A moment later, he felt a blade at his throat as a figure emerged from the shadow of a tree.

“But how-?” Izushi cried in a strangled voice. “No one could have known I was coming here!”

“What you failed to anticipate, Izushi of Clan Matsumora, is that I am also the warrior for my clan,” said Tamaribuchi. “Know now that I am Twelfth Meow, and that the Way of the Cat has rendered me cloud-ridden, such that I can appear and disappear at will, always underfoot at the worst time!”

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“Each of the clans can have only one warrior who has truly mastered the Way of the Cat,” said Izushi. “Know now that I am Fifth Leopard, and that the Way of the Cat has given me foot power such that I cannot be caught!”

He ran for the safety of the plains and forests beyond, hoping to encounter more of his Clan Matsumora kin. The pursuers were as blurs in his vision, so rapid were Izushi’s movements. In seconds, he had covered the distance to Hōmā Woods, where he rested a moment against the trunk of a tree.

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“Master Kumo is one of the last practitioners of the Memai-Senpu School of martial arts,” said Neppu. “He travels from village to village, teaching those who are willing to learn in exchange for food and drink, but he has found few followers other than me.”

“You’ll have to forgive me, child, but my Japanese is still inelegant,” said Alves. “Can you explain what this Mama-Senhor style of combat is?”

“Oh, of course!” Neppu jumped up and began spinning around with his arms flapping, similar to what children on the Lisbon docks used to do when playacting as seagulls. “You spin around rapidly, until you are dizzy, and then you last out in every direction against your foes! Your movements are random,but through inner discipline you can strike at enemy weak points while your dizzy movements protect you from harm!”

“And this…Master Kumo…is the only fighter in the village at the moment?” Alves said through clenched teeth.

“Yes sir. All the others have been withdrawn by order of the daimyo in order to fight against the Izawa Clan. Unless you wish to make the journey to Nagasaki on foot and unarmed, he is your best hope.”

Alves swore an elaborate oath to the Holy Mother of God and all the saints under his breath.

“I don’t understand your southern barbarian words!” Neppu said, still reeling a bit from his spinning. “Did you say that you would be delighted to meet Master Kumo to enlist his aid in your dangerous travels?”

“Yes, son,” Alves said with a forced smile. “That’s exactly what I said. Take me to him.”

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As has been known since time immemorial, the reikon—the soul—departs the body upon death. If disturbed, or if it was a violent and unsettled death, the reikon may become a yūrei—a ghost—doomed to wander and haunt until the cause of its woes is addressed.

There are myriad categories of yūrei, from the noble goryō to the motherly ubume, but none is more dangerous or more misunderstood than the tsuihō, the banished. They are living reikon stripped from their bodies without death, for the purpose of filling the soulless bodies with demons to form a supernaturally efficient fighting force and binding the souls to power dark constructs.

It is typically a fate worse than death. The soulless bodies are consumed in battle or eaten from within by corrupting demonic influence, while the expelled souls are consumed as fuel in the bellies of mechanical horrors. If they escape that fate, the enraged and confused reikon turn on whatever is nearest, ripping it apart in an orgy of destruction. Only the truly mad or the truly desperate sorcerer or daimyō has ever attempted to create tsuihō, and they have been feared and reviled throughout the home islands as a result.

One can easily recognize a tsuihō; unlike most yūrei, they are not white but black, a deep and impenetrable black that absorbs all light and all warmth. No features save the outline of a humanoid body may be discerned, and due to their untimely separation from their mortal shells, they have full use of their arms and legs.

Towering above all other tsuihō in legend is the Wandering Daimyō of Kyūshū. Once daimyō of a small clan, he and every man, woman, and child in his realm became tsuihō as the result of a rival’s machinations. With the soulless army thus created, this evil man sought to wipe out one of his enemies and create a force that could march on Kyoto and install himself as shōgun. Instead, he was torn to pieces by the forces that he hoped to marshall, his wailing reikon carried off to parts unknown by infernal powers.

The tsuihō thus released ravaged the countryside for a year and a day before gradually dissipating…save one. The Wandering Daimyō alone among his family, courtiers, and clansmen was able to retain his will. Fashioning a suit of armor in the likeness of his former face, with plates reflecting the visages of those he had known and loved, he took to the wilds of Kyūshū.

His mercurial rage became well-known among the farmers and peasants there. If the mood strikes him, the Wandering Daimyō will aid passersby. If it does not, he will slay them without mercy and consume their soul to extend his time in this world. It is said that if he approaches with his mask down, revealing the likeness of his former self, he will deliver aid; if he approaches with his mask up, revealing the indecipherable depths of darkness that truly make up his form, he will deliver destruction.

One man met the Wandering Daimyō when his mask was half-raised, revealing only the barest glimpse of the horror below. This is his story.

