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 Unexpected Guests

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kpsmith
Nikutai
Nikutai


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PostSubject: Unexpected Guests   Wed Jul 08, 2015 5:33 pm

Blood.

Koutetsu looked down on bloodstained hands. The dark crimson stained his kimono and dripped down into a pool of blood around him. Like a stone causing ripples within a pond, the Crane stood in a vast pool and it rippled with his presence. A sea of blood stretched as far as his eyes could see and the horizon was dark, pitch and tumultuous with the sound of thunder. Soon the crimson sea began to stir and where the dark liquid swirled, spinning faster and faster, draining away into some unfathomable abyss Koutetsu felt himself pulled closer to it. He tried to resist but for each labored step away, the current sucked him in. Closer and closer as lightning flashed and thunder crackled around him. The darkness of the blood beckoned him and without the strength to resist, Koutetsu was plunged into the sea and swallowed whole.

A blood splattered room awaited him as he roused himself from consciousness. Tatami mats and rice paper walls were stained with vicious sword strokes, telling a story of a thousand deaths. Still his hands were dripping with blood and as his eyes focused, searching, they found a prize within: on the northern wall, alone, was a familiar sword carefully placed in a position of honor. The exquisite blade was unsheathed to exposed the cold blue Crane steel. Razor sharp, it glinted with a promise of hunger and drew the eye along a hamon that seemed like fangs of a horrible beast. Along the silk wrapping of the handle was a blood stained hand print where a wielder had carried it before.

The Blade of Execution.

He approached the sword, innately drawn to its vicious beauty, to find his reflection within the sword. Polished steel rendered him like a mirror's face and where he sought the man he knew, something far more sinister remained. As he peered upon the dark visage slowly the blood that stained the room began to slithered like tiny serpents, slowly and steadily, across the walls and floors. Slowly the rivulets of blood came, coming together into thicker streams. The pool of blood gathered beneath the enshrined sword before climbing up the sword stand and becoming consumed by the naked steel.

"Do not Fear what you are to become," a voice whispered to him.

"Do not Regret what you have done," the voiced whispered again.

"Do not Desire what you are not," it whispered once more.

As the blood all but vanished from the smooth surface of the blade Koutetsu no longer saw the monster in the sheen of the steel. What he saw next was a series of scenes.

Standing over the body of Doji Kurotema with the bloodstained Blade of Execution. Watching Bayushi Akedare commit seppuku after flicking his champion's blood from his blade. Beheading Doji Yunagi and watching his lifeless head rolling across the floor. Plunging the sword into Ashidaka Ichiko's stomach and watching the life drain from her eyes.

He shuddered as the images flashed before his eyes, each scene far more gruesome than the last. As he unfettered his mind from the grisly images he noticed a kanji, marked in blood, on the wall above the enshrined Blade of Execution. However, Koutetsu did not understand the meaning. As he stood there, perplexed by its antiquity for it proceeded his knowledge of common Rokugani the walls surrounding the room fell away. One by one until the wall with the kanji fell away. With the walls the ceiling and floor vanished, leaving an inky darkness that surrounded him. The Blade of Execution vanished within the darkness and Koutetsu stood alone.

Nothing.

Within this nothingness the whispers returned.

"Give yourself to me, Koutetsu, and I will give you everything you have ever wanted."

"No," Koutetsu cried. "No. No. No."


"NO!"

Koutetsu awoke in a cold sweat, screaming that word, with a frightened servant nearly over him.

"My Lord," the servant spoke, an elderly man named Cho. "I... I meant to rouse you. You seemed to be having bad dreams, my Lord."

Dark hair was mattered against his face and he panted, eyes wild, as he looked up to Cho. Realizing his distress he flushed with embarrassment.

"T-Thank you, Cho," Koutetsu croaked, his mind reeling from the memory of the dreams that just haunted his sleep. "Prepare morning tea... And rice... And fresh clothes. And a bath."

The servant bowed but before he left Koutetsu's chamber, he turned and asked, "What of your sisters, my Lord? They arrived this morning and... Are waiting for you in the garden."

