's fine--I'm sure I can figure something out," he replied rather brightly, not to be terribly discouraged by Ren's somewhat unfavorable description of the northwestern area... at least for someone with his skillset. "I'm used to keeping a low profile, anyway."

He nodded in response to Ren's comments regarding the use of official crests, more likely to show that he was actually listening rather than any clear sign of agreement. "I hear you, though that's sort of a surprise coming from a vassal of Lord Kuroda," he replied. The other shinobi didn't need to elaborate out loud for Ren to know what he was referring to. While a successful daimyo, Kuroda was no doubt a ruthless one, and only a select knew exactly to what extent he was. Among these few were his agents. All too often they were sent to leave messages under the pillows of suspected defectors, to as to assure them that Kuroda could have them killed anytime he wanted to. But while such practices could be considered rather uncouth, it was difficult to say just how powerful Kuroda would be without the liberal use of them.

"But I guess you're right. I just have to wonder how long until some people become 'unpredictable'..." Isamu trailed off. "Uh, anyway. Thanks for the maps. I'll be sure to return them to you in good shape. Take care of yourself," he would then say in farewell before going on his way. Back to training, perhaps? It wouldn't have been a surprise in the least.

With that meeting concluded, Ren was free to gather other necessities for the trip ahead. Many of them would be obtainable from Lord Kuroda's garden. This was not a highly organized garden, with flowering plants kept close to each other in evenly spaced, discernible rows and arranged by species. This garden, located just behind the castle but within its walls, was a far more natural-looking setting, as Honrainese culture and style dictated.

A large, winding pond of sorts separated the yard into two portions, with sizable rocks jutting up from the surface here and there. At two points were arched bridges, both painted red. In some parts of Honrai, this color on wooden structures symbolized wisdom and purity; in other parts, it meant nothing. Stone lanterns dotted the garden, and drooping maple trees were plenty... but none of those would prove to be Ren's primary concern, even if she did appreciate the view.

The plants she sought were the flowering types, which blended in amongst the various bushes and shrubs clustered about. One she recognized as wistwillow, which, in spite of its name, wasn't a tree so much as a thin weed, whose poison came from its seeds. Foxpoint was a more robust flower, often red and white in color. Then came crimson lily, waving poppy and fool's fruit, each of which had their own unique effects. Ren had memorized these well, along with the locations of each type in Kuroda's garden, and would have undisturbed access to almost any amount that she wished.
 

Kat

Sex Demon
Moderator
Jan 20, 2011
281
#14
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

The lack of neat orderly rows in the garden was a bit of an annoyance to Ren, but not any kind of huge obstacle. The garden's primary purpose wasn't to raise crops of poison or alchemical ingredients, it just so happened that many of the plants there had useful properties by sheer chance... or maybe it wasn't chance at all. Plants everywhere had useful properties for those who knew how to look, and the kunoichi knew how to do exactly that. Her original interest in the subject had been more one of curiosity and hobby in her earlier days as a servant of the castle, but it was a curiosity that had developed into a most useful talent now.
“If this were a simple matter of just making the poisons themselves, I could use some of my own stores... but those are all dried and preserved. Not everything I need could be passed as “spices” in a preserved state though. If I'm to claim I'm using them for cooking or cosmetics or some other benign use though, they need to be fresh. At least Isamu's own stash will keep the trouble of having to hide the most powerful stuff. Even if I can't rely on that, however, they should be simple enough to find in the area... either in the wild or by knowing who to ask...”
While the kunoichi opted to avoid the most obvious dangerous herbs, she took good a good collection of the others. While immediately dangerous plants would raise alarm and suspicion, many others had uses from traditional medicines to making dyes and paints, to adding flavor to foods. Not all of them were even dangerous as they were. Some would only have an effect if they found their way into the blood, others only if they were boiled first, and yet others only in the leaves or seeds or flowers of the plant... and the effects they would yield even after knowing this much would not always be deadly. This was fine, as even being able to put someone to sleep for a short while could have it uses in the right situation.
Amongst these she also included some reiroot, a plant that in itself held no poisons of any kind but, when uncooked, was disagreeable with the stomachs of humans. This was always a precaution, as the root was a good emergency treatment for certain types of poisoning. In the stomach it would soak up anything ingested, before coming back up. It was useless for blood-borne poisons, but anything that would have been useful there would have been too hard to explain away on her trip.

