While at camp along a distant, broken highway, with occasional travelers passing in the night, an arrow was fired into the midst of The Burning Chrome. The Prospect was on watch at the time, but he offered no pursuit to the lone rider who sped away in the night, choosing instead to fire his six-guns into the hot night as a warning, waking the rest of the pack in the process.
Attached to the arrow was a thin capsule, inside of which was a rolled-up note which read:
Mono-shiri, fight me in Korimoto village atop the tallest building, alone, or all that you know and love will die in your stead.
A direct challenge to the Road Captain, Mono-shiri. What’s worse, it was stamped with his own family’s crest: the Moon-and-Sword of the Masahide clan, whose last other living member – his own father – he personally slew years ago. The old man deserved it, true, but his death left Mono-shiri as the sole heir to the now-dead legacy, lacking the knowledge of his family’s Itto-Ryu ultimate technique that the late patriarch took to his grave.
“Get some sleep, everyone,” he grumbled after passing the note to the Historian. “We ride for Korimoto at first light.”
The ride took the better part of four days, during which the Historian shared his own knowledge of the village. Once prized for its firestone quarry during the Rebellion, it’s fallen into decline since the quarry mostly dried up and The Cause was ultimately lost. He himself spent much of his own youth there, having fostered at the local orphanage under the guidance of his previous mentor, Masatsugu. The Tail Gunner as well recalled the village, having conducted multiple supply runs through the area while building his explosives arsenal during the War.
From such revelations, it seemed that multiple past lives were due to intersect in Korimoto.
Upon arrival, the pack encountered an impromptu road block in the form of an old stripped-down jalopy and a quartet of armed thugs demanding tribute, and insulting the pack’s bikes. Within moments of daring to shoot out one of the Road Captain’s tires, the leader of the thugs lay bleeding on the group, dispossessed of his head. His cronies scattered, the Tail Gunner exploded the jalopy and the Pack proceeded to enter the town.
While it was clear that Korimoto village had seen better times, it was equally clear that those times weren’t all that much better, truth be told. Maybe a hundred denizens spread across its two handfuls of hovels, shacks, and outlying farms. Only two buildings with a second story, one a gambling parlor and flophouse, the other the old orphanage itself – the tallest building on town, in fact. The flophouse – called The Pink Curtain was their first stop, and they soon discovered it to be much more well-off than the rest of its surroundings. Bar, flophouse, brothel, and mahjongg parlor all in one, the Pack moved in and made itself comfortable at the welcoming grace of its operator, the luxurious Madame Kasumi. Well, everyone except the Road Captain, who refused to surrender his weapons and instead ordered his drinks be served on the front porch.
While inside, the Den Mother and Historian both sat privately with the Madame, and learned of the current state of affairs in Korimoto village. A bit over a year ago, a gang calling themselves the Purple Blossoms moved into town, murdering the occupants of the orphanage and throwing the bodies into the old quarry. With the old orphanage as their new seat of power, they began to take control of the village, exerting pressure on all the locals to pay them for protection. They pushed out all competing moonshine and liquor competition except for the well-protected Pink Curtain, as well as management of the slim firestone mining operations.
Agreeing that these guys were bastards of the lowest order, the Den Mother and Historian both agreed to help out the Madame in exchange for lodging and basic provisions during their stay. Their first task is to check on a distillery a day’s ride into the northern foothills, and find out why a delivery of liquor is two days late.
Meanwhile, the Road Captain was approached by a fairly rodent-like fellow from the Purple Blossoms. This man offered the Pack and apology for the behaviour of the road sentinels earlier that day, and sought to hire the Pack on as mercenaries and trainers to the existing men of the Gang. The Road Captain declined this offer, but the man left him a calling card should minds be changed. The man and his cronies quickly bolted as bouncers from the Pink Curtain came outside to shoo them away.
During all of this time, the Prospect made nice with a “girl next door” kind of geisha, who was entranced by his Haiku skill and his respectful demeanor. Eventually making their way upstairs “behind the pink curtains,” they entered into an hour of alternating passion and conversation, after which she sobbed into his chest. She showed him fresh scars on her back from being whipped, and claimed that this brothel was abusing her and others. She begged for him to help her escape, and he made promise that he would.
The session ended with him receiving a message from the Road Captain outside, passed under the door to their room much earlier by a serving girl: “At midnight, you ride with me.”
To be continued…