Koutetsu's eyes went wide. He glanced to the shoji screeen door and it was bright with mid morning light. Had he overslept? Why hadn't he been woken sooner? Why hadn't he woken at all?

"Quickly then," Koutetsu spoke as he moved to rise. "I need to ready myself all the sooner."

The Crane swordsmith was quick to bathe, washing away the night sweats and combing his hair. He tied the raven locks into a firm samurai topknot and dressed in his finest silks fitting a Crane nobleman. He favored a warrior's hakama and haori with his kimono, the fabric a luxurious pale blue with silver threading and a white brocade of crane in flight. His hakama and obi contrasted well, a navy hue with black striping. His haori was adorned with the heraldry of his personage: the Crane clan, the Kakita family, the Ashidaka vassal family, and the Kakita Dueling Academy. He left the first sword he forged - Katsujinken - in his chambers. The Blade of Execution was not on his estate whatsoever as he returned to the Governor's Estate in its seat of honor.

The lordling's estate was mildly more appealing than when Ejio had visited the estate. While much of his belongings were packed yet and stored in a guest room, he had his servants set out some of his personal effects in the common areas. He wished to portray he had spent more time in the estate than he truly had. Once he was bathed, dressed, and prepared, he braced himself with a deep breath. He heard familiar voices on the veranda and hoping his sisters had not heard him cry out in his sleep, Koutetsu proceeded through the threshold and entered the garden - which he had gently nurtured on his most stressful of days - to greet his kin.
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PostSubject: Re: Unexpected Guests   Tue Jul 14, 2015 10:13 pm

The Ladies Arrive (Koutetsu)

From the moment they stepped through the open doors Koutetsu knew they had changed.

“Brother!” Twin voices rang out in perfect harmony as each sister raced up the hardwood steps. First Ichiko, then Niko leaned forward to give Koutetsu a peck on the cheek. They were radiant, resplendent in Crane silks, hair done up in the most recent courtly style of the city.

Ichiko wore a voluminous, yet lightweight kimono with a blue sky design. Clouds drifted across her body lazily as she walked. Niko’s attire was no less fantastic, near-white, the color of death, splashed with bright blue cranes in flight.

The sisters spread out around Koutetsu to examine his home. Behind them, a veritable army of servants followed with luggage, clothing, wicker baskets and boxes full of “necessities” and the tools of their art.

“Oh Kou-chan, this simply won’t do. It’s nice, isn’t it sister?” Ichiko turned to Niko, the two girls looking at each other from across the wide expanse of the open foyer.

“It is nice, yes. Stark and spare. Plenty of open space and room for sunlight if we open the walls and windows. But…” Niko drew out the word in a way that reminded Koutetsu of her as a toddler begging for more treats.

“…yes, I agree. It’s nice, but it’s missing a lot. Good thing you have us here now, brother!”

Koutetsu turned about to look, really look at each girl. They had filled out in the previous months. Their usual air of flight and fancy had taken on a serious tone – they no longer played at being little ladies, they were ladies of the Crane.

Then he saw it.

“Niko, I think we should reach out to brother’s friend. What’s his name again?” Ichiko was tapping her lip with a finger at one of the walls as if imagining some work of art being hung there.

“Ejio. Doji Ejio. A son of the Crane Champion. How could you forget, silly?” Niko snickered.

There on Ichiko’s obi. A netsuke. A tiny little wooden box designed artfully to hold private things or money – though more likely the former than the latter with such proper artisans.

A netsuke with the design of a scorpion etched across its fine polished wood.

“Mmm…I like your garden!” Koutetsu turned to see Niko had opened the doorway out into the back of the house. He saw her reach into her own obi for a small wooden bottle with a cork stopper. With modest decorum she popped the cork, turned away from potential onlookers, and took a sip from the bottle. Was she drinking so early in the morning?

“Our friends in the city told us that you were busy crafting and creating. How have you had time for a garden, brother dear?”