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The sect, which flourished in Saikyo between the wars, was based on Shigeyama’s idiosyncratic reading of Japanese history and Buddhist metaphysics. Shigeyama taught that there were two worlds: the Floating World of earthly pleasure and delight, and the Sorrowful World, which overlaid, veiled, and hid the former. It’s clear that the Edo-era culture of Yoshiwara, barely a generation removed from Shigeyama’s lifetime, was the inspiration for his “Floating World” just as the Buddhist cycle of death and rebirth inspired his “Sorrowful World.”

Shigeyama preached a sort of prosperity gospel to his followers, promising them that their dedication to pleasures of the flesh and rejection of the “Sorrowful World” and its denizens would bring unprecedented prosperity. It was a philosophy that found many takers, since the postwar prosperity in Japan had given way to the Depression and austere militarism was on the rise. To be fair, Shigeyama preached a very Japanese message in Saikyo, and the things he and his followers engaged in were versions of older art forms like kabuki, geisha, and the like (albeit generally racy, sexualized versions strongly influenced by Jazz Age debauchery).

Japanese authorities tolerated Shigeyama at first, largely because of the wealth and power of his followers. However, as his movement grew, the military grew nervous over reports that the sect was stockpiling captured weapons from China and attempting to extend its power into Saikyo’s government infrastructure. When the city moved to a mayor and council form of government, all of the new positions were dominated by Shigeyama men. This was enough for the Army to begin an investigation; the mysterious deaths of the investigators two weeks later caused the General Staff Office to deploy a regiment of troops to the city to “restore order.”

Shigeyama declared that “the forces of the Sorrowful World were at the doorstep” and his followers resisted the incursion with the very weapons they had been suspected of possessing. The incident was strongly censored in the Japanese press, who referred to it only as the “Saiko Anti-Gangsterism Police Operation.” Casualties are difficult to estimate thanks to the destruction of most major archival sources, but material compiled by American occupation forces after the war indicated that as many as 1000 people may have died in intense urban combat, with military casualties being assigned to units in Manchuria and China to cover up their loss. They also uncovered evidence of an extensive tunnel network beneath the much-reduced city of Saikyo, and evidence to suggest that an armed uprising against “the forces of the Sorrowful World” was in the early planning stages.

The sect leader Shigeyama was never located. A number of tunnels had been sealed from the outside by Japanese Army Engineers during the fighting using high-explosive charges, and it’s thought that Shigeyama remains there, entombed with his most loyal followers in an eerie preview of the fate that befell many of his attackers just a few years later.

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The Ryūsei was more than a bauble fought over by kings and kingdoms. It was more than a symbol of wealth, more than a shooting star that had fallen amidst a superstitious people. Whether from its own unknown inner nature or the way that the world’s chi flowed through it, the Ryūsei had the power to reshape the world around it.

Those first warring and petty kings who had possessed it used it selfishly, foolishly. The Ryūsei could turn stone into gold, but greed and inflation would eat away at any gains quickly. Wiser rulers used it the Ryūsei to raise and equip armies for conquest, but even then there was no guarantee that those troops would not seek to place the artifact into hands more of their liking. By the end of the great wars between the petty states that the Ryūsei engendered, it was being used to lay waste to enemy countryside: a weapon of such destructive power that it would not be equaled for a thousand centuries.

In the end, a wise man who time has forgotten found himself in possession of the Ryūsei. Besieged on all sides and yet blessed with the clarity to see that the item was a curse to all who possessed it, he had the idea to turn the Ryūsei’s power in on itself to render it unrecognizable. He reshaped the reshaper.

Many years hence, people still bicker over the location of the Ryūsei and what form it might currently possess. But one key insight still eludes them: it is not a what, but a who.

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“We have turned up new evidence, in the form of public records, that conclusively show Matsushita Shiori was born in 1908, not 1898. The Matsushita Shiori who was born in 1898 died in 1923, during the Great Kantō earthquake, which also flattened the hall of records and led to the two being conflated.”

“You are sure of this?”

“We discovered records that had been removed for administrative purposes before the quake and never returned, including a birth certificate that mentions Matsushita Shiori’s port wine stain birthmark. The the lightest ink is better than the sharpest memory, as they say. I am afraid Matsushita Shiori is another Izumi Shigechiyo and must be stricken from the public longevity records.”

“Do you think the mistake was deliberate?”

“It is difficult to say. He may have exaggerated for the sake of a pension, or simply forgotten. His adoption at a young age complicates things, and his service in His Majesty’s navy was another reason to exaggerate or misremember his age. In either case, the task of informing him has been delegated to you.”

“Need he be informed? Matsushita Shiori is an old man, even if not so old as we had previously thought. Can we not let him live out his remaining days, which are surely few, with his illusion?”

“This revelation means that he will no longer be feted at his upcoming birthday by His Majesty, and that he will lose a portion of his pension as provided by the Diet, as it is reserved by statute for the oldest man in the country. He is old, but he is not entirely senile, and he will know that these circumstances have changed. Would you rather he be informed that he will lose his pension, fail to meet His Majesty, and lose his longevity claim all at the same time?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Then you will fulfill your duty, distasteful though it may be. Your taxi will be here in an hour.”