With Ren's preparations in the garden done, she would head back towards the castle. In her room she would retrieve a few much stronger plants she had stored there. These wern't going to be anything she brought with her openly, but they would make the poison for her hairpin. A bit of boiling the right powders together in a small dish of oils over a lamp until they took on the proper color, and a poison fit for causing muscle spasms within seconds would be done. This was a mix that would quickly degrade when exposed to the light and open air, but her ornament held a special reservoir pouch near the center of one of the flowers towards the base. A sponge-like core in the ornament would soak up and hold the mix until squeezed, which would break a seal around the core and exude the mix over the “needle” of the ornament, perfect for a stab right into an unfortunate victims blood. A small prick of a diluted dose on her own finger to test it would cause twitches within moments... but luckily this poison was a safe one to test like this. It was short-lived and didn't spread very far. A full dose might disable someones limb or upped body, but only if it was introduced close to the heart or lungs would it be deadly.
“It's probably an unnecessary precaution... but it's better to have to have it and not need it than to need it and have been too lazy to bother with the effort.”
Satisfied, the kunoichi would set aside the ornament and her harvested herbs and try to find sleep. It was still fairly early in the day, but tomorrow was going to be a busy day, and waking up early would give her time to make sure everything arrived on time and was packed away to transported with the troupe that she would be traveling with. Despite the usual tension before an assignment and having an active mind in general, sleep would come easily if there were no interruptions. The girl had always had a natural ability to calm herself... or perhaps it was less a natural gift and more of a “desensitization” to non-immediate stress in general, after having survived through much worse immediate events as a child...
 

Takimaru

Tentacle God
Moderator
Apr 22, 2010
1,493
#15
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

Once Ren was satisfied with the proper amount and variety of herbs she had gathered, she was free to return to the upper levels of the castle and prepare her belongings at her own pace. Even the simple journey back was done with the practiced grace of a spy like herself, as the kunoichi looked not like an assassin with a stash of poisons, but merely like a woman carrying a mixed bouquet. More often than not, such a haul would be guessed to have been made for the purpose of ikebana, a Honrainese art involving the deliberate and artful arrangement of flowers. Only a very discerning eye would be able to identify the species that she had selected, and only a sharp mind might deduce the true purpose behind her hoarding of such plants.

Despite the fact that she had spent up to several months at a time away from the castle on various missions, Kuroda had a room specially set aside for Ren. He had more than enough space to hold such an accommodation, and no immediate family to speak of. In a way, Ren and her cohorts were his closest contacts, serving as his eyes and ears by which to watch and listen over the various locales in his command. Ruling over the province was first and foremost on the man's mind. He was none too merciful in his approach, but the drive for it was frequently there. This worked out to Ren's advantage in several ways. Before her training as a kunoichi, she had been taken care of, but treated with relative indifference for the most part--a girl that simply existed, whose very status of being alive and present was enough to satisfy Kuroda. But now that she had taken up the cause, she had gained a variety of resources to use... and more importantly, the drive to use them. A genuine purpose.

In the room was a note left for her. Within the neatly folded paper read:



"Kozakura Troupe, Western Gate, Second Hour of the Iris."



It was the name of the designated group she would travel with, and the place and time at which they were to leave. Relatively late morning. She did have time to sleep in, if she so chose. On the other hand, she still had things to prepare and a full-sized koto to transport. On the bottom was Kuroda's seal.