For the first time it hit Koutetsu just how much in the way of gear and attire the two girls had brought along with them. As the open front room began to fill with boxes, chests, and baskets, Koutetsu did a mental tally of their worth. The Ashidaka were a favored vassal of the Kakita and they were not without their wealth. But this represented a much larger expenditure than his father Hijikei would have normally allowed.

Much larger by far.

“Kou-chan, don’t look so worried! We can read you like an open book, can’t we Niko?” Koutetsu turned to see Ichiko standing firmly int eh center of the room staring him down. Her fan was out and she fluttered it prettily. The movement wafted some of her fine pefume his direction.

“Yes, yes, you are always so concerned.” Little Niko slid right up next to her sister. The twins were so similar, but in that moment Koutetsu could see that the two had never been more different. “Father gave us all this because we convinced him we needed it to find our husbands. We were told by others that you could fix it so we could easily make up the loss of funds.”

Ashidaka Ichiko had the perfect posture of a sensei directing students. Her eyes were locked on Koutetsu, observing, watching, examining him. Niko was a delicate flower in her sister’s shadow. Her eyes were shadowed with too little sleep. She followed her sister’s lead.

“We heard a rumor that you have come into possession of a wealth of fine blades. You can use these to help us with our dowry!” Ichiko smiled wide. “Oh, Niko, show him the letter!”

“Yes!” Niko rushed over to a box and lifted its lightweight balsa lid. She reached inside for a tiny scroll wrapped in fine silk and sealed with his father’s chop.

“Father said you should read this as soon as you were able!” Niko grinned up at Koutetsu as she held the paper out to him. He looked down into her eyes and saw they were bloodshot and tired. He could smell her perfume as well, but it was tinged with an acrid, almost briny smell. Even in the bright light of the sun, her eyes were dilated.

“We’re going to have so much fun brother!” Niko giggled and turned to Ichiko. “Let’s go see that garden up close!” The twin sisters whispered across the tatami floor and out into the back of the estate. All around Koutetsu the luggage and boxes built a temporary fort in his home. He held the letter from his father and felt an unseasonably cool breeze blow into the home.

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PostSubject: Re: Unexpected Guests   Tue Jul 14, 2015 10:13 pm

The Letter

My Son,

I hope my letter finds you well. Your sisters are excited to be with you in the Imperial Capitol. I would have given you more time to prepare for their arrival, but once I gave in to their desires they sought to leave immediately.

You will note that I have spent much of the wealth of our house on gifts, clothing, and the appropriate accoutrements of the court for them both. They carry not only what they need to live, but what you will need to find them suitable husbands.

Lord Kurotema tells me you have performed well in your duties. Perhaps too well. The words I hear coming out of Otosan Uchi are not what I would call representative of the Ashidaka way. Your sisters have already made acquaintances in the city. Reliable sources, they say. These sources back up the strange rumors have heard.

Perhaps they are wrong. I hope this is the case.

I have sent another letter. One with more formal bent. It contains a decision I have had some trouble in making. You will find it rests with Doji Kurotema. He will give it to you soon.

I tell you now, my son, you must seek to put aside your weakness. You must seek out men of high status and power, men with connections. The Ashidaka House will require power and, yes, base wealth in the future. You will do your duty. I know this. Your reputation may have been tarnished, but you are not weak.

You are my son.

Remember that, Koutetsu. No matter what happens. You are my son.

[Chop of Ashidaka Hijikei, Daimyo of his House]

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PostSubject: Re: Unexpected Guests   Tue Jul 14, 2015 10:14 pm

Koutetsu Response (as posted by Hand from FB):

Koutetsu felt completely overwhelmed at the enormity of the situation. The sheer volume of boxes, crates and containers hosting the wealth of House Ashidaka and their own belongings sent the swordsmith reeling. He pondered if the entirety of the wealth could even be properly contained within his estate. He was thankful for his knowledge of arithmetic as he would have to sit down and inventory the entire lot of gifts. However, he did not have the time to do so while his sisters were settling down.

