Nobuhide’s palace is brightly lit, a beacon of lantern-light in the coming night swallowing the rest of his kingdom. His servants hurry about, passing torch embers from lantern to lantern, revealing the warlord’s home as a series of tiled-roofed buildings, connected by open-air walkways and decorated with pieces of shells like they’d been dredged right from the ocean. In fact, from afar you can hear the waves pounding against the shore, a distant “whooshing” that adds a sense of calm to the busy palace grounds.
The Samurott warlord stands in the garden courtyard at the center of his palace, listening to those very sounds. Nobuhide crosses his arms behind his back, closing his eyes and breathing in deeply, feeling at home in the faint scent of salt and sand that drifts weakly from the sea… then, snaps back to alertness as the doors to his courtyard open. Alaric, Gawain, and the rest of the Aetherians enter the courtyard; the citizens wander throughout the garden of lotus blossoms and bamboo shoots while the king and captain head straight for the warlord.
: While the job for Kaoru -- gathering the Dong Quai root, if you recall -- went without too many problems, we later heard that Kaoru had sent a letter to you, Nobuhide, and it had been stolen before it could reach you.
: Ohhh, I’m sure it’s nothing too serious! Kaoru had promised to send me a new recipe for helping with my nightmares, that must be the contents, no need to worry. (clears his throat) But what of the third task, catching those bandits for Eboshi?
Nobuhide turns, as if to retort… then changes his mind, facing the direction of the distant crashing waves, shoulders slumping. Alaric glares at Gawain, signaling for him to ‘shut it,’ and slides up to Nobuhide’s side, staring curiously at the long-faced Samurott.
: (laughing derisively) Noticed that, did you? Yes, Alaric, I am troubled -- troubled by the lack of safety in my country. Stolen letters, betrayed warlords: it’s enough to many ANY ‘mon worry about the state of their affairs. All of this has been happening under our noses… and I worry if we will be able to stop this tide from washing over us.
The Samurott stiffens, eyes shifting in his head; you can almost see the gears twisting in his mind. But before he can voice his thoughts, a flurry of wingbeats sounds, and they turn to see Wakana land in the garden, feathers briefly glimmering as she folds her wings against her side.
: Unfortunately. Isas made an attempt to extend the scale of his mining operations to the east -- again -- to gather more materials for the war he sees is inevitable. Of course, Shino clashed with him right away, to stop him from damaging both nature and shrines.
: But Isas has a new assortment of weapons that are giving Shino trouble, and the battle is quickly getting out of hand. Sho has already headed north to come in-between them, though I’m not sure even he can succeed this time. From what I’ve heard, Isas is extra stubborn about winning, and Shino… well, he’s Shino, he’ll do anything to keep nature untouched.
: News has already reached Katsumi, and though I flew as fast as I could, Shogo’s armies might already be marching to escort her to the battlefield. Takeshi is up there too, helping Sho, but he sent me here to alert you.
Suddenly, Hoori runs in, out of breath and panicking:
: A messenger just arrived with a notice from the Shōgun’s assistant. It said that a masked Scizor snuck into the Shōgun’s private garden and tried to kill her. Luckily, the Shōgun was able to fight him off, but he’s still at large, and the entire kingdom has been put on high alert until he’s been caught.
Everyone jumps, staring at the Samurott who had been uncharacteristically pale during Hoori’s explanation. Nobuhide recovers, shaking his head vehemently.
: I seriously doubt it. Remember when I was concerned about the safety of Sho’s teahouse, on account of the suspicious ‘mons running amok? Due to the proximity of Sho’s lands to the Shōgun’s palace, not to mention the unlikelihood that one ‘mon was able to sneak into her private garden undetected without assistance, it would seem that this would-be assassin has a connection with that group of ne'er-do-wells. In fact, I might even go so far as to think he is somewhere in Sho’s lands, hiding out until he can leave the country. I’ve managed to find out a little about the group; Hoori can get you copies of those notes so you can decide how to proceed.
Hoori bows, leading Alaric, Gawain, and the Aetherians out of the courtyard. Now Nobuhide and Wakana are alone, and the Unfezant glances worriedly at Nobuhide, beak set in a grimace.
: Nobuhide, there is something strange going on. I had heard nothing about this assassination attempt during my flight here, and the fact that someone got here around the same time as me with such news, while I’m the fastest messenger we have… Does that not strike you as odd? … I feel something terrible is about to happen… You feel it too, don’t you?
Nobuhide frowns, turning away from Wakana. She can’t see his face as he reaches inside his robe and pulls out a letter, its edges crumpled like they’d been grabbed urgently, perhaps even twisted with anxiety.
: No, no, do not trouble yourself, Wakana. Merely the musings of a tired, old man. I agree, something isn’t adding up, and I’d like you to deliver this letter to Sho and urge him to return home to his palace, to meet with Alaric and the others once they capture the Scizor.
The Unfezant nods, grabbing the letter in her beak before flying up and out of the courtyard. Nobuhide watches her go, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. But there’s no scent of salt and sand: now there’s a smell of musk and dirt, and he can sense something--
: A-Ah, Hoori, it’s just you… No, there’s nothing el -- I mean, yes, yes you can do something. Go to the Dragon Palace and inform Otohime-sama of what has occurred. Perhaps she can offer a prayer for the Shōgun… and the rest of us too…
Hoori shoots him a thumbs-up then wanders away, leaving Nobuhide alone once more. The warlord sighs before walking out of the courtyard and towards his office, offering a slight smile to all the servants he passes. He heads inside the darkened room, reaching his desk and striking a match against the wood, lighting a small lantern hanging above him. Immediately, the smell of musk and dirt hits him again, stronger this time...