After organizing her inventory, sleep would come easy enough. The soft futon and warm blanket made for comforting partners in slumber, but even then, Ren's training was such that even the way she slept was as disciplined and graceful as an oiran would rest. At this hour, the telltale song of the nightingale floors had stopped, giving way to a calming silence in her immediate vicinity. The only sounds that would be heard were the faint chirping of crickets in the distant bush.

~~~~~​

When Ren woke up, the crickets' rhythmic sounds had been replaced with the twitter of birds. Oda finches, as they were called, often made a home of Kuroda's castle and gardens, though they were common all throughout Soga Province. They provided a gentle reminder for the kunoichi to rise. Based on the amount of sunlight that was visible, they would be ringing the bell soon--which signaled full and proper sunrise.

At the very least, she had ample time to get herself ready, as well as acquire a morning meal. Then, a trip to the western gate of town was in order. By the time Ren had left, it would still be about an hour before their departure time, after all. If she arrived there early enough, perhaps she could acquire a bit of help by which to carry her koto, if she didn't want to inconvenience Harumi.

She wouldn't be disappointed upon her arrival. There were at least a dozen people in the caravan. A diminutive merchant spoke to several people crowded around him, and simply by the level of attention he was receiving it wasn't hard for Ren to discern him as the leader of the group.

Also standing nearby were three men with swords; an old, bearded gent of roughly sixty, a young lad of about sixteen, and a man in his late twenties or early thirties. They stood in the same area, but rather than conversing, seemed to remain content with eyeing their surroundings. The style of their dress was more varied than what Ren was used to seeing, lacking a sense of uniformity that might be seen amongst Kuroda's own troops, who were known for their trademark red armor. With each member of the guard seeming to hail from a different place, it hinted that they were most likely simple mercenaries or rōnin--masterless samurai that had taken up the former profession.

Two farmers were loading one of the three wagons up with barrels made of straw, which contained rice more often than not. The other was partially loaded with fine silks. Three other women dressed in fancy kimonos, though not quite as fancy as the ones Ren was used to wearing, were also fanning themselves and waiting nearby. They were also oiran, without a doubt, with one older lady in her mid-thirties while the others could be considered Ren's contemporaries. But seeing as she didn't recognize any of them, the women most likely came from an establishment other than the White Blossom.

The rest of the group was composed of men, mostly farmers, artisans and other such tradesmen, given the look of the attire they wore. In Honrainese culture, everyone had a place in society and a role, and they were to embrace that wholeheartedly or face social sanctions. Warriors were to be warriors and not cowards; peasants were to settle and ply their trades wholeheartedly, and such attitudes would transfer over to practically any profession.

Ren could talk to whoever she wished, of course, but she would definitely have to talk to the man in charge. He was only about an inch or so taller than her, making him anything but imposing. However, he did have a rather kind demeanor, and he looked to the kunoichi when it was her turn to speak to him.

"Good morning," he greeted. "I'm Kozakura. You're looking at my troupe, headed for Murakumo. Are you looking to come aboard? How much cargo might you have, if any, for us to handle?"
 

Kat

Sex Demon
Moderator
Jan 20, 2011
281
#16
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

“The quiet is nice... not like it used to be, but it's nice...”
As Ren started to fall into a calm sleep, her thoughts drifted backwards to her earlier days at the castle. In those days, the kunoichi wouldn't have found this kind of quiet so early in the evening, there would have been constant interruptions until true night arrived. Back then there had always been work to do, people to be waited on, and other duties befitting a servant of the castle. Even though she had been taken care of back then, prisoner as she was, she wasn't expected to be just occupy space. Left in the care of the castle servants, she spent her childhood here living their life, too scared and alone and uncertain of her future to refuse and let go of a role she could fit into it. It was a safe, if boring, existence... but for a few years it was enough.
Things were different now. Though many in the castle still believed her to be a servant, interruptions never bothered Ren now. Even those who did not know the true nature of her role now would believe a lie that served the same purpose. It was assumed she had simply “moved up” in terms of responsibility, from a lowly castle servant to one that would meet with and entertain guests from nearby lands, a lie her oiran training helped support. Nobody ever questioned her absences, her room was her own and a place nobody was to enter anymore, and no one ever bothered her or asked any work of her now, except at Kuroda's order. Her real responsibilities were more important than any of that now... and those responsibilities were something Ren was grateful for. The freedom and purpose that came with them filled a deep need somewhere that had been clawing to get out even back in those days past...
Still... despite all this, old memories still held some strange nostalgia for the kunoichi. As she fell into sleep, it was hard to tell where the memories ended and where the dreams began. On rare occasions, less pleasant memories would make their way into the kunoichi's dream... but tonight would not be one of those nights, and she would fall asleep a perfect portrait of serenity.