After he finished reading the scroll from his father, Koutetsu rolled it back up and slid it into his kimono. He carefully navigated between walls of boxes leading from the foyer and wound his way onto onto the veranda of the garden. It was hard for Koutetsu to believe what his eyes had seen for his sisters, who seemed all but girls before he had left, had grown up into proper ladies of the Crane. As he surveyed the garden he noticed two bushi out of the corner of his eye whom were making their way through piles of boxes. He was thankful his father sent yojimbo with his sisters to the Imperial City. He would need to speak with the two of them individually as their safety and Honor was paramount in a city where everyone had an agenda. Bayushi Akedare came to his mind.

"My beloved sisters,"Koutetsu spoke, his look conveying a sense of weariness he hope to veil. "I welcome you to Otosan Uchi, the Father's Home and my humble estate here in northern Juramashii.

"You will find my abode is not up to your particular standings of beauty for I spend a great amount of time away performing my duties, conducting family buiness or studying swordsmithing under my sensei," Koutetsu spoke as he slowly began to circle the veranda. "I give you two leave to redecorate the interior of the estate in order to make it more hospitable while you are to stay with me. You two need an environment to blossom and create as both ladies and artists. All that I ask is any purchases are requested through me and my privacy be respected."

Koutetsu was less the idealistic, bright and cheerful boy they knew and becoming more the firm lord his house expected him to be. There was an invisible weight on his shoulders that had not been there before.

"Now, I'd like to lay out some ground rules for you to follow while living with me here at this estate. Nothing less than our Honored father would ask of you.

"As proper ladies of the Crane, you will be accompanied by your yojimbo when outside of the estate to protect your livelihood. You will maintain a handmaiden in your company at all times to maintain your dignity. You are soon to meet Doji Ejio, third son of Lord Doji Satsume, Emerald Champion and Lord of the Crane. You will be working with him and his assembly of artists in pursuit of Crane interests in the Imperial City. As such, you will report to him so that either he or I will maintain accountability for you two at all times. Is this clear?"

The swordsmith paused to give his two sisters a discerning look, first Ichiko and then Niko.

"I speak out of love," he spoke in a softer tone. "We need to stand by each other for there are those in this city who would see our family name tarnished and set us against one another. This city is dangerous as there are samurai here with too much power, too much time and ample opportunity to destroy us to their own ends."

He gave the twins a firm nod as he stepped down from the veranda into the garden. "Next, you are not to have guests without my permission as the Lord of the house -- a token of respect as my Honored guests. Additionally, until you are settled, I would ask you stay within the Juramashii district. The city is far too large and dangerous to begin wandering too soon. Is this understood?"

For all his requests, he couldn't help but feel happier to have his family with him in Otosan Uchi. While he knew something was amiss with Bayushi Akedare, his twin sisters and Niko's condition, he was content with them here. He smiled fondly on his younger siblings with a warmth he hadn't known in a long time.

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PostSubject: Re: Unexpected Guests   Tue Jul 14, 2015 11:33 pm

Ichiko and Niko watched Koutetsu as he gave his fatherly speech, each with her head tilted just slightly to the left.

They looked so much alike.

When he had finished the twin sisters turned to each other and broke into polite laughter.

"Of course brother! We are proper ladies now, after all." Ichiko slipped up next to Koutetsu's left side and gave his cheek another kiss.

"Why do you think father sent us these proper guardians?" Niko came up to Koutetsu's right side and did the same.

Ichiko leaned back with a mock serious expression. "Of course, dearest brother, you do have to remember that we absolutely must be seen in polite society."

"Yes," Niko followed suit, "what flower grows in the shadow? It must be seen in the sunlight and bathed in glory."

"Now, you really shouldn't worry. Besides," Ichiko's grin turned a little dark and Koutetsu felt a shiver run up his spine, "that wasn't father's only letter for you. The other was sent to Doji Kurotema. I really think you should read that as well."

"Oh! Before we forget! We have already been invited to a party at the Gardens of Juramashi's Honor by a group of artisans. They must be somehow related to your friend Ejio, but the invitation didn't come from him, did it sister?" Niko turned to he sister with a pout.

"No," Ichiko's grin remained and Koutetsu knew, he just knew what she was about to say. "It came from Bayushi Akedare."