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Moriko, daughter of Kaito the miller, was famously beautiful and wise throughout her province. Everyone, from the daimyō’s son to the lowly woodcutters who worked Kaito’s lands, sought her hand in marriage. Kaito, who had no other child and whose wife was long-dead, was very sentimentally fond of Moriko, and would suffer no suitor that his daughter, his light, did not fully approve. Nor would he, like so many in that era and even today, call on her filial piety to force a match.

Eventually, the daimyō grew tired of his son’s preoccupation with the girl. A member of the Fujiwara clan, he called upon his great-uncle, the imperial regent for the young Shāngmǐn Emperor, to force the issue. A retainer was duly dispatched to Kaito’s mill with an imperial decree that Moriko would marry her daimyō’s son unless she chose a worthier match in the intervening year. The daimyō had hoped that the girl might choose an honorable death or a suitor closer to her station (and thus more “worthy”); she might even be useful as a bargaining chip over a wayward and dissolute son.

But fate was to have other plans.

Moriko was a great lover of nature and the natural world, and she enjoyed nothing more than long walks in the Shizukesa Forest near her home to commune with the spirits of her ancestors and of the natural world. The forest had a consciousness, a gestalt of all its component parts, just as every other part of the world does. And, like every other entity that encountered her, it found itself enchanted by Moriko’s poise, intelligence, and beauty.

Her long walks soon became the equivalent of a courtship, with the Shizukesa Forest penning love poems in the shape of autumn leaves and songs in the form of clear running waters. She responded in kind with songs and poems of her own as she wandered beneath the forest’s sheltering boughs. The Shizukesa presented Moriko with a ring of woven sakura buds as a token of their bond.

The daimyō, alarmed, claimed that the use of a chrysanthemum token was a usurpation of the Shāngmǐn Emperor’s imperial prerogatives.

His response would lead to tragedy.

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In addition to being one of the highest-ranking members of the “Friends of Constitutional Government” party, Hara Tsuyoshi was a great admirer of Western philosophy and literature. His home in central Tokyo was famous for its library of Japanese translations of Shakespeare and Locke, and he functioned as a sort of lending library to younger members of the “Friends.”

The Japanese military was implacably opposed to the “Friends” program of constitutional democracy, and after the assassination of Tsuyoshi’s patron, Prime Minister Takashi, the old man knew that he was in danger. So when he returned home one afternoon to find junior officers of the Imperial Army standing over the bodies of his wife and son with bloodied daggers, he calmly walked into his library.

They found him seated in his favorite armchair with a Japanese translation of Macbeth in his lap. They did not approach, wary of the Type 26 revolver that lay conspicuously on the end table nearby. Tsuyoshi read to them from Act IV, Scene 3, in which Macduff learns of his murdered family. The assassins, not understanding, assumed that he was laying a curse upon them. They charged; Tsuyoshi took up his revolver and ended his own life before they covered even half of the distance.

What became known as the “Murdered Deer” incident, from a line in the bloodstained scene Tsuyoshi was reading at the moment of his death, might have been forgotten before long if not for one final irony.

There were five assassins that night, and each of them died during Japan’s subsequent conquests–each on the anniversary of Dr. Tsuyoshi’s suicide.

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Construction of a new airport on the small Japanese island of Musuko-Tō involved flattening a few small spurs of the craggy central highland peaks, and was begin in earnest in 1977. However, the project quickly ground to a halt when a subterranean chamber hollowed out of the rock was uncovered by one of the blasts. A team from Edo University was dispatched to investigate, with the authorities presuming that they had uncovered one of the fortifications collapsed by the Imperial defenders or the American invaders during the 1944 battle for the island.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

The Edo University team, led by Dr. Elizabeth Keiko Oshiro, discovered a very elaborate complex with a 1,600 cubic meter central chamber (with dimensions of 14 by 5 by 3 meters), complete with a 45,000 liter water cistern which caught freshwater from several mountain streamlets above. The subterranean chambers also included tunnels which led to a series of cunningly disguised observation posts overlooking the Musuko-Tō harbor, the old wartime airstrip, and other strategic locations. A portal which had once linked the new discoveries with the combat tunnels was also located: it had been bricked up and camouflaged to blend in, presumably to hide it from any Americans who might penetrate the defenses.

But it was the letters and personal papers Dr. Oshiro discovered that told of the real tragedy of Cave 97.

Written by two Kempeitai, 1st Lieutenant Ketsuo Nashimura and Sergeant Nobuoyuki Yakaguchi, the papers told of how the complex had been prepared once an American invasion was imminent, with volunteers literally sealed inside it with a supply of food and water. They were expected to use the viewports to spy on Allied troop and ship movements and report the same using a shortwave radio. The idea had been to leave them behind enemy lines as spies of a sort, to prepare for the inevitable Imperial retaking of the island.

Instead, the complex became their tomb. Dr. Oshiro determined that their shortwave antenna had been installed incorrectly, leaving it unable to send or receive signals. Unaware of this, and under orders not to commit suicide, the occupants had dutifully transmitted reports that were never heard until their supplies of food had given out in mid-1951 and the men had quietly stared to death.

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