~~~​

Early sleep made for an early rise when morning came. While many would find this an unpleasant hour to wake, Ren was fortunate enough to belong to the portion of the people who had no trouble with waking up, regardless of the hour. It was a helpful skill to have for her “job”, an essential one even, but one she had been lucky enough to have naturally. No urge to go back to sleep for a while longer would prevent her from setting things in motion for the day's tasks.

“Mundane things first...”
Important tasks had a way of forcing a certain kind of mental “tunnel vision” on the uninitiated, but Ren was mindful of the occurrence. Her first task would NOT be to run to the city gates, but rather to make her way down to the kitchen for a quick meal first. Nerves and excitement could keep someone going for a long time, but it was a dangerous lie, dulling mental sharpness and energy more than a person usually realized.
“Bleh... everything is so dull in the morning... I guess I don't wake up COMPLETELY in the mornings after all...”
A castle's kitchens were never quiet. Even at this early hour, there were various stews other dishes being kept warm over coals, and an open door signaled that even some of the cooks were awake already... although for the moment they seemed to be out with other tasks. If Ren had wanted, she could have waited for them to get back, then asked them to prepare her something; as she did outrank them and had such privilege available... however having started from the bottom of the ladder herself, she hated asking anyone around the castle for help with anything she could do for herself. A simple dish of rice flavored with spices and plant extracts would suffice with what she was likely able to taste this early anyway, and that she could make on her own.
After a quick meal, she would head off to another part of the castle for a quick morning rinse, then back to her to pack a trunk with clothes and other things she'd need for traveling, along with the things she prepared last night. Enough time I had passed now that other servants around the castle were beginning to stir, and for getting it all downstairs, this time she WOULD ask for their assistance.
“It's not my fault I'm short and the trunk weighs more than I do...”
For the moment she would leave the trunk at the front gate, with further instructions that her Koto and dress from Miyabi's be left there as well, then she would head off to meet the troupe she would be traveling with.

~~~​

“Hmms... seems to be a pretty standard for a travel caravan.” Upon reaching the troupe, Ren's eyes scanned the gathered crowd, making an assessment of the different groups who stood out from the usual farmers.
“Three ronin... heavy security for a crowd this large. We have a lot of men who can fight, even if untrained, and don't seem to transporting anything like gold that would be worth the risk of outlaws attacking us. Still... outlaws are bold everywhere, especially if the nearby cities do a poor job keeping their roads safe... as far too many fail to do these days. I suppose outlaws aren't the most predictable sort anyway, so the security is probably a good investment.
Still... this security is worth keeping an eye on too. Ronin are barely a step above mercenaries, and if they're just in this for profit they're possibly vulnerable to the temptation of turning on us... one is younger than me even, it's an ill omen for him to be masterless already...”

The kunoichi's eyes drifted onto the next group, the other oirans in the troupe.
“Competition maybe. Easy enough to deal with, I could have them sick with poison before we even reach Murakumo... thats probably not necessary though. Even if they're heading there for the same purpose as me, they won't last long.They're mediocre at best, and someone who tires of oiran quickly will definitely tire of them in short order.... assuming they even make it in to begin with. If we get attacked by outlaws it will probably be for them and myself..."
Again her eyes moved on after her quick assessment.
“Ok, that means the leader here is...?”

It took Ren a moment to find the leader of the troupe, whom she'd find was hard to pick out from a crowd given his height. The realization was... amusing, in a sympathetic sort of way. Still, it was easy enough to find him just by seeing where people had congregated, and she bowed in response to his greeting.
“Yes, I've heard the festivals in Murakumo this time of year are beautiful. I've had many of my clients mention them, so I decided that I would very much like to educate myself on their cultural significance first-hand.”
This was a carefully constructed lie, designed to hide her true intentions. Even if her true intentions were nothing alarming, the less people who knew about them, the better... less questions asked this way, and it was a story that would more quickly fade from memory if she needed to disappear. Once she was actually in the city, her business would be her own anyway.
“I don't have much in the way of cargo, just a trunk of essentials for myself and a Koto I very much enjoy playing. I'm afraid they're too heavy for a woman like myself to move, but if you'd be willing to lend me a couple of men to help load them I'd be willing to pay them for their time... or I could play us some music while we're on the road and we could call it a fair exchange.”
Even the options at the end were a calculated choice. Kuroda had provided Ren with more than enough money to pay for simple services like this... or anything else she needed on her assignments. Still, choosing this option would let her guage the troupe leaders personality... see how likely he was to give into charm if he helped her for free vs how calculating and clear-headed he may be if he demanded payment. The leader had seemed friendly enough from introductions, but putting too much faith in first impressions could be a critical mistake when dealing with someone who held the authority in a group.

Spoiler
 
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Takimaru

Tentacle God
Moderator
Apr 22, 2010
1,493
#17
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

Ren's breakfast was composed of a small bowl of rice seasoned with furikake, a common seasoning frequently used in this region of Honrai, made from plant herbs, spices, sesame seeds, seaweed and sometimes tiny bits of dried fish. As food was often scarce, particularly during the winter months, the culture had adapted an outlook of preservation. Even in places like Kuroda's castle where there was little shortage of food, the cuisine was similar--small portions with good quality garnishments and seasonings to make up for the relative lack of quantity. A bowl of rice was a full meal in itself to many, and it would certainly suffice for Ren that morning.