The two sisters giggled then and, as one, they swept past Ashidaka Koutetsu and began ordering the servants to unpack.


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PostSubject: Re: Unexpected Guests   Wed Jul 15, 2015 12:10 am

He didn't want to allow them to go. He wanted to put them on house arrest, tell them they could leave the house when they were married and recall fonder memories of their youth -- before his arrival to Otosan Uchi, the cursed Blade of Execution and the meddling Bayushi Akedare. Koutetsu played the stoic older brother and watched them pass by, his jaw set as he contemplated what to say. His time with them under his roof would be the only time he could gleam information from them regarding the Scorpion courtier.

"You should tell me about this Scorpion. Before I left, you spoke nothing of this man, dear sisters. As of late he seems to be a popular conversation piece between you two," Koutetsu smoothly inquired.

He left the subject of the second scroll untouched. As much as he wanted to march right down to the Governor's Estate and confront Doji Kurotema, he had more pressing issues. He knew Kurotema was plotting against him, as was Akedare, but now it seemed his own blood were involved in a web of deceit. It pained him to know someone was potentially pitting his own family against him. However, he was the lord of his own house. He was the eldest and heir of his family. He would be a strong lord and not let others wrest control of his house and family from him.

"I actually met Bayushi Akedare just recently. However, his words were most suggestive which prompted rumors -- rumors that do not bode well for either of you, or our house. If you hope to wed favorably, I would implore you be forthright with me."
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PostSubject: Re: Unexpected Guests   Wed Jul 15, 2015 1:39 am

"Akedare is harmless brother! Stop worrying so much. No, that box goes into our chambers!" Ichiko huffed and followed two servants to direct their movements.

Koutetsu felt the dismissal.

"She's right, Kou-chan. Bayushi Akedare is merely a diplomat to the Kakita. We met him at the Kakita Artisan Academy. He has such love for the Crane arts and ways that he spent most of his time with us." Niko sifted through the boxes until she found one in specific. She lifted it in her palms out of a larger box. Koutetsu could see that it was sealed with wax at the edges. She turned to follow after Ichiko, then looked over her shoulder to Koutetsu. "He said he would try to come to the Imperial City and encouraged us to get father to let us do the same! Did you know that he is cousin to the venerable Bayushi Goshiu - the most favored courtly vassal of the Scorpion Champion? Akedare is well-connected, wealthy, and highly placed brother. I'm sure you'll want to talk to him for us." Niko grinned and turned.

As she walked away Koutetsu could see that she cradled the little box like her own baby.

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PostSubject: Re: Unexpected Guests   Wed Jul 15, 2015 2:31 am

What game are you playing, Bayushi-san?

Koutetsu watched after his sisters as they commanded the servants to unpack and prepare their quarters. He was none too pleased with how he was dismissed though if he were to maintain any favor with his siblings, he could not press too hard. A well connected vassal of the Scorpion only proved to be a far more dangerous opponent. In the Imperial City he had few he could count on as friends beyond Ejio, Spectre and Kinotu. His duties were not gaining him any favors nor did his apprenticeship afford him time to earn otherwise.

Matsu Murabai came to mind as someone who may potentially come to his aide. Seppun Kossori, despite how much he loathed her, was powerful and influential. Kitsune Sojin commanded the authority to handle a problem without question. In the very least he was not entirely without friends. Or allies. Or whatever one called such people in the Imperial City. His his mind wandered and he thought on the dream that woke him, the nightmare that visited him. The very thought sent a shiver down his spine and he looked down at his hands expecting them to be slick with blood.

They were clean.

Tea and rice was brought out onto the veranda for a late breakfast and Koutetsu sat observing the garden he had cultivated. It was the embodiment of all his despair given life; each flower was a shrine to a man who fell before his sword, the stone steps the foundation of his principles, the garden itself a temple. In its creation and maintenance he had found peace and release from the sadness that plagued his heart. He grasped a hot cup of white needle tea between his hands as he let his mind wander. It was all very meditative and helped him in his day to day activities.