~~~~~​


When she reached the area where her future traveling partners were gathered, she would find many of them still in preparation for departure. Scanning the members, Ren would find a small variety of personalities that she could catch small glimpses of, bit by bit. People who, based on their appearance, gave away small hints here and there about their personal tendencies or habits. By the way they stood, talked, interacted. It wasn't a perfect science by far, but Ren had experienced enough via observation and experience to acquire a reasonable degree of accuracy with her assumptions. She hadn't been wrong very often, after all...

Then she came to state her case to the leader of the caravan. He was already a bit weary from having to deal with the horde of people and their questions from every which direction, but he still managed to make a smile towards Ren when it was her turn to talk to him.

"That they are, great festivals indeed! Exactly why I'm headed over. They'll be looking for supplies and entertainment, no doubt. We're looking to get a head start before too many other groups head on in. I figure you fit just right in with the latter... especially the new lord," he commented offhandedly, eyeing her for a moment, though the man was still polite enough to avert his gaze before long. He simply acknowledged that she, along with the other oiran in the group, were likely sent there upon hearing word that the newest lord would hire their 'services'...

"So, a trunk and a koto, hrm? Full-sized?" He turned his head back towards the wagons momentarily. "I think we'll be able to manage, sure. I'd help you myself, but I've already got my hands full with the inventory. If you want to wait a while, my assistants can help you with it in a few minutes... probably, ehheh." The man called Kozakura then looked to two other youngsters, who were dripping sweat as they struggled to help some of the others with their loads.

"Though, if you'd like to just get it over with right away, you could always ask some of the farmers on board if any of them are free, or maybe the ronin over there. I don't think they'd charge you for your time," said Kozakura. "I'd say to ask some of your fellow oiran, but they don't seem like the heavy lifting types... and I'm sure they have their own instruments to worry about, if I remember right."

A look over would show Ren the group of oiran, who were busy gossiping amongst themselves. Meanwhile. the trio of ronin were still waiting about. For them, there wasn't really anything to protect here just yet, not within the relatively safe city limits. The oldest of them stood up and strolled over down the road, in the direction of a bar. Perhaps he'd get something to drink while waiting.

On the other hand, if she still found herself distrustful of them or simply unwilling to ask, she could always wait for Kozakura's 'assistants'. Alternatively, she could try to snag one of the farmers who had just finished their loads--but were looking rather weary nonetheless.
 

Kat

Sex Demon
Moderator
Jan 20, 2011
281
#18
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

“I'm just going to take in some of the culture.” the kunoichi casually replied to the troupe leader “I'm afraid I don't have any summons by the lord, although I certainly wouldn't turn down an invitation from a such a distinguished man if he saw fit to seek me out.” she continued on, planting the idea in the troupe leader's head. “Being from the White Blossom, I think I stand a decent chance of outlasting his usual company, if what I've heard is true.”
At that last comment her eyes turned ever so slightly in the direction of the other oiran in the troupe, but she caught herself making the subconscious gesture and did nothing else to make it obvious she was talking about them, they couldn't have heard from this far away anyway. To seed hostilities with traveling companions was foolish. This she knew.

Ren's new comments were closer to her true purpose than the vague answer she gave before, but still delivered in a way that didn't convey intent. In a best case scenario, her mention that she was open to the idea might reach the Lord through gossip and get her an invitation, but in a worst-case scenario she still wouldn't have the “loose end” of someone who knew that had been her plan from the start... as such a fact could be suspicious. One did not simply go to a city they've never been to before and just walk in on the lord their first day there, not even an oiran. There were procedures... controls like invitations, meant to assure those in power that everything that was happening was their own idea... although Ren new better.
“Even someone's "own" ideas are easy to plant... a bit of piqued curiosity, something with the potential to be new or interesting, and someone who's not worried about more important things in life will bite like an ocean beast going after bleeding prey. It would be nice if I could plant my bait without personally having to approach anyone inside the castle though. I've no reason to believe the troupe leader talks to anyone in the castle, but an attempt I don't have to spend time or bribe money on is still a good use of resources.”

“No need to burden your assistants. I think I shall ask our ronin companions for help, but I'll be sure to bring them back before we depart. I'm sure a request such as mine is an easy task for them. With any luck it will be the only labor they have to do this trip, so we might as well be paying them for something, right?” While the last comment may have sounded snide out of context, it was anything but. Instead the humor was meant as graceful quip to further cement her rapport with the troupe leader, and within it was a wish for good fortune... as a situation which involved the ronin doing any more work would most likely an attack on the group, something nobody would want.
Regardless of whether the comment had it's intended effect or not, Ren's choice was made. The ronin of this group were the biggest unknown factor of this trip, and some time to observe even one or two them could prove to fill in some valuable blanks. The younger two would probably relate with her the best and take the least offense to her request, so it was them she would address when she had made her way over.

“Please excuse my interruption...” The kunoichi started out with a bow, addressing the younger two ronin by the way she faced and directed her voice, but not in any kind of direct verbal way that might have implied offense to the oldest of the trio. He was free to listen in he wanted, but addressing the younger ones for such a menial task was almost a way of deferring respect to the eldest. “I've been speaking with the troupe leader and was told you may be willing to assist me with something. You see, I'm traveling with the troupe on this journey, but I have a chest of essentials and a instrument I would like to bring. I mean no offense by asking such a petty task of you, but you look like you'd know how to appreciate a woman's possessions better than some of the “rougher” types here.” this line too she delivered in a hushed enough voice that the farmers and other commoners couldn't hear, although it was unlikely to be a huge insult if they did as the difference between her own role in society and their's was plain and known.
“I've recently been entertaining as a guest of the castle here, It's not far and I would be most thankful if you would gift me with some of your time and effort.”
The word “gift” she chose specifically because it implied no compensation, a condition that would make this a useful test of character, if nothing else.
 
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Takimaru

Tentacle God
Moderator
Apr 22, 2010
1,493
#19
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

"The White Blossom..." repeated the man after Ren with a sense of wonder. Though the kunoichi herself was relatively low-profile compared to many of the girls there, the establishment itself still had a solid reputation in terms of name value. "I'm surprised he hasn't already ordered someone like you by name!" He either overlooked her momentary glance at the other women or simply didn't recognize it as any sort of implication, instead choosing to be more impressed with her credentials. "Though you shouldn't have much problems finding work there, if my eyes aren't lying to me," he would then add in an offhand compliment.

Upon hearing Ren's proposal to request assistance from the ronin standing nearby, he shrugged and gave a nod. "Suit yourself. If anyone shares your sentiment in that regard, it would be me. But I'd still like them ready to go if need be, so don't tire any of them out too much," warned the caravan leader. He gave a polite dismissal with a brief nod and a wave of his hand before tending to the next inquirer in line, leaving the girl free to then approach the idling trio.

As Ren entered the ronins' general vicinity, the oldest one moved to leave for the time being. He gave her a look as he walked off. It was not specifically a gaze of suspicion nor of acknowledgment, but somewhere in between. The elderly fellow had long gray hair reaching down to his midback with a few black streaks remaining as the last apparent remnants of his youth, along with a thin but scraggled beard to match. He wore a rather old-fashioned style of coat for the time period, dyed in dark green, with his overall attire having seen the wear and tear that any actual veteran's garb might have seen. Sheathed across his back was an ōdachi, a blade too long to otherwise be carried on his waist like a traditional sword. It was a weapon said to have fallen out of fashion, just like many aspects of this old relic of a man. But even as a ronin, he retained the right to carry such a weapon in public without drawing many questions from those around him. Heaving an audible sigh, he could be seen plodding towards one of the nearby pubs--perhaps to get a drink before departure.

The second mercenary, perhaps around half the age of the eldest but the tallest of the group, had a look of perpetual disinterest about him, such that he was somewhat harder to read. Yet when Ren approached, he would give her a good look. She didn't hold his gaze long enough for it to be an outright stare, but the durationw as such that it was certainly enough to catch any less obvious details about her if he cared to. He wore a light grey robe with squarish patterns upon it; by Soga Province standards, relatively conservative in terms of fashion, with visible but not excessive amounts of everyday wear and tear. Tucked in his sash was a full daisho, or set of traditional long and small swords typical of this region of Honrai, upon his waist. Here was a man who Ren might guess to be an active samurai if not for his current position. For the typical passerby, he seemed stern, almost unapproachable, and yet the kunoichi had managed to gain his attention, at least for the time being. Perhaps he was just a covert lech--or it was just a testament to Ren's charm in getting the attention of apparently any man.

And finally was the third. A lad just a few years younger than Ren, he had a very friendly expression glued to his visage and extremely short, dark reddish hair, maybe only an inch or so away from his scalp. Matching that was his dark red kimono, over which pleated, off-white hakama were worn to provide additional covering for his legs. He carried only one sword in contrast to the traditional set of two, and it was still a shorter one compared to the odachi that the old man possessed. There was a scar across the bridge of his nose that Ren would notice upon taking a closer look at him. Being the youngest, it was likely no surprise to the kunoichi that he would be the most animated of the hired swords, being the first to perk up when she came to them and greeting her with a grin. If there was anyone her appeal to pride would have worked on, it would be him--and Ren, perhaps having suspected as much, was not disappointed in her prediction. His interest in her was immediate.

"Not bothering us at all! I was kinda hoping someone would," replied the youngster, as if speaking for the entire group. His pupils dilated enough for Ren to notice as he spoke, though that wasn't the only giveaway that he could be smitten with her based on appearance alone. "Ooh, great! I'm Umeda Kojiro. I'd love to help, since you are clearly someone worth helping," he then added, a bit of flirtiness to his tone. "I can handle anything you throw at me. So where's the stuff? Is it far? I mean, not that I wouldn't walk across town if I had to. I wouldn't want to make you sweat or anything so unladylike." He then turned to the other guard. "Why don't you wait there just in case another girl needs some help?"

The older of the remaining two rubbed his chin and shrugged at Ren, giving only the slightest hint of a smile. "I guess he's all you need, then? Just don't drag the koto on the ground," he warned.

Kojiro quirked an eyebrow back at him. "The wha? Psh, I've got this," he proclaimed with renewed, if perhaps artificial confidence.

"I've always wanted an annoying little brother," remarked the other ronin in response, only to give Ren another look. "Call on me if he starts damaging your goods."

The younger one made a face before heading off in front of Ren despite not knowing exactly where they were to go. She would have to either stop him or increase her gait such that she'd end up in front of him in order to lead him to the White Lotus.

"Don't worry about Akito. He just tries to one-up me every chance he can get by being a smartass," said Kojiro once they were out of earshot of the caravan.
 

Kat

Sex Demon
Moderator
Jan 20, 2011
281
#20
Re: Deceiving Appearances (Kat) GMed by Takimaru

“Hmm, that didn't go quite as I was I imagining it in my head.” Ren thought as she watched the oldest of the trio walk off with an audible sigh. “He probably took offense to me asking the asking the others instead of showing him respect as the most senior... or has no interest in sticking around to actually get involved with any work. It's always so much harder to tell with older types... but it doesn't matter as long as he comes back before we depart.”
Ren moved on to the second in the group, not overly concerned with how her approach worked on the first. Sometimes things simply didn't work as planned... but this wasn't so severe of a faux paus as to require damage-control.

“Now you're more what I was expecting.” the Kunoichi found herself thinking of the second ronin.
The fact that he had been staring at her did not escape her notice, although it didn't bother her either. She simply returned his gaze with one of her own... not in a challenging way, but simply one of mere curiosity. Ren had long since passed the stage where the attention of male onlookers brought a blush or wave of embarrassment to her. She was fully aware of what she was, of the kind of “forbidden fruit” factor that added to her appeal when dealing with these types... all feelings she had had herself in regards to certain boys when she was younger and less experienced. Of course, she knew she'd never forcefully take what she wanted from anyone in that regard, but she couldn't always say the same of those around her... even if nothing bad had happened so far other than a few unruly customers being thrown out of the Lotus while she was learning there. Unfortunately she wouldn't have the Lotus's protection while on her own, wariness and caution would have to do.
“Hard to read with that aloofness... it's a bit vain for someone doing unglamorous mercenary work. Shame, you're not bad aside from that.”

“Eager... and talkative, good. Although I'd doubt he's ever been in a real fight if it weren't for that scar across his face.”
The third Ronin would be the one to stand out most from the girl's quick evaluations. Younger than even her, he seemed the easiest of the group to pump for information. Truth be told, he was slightly annoying, coming off as a little immature with his enthusiasm, obviously shallow interest with her, and willingness to speak for the group... but all these things were advantages for the kunoichi to work with. To make things better, events would come together in such a way that she would have no problem getting him away from the group.

“It's a pleasure, you may call me Hitomi.” the kunoichi replied to the help offer with a fake name, offering only a first name on purpose, and one she was sure wouldn't stand out. “Anyway, it's not far, no. Although if you intend to carry everything yourself, you're probably going to have to stack the chest and koto and carry them in front of you like a bundle of wood.” despite the logical argument, Ren didn't want to put up TOO much of an argument that would ruin a chance alone with the youngest Ronin. “You're certainly welcome to try if you think you can handle it. I'd hate to burden your group any more necessary, and if you do end up needing two people, I can take a handle on my own. It's not all THAT heavy as long as I have a stronger partner helping.”
With arrangements being made, the girl would make towards the castle, confident that her story about having recently “entertained” there would be a convincing enough cover for the odd location. As a she watched her help run off in the wrong direction, she would give an annoyed sigh but keep her pace.
“He'll figure it out eventually, I suppose.”

“Off seeing some of the sights, hmm~?”
Ren would be halfway to her destination by the time the mercenary from earlier caught up to her, but this wouldn't bother her much. The time had given her a chance to put some distance between herself and the rest of the caravan, so she could talk without worrying about being overheard. When she did speak, her voice was disguised perfectly, any feelings of annoyance being disguised by a tone that sound more curious than anything.
“You must travel a lot.” she started “I'm curious, would you indulge me with some quick stories? I would very much like to know about you and your companions and how you came together. The tales of warriors are always interesting to me and you seem like a colorful group. Sometimes I think I'd have liked to be one myself, but alas fate decided to make me a delicate flower instead. This trip here is the first time I've travelled in awhile, and I don't expect it to be nearly as eventful as the things you've probably seen... nor do I expect anyone else in the troupe to be nearly as interesting as your group.”
It wasn't a very specific line of questioning, but it was disguised well as something innocent. If everything went according to plan, she still half the trip to the castle and the return trip to listen to any “stories” the young ronin wished to share. It probably wouldn't be much, but it would at least give her a better impression of the others than the short meeting she had back with the troupe... and though she didn't expect to hear anything scandalous or worrisome, the chances of hearing such things from a second-hand source was higher than asking any of the other ronin directly.