Koutetsu sent a servant to request Ichiko and Niko for tea. He arranged cups for them on the small table and poured the white needle tea for his sisters. "Ichi-chan, Ni-chan, I had hoped I could have prepared more readily for your arrival," he spoke nonchalantly. He smiled warmly when his sisters came to join him for tea. "Did you forget to write? With boys on your mind, I can only imagine how easy it is to forget your big brother."

He smirked as he tried to play to their senses. The ground rules were set so that meant he could act less like their father and more like their brother. After all, if he lost his sisters entirely then there was no possibility of winning back their loyalty from the Scorpion. He thought back to his Go game with Murabai and murmured. This was only the beginning of the game and many more moves would be made over the course of the game.

"How is father doing? What of the estate here, is it to your liking? I'll be spending a great deal of time away so you'll find you'll have it to your own. I have apprenticed to a master swordsmith here in the Imperial City. Perhaps one day soon you will meet my Sensei. Oh! Did you like my gifts I sent with my letters?"

Conversation. He needed to get better at that.
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PostSubject: Re: Unexpected Guests   Wed Jul 15, 2015 9:26 pm

"Boys indeed." Ichiko sipped her tea taking great care with the porcelain cups. "Did you know, dear brother, that in the Scorpion city of Ryoko Owari Toshi, they bring their own cups? The idea of poisoning your enemies is so prevalent that it has become expected for you to...expect it!." She giggled and turned to Niko.

"Father is well, Kou-chan." After all the unpacking, boxes still scattered about the house, Koutetsu noted that Niko's eyes had only grown more shadowed. There was a reddish haze about them as if they were too dry, too hazy. "It is good you have found someone of value to interact with in the city. We had thought you would be spending all your time alone. And that would be sad."

Koutetsu could feel a solemn gravity from Niko's words and demeanor. With the excitement calmed she was far less peppy.

Ichiko gestured to the sky overhead. "It's wonderful to be here, big brother. It took a long time to convince father that he should send us, but eventually he understood that it would be easier for you to find us suitable matches if we could meet them."

Ichiko looked to Niko as if for support, but her twin said nothing for such a long time it became uncomfortable.

"Well," Ichiko continued, "I know that I would love to meet your sensei as soon as you are willing to introduce her. And any suitable...suitors - haha! - that you have discovered for little Niko-chan."

Niko's head perked at that and she smiled. It looked as if she were trying to remember how.

"Suitors would be nice."

Ichiko's brow furrowed. "I think Niko is having one of her headaches, dear brother. We should retire, I think. A bathhouse and early to bed will leave us refreshed the morning. Come, Niko-chan. You should take your medicine."

For the first time since they had sat down to tea, Niko perked up. "Medicine? Yes."


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PostSubject: Re: Unexpected Guests   Wed Jul 15, 2015 10:37 pm

"That is a... Lovely... Story, Ichi-chan. I presume Akedare told you sbout the city? Remind me to never attend Ryoko Owari and to send you in my stead if ever the demand is put on me," Koutetsu commented.

How much had the Scorpion been filling their ears with? He sipped his tea and looked between Ichiko and Niko. Niko had a tired look about her. Given her youth it was notably out of place. The Crane restrained a frown from touching his lips an offered to refill their cups as they quietly conversed.

"All in due time, my sweet sisters, I will find you the suitors you deserve," he spoke with a warm tone. "I have asked a friend to help me find good matches for myself so if I meet any such women, I am sure you will scrutinize them as thoroughly as any man seeking your hands.

"As for my sensei... When we are not busy with our work, perhaps one day soon. I have helped her in finishing her labor of two hundred swords for the House of Seppun. Needless to say, time is valuable nowadays between the forge and... My duty."

He was visibly displeased with how he spoke of his position as executioner. Koutetsu sipped his tea again before he set his cup down. He did not question Niko's headache, medicine or retirement though he gave her the warmest smile an older brother could afford his sister. "Rest well, Ni-chan. If you need anything of me, all you need is ask."

He nodded and moved to stand, his hakama fanning out around his legs as he moved. Before Ichiko departed with Niko, he spoke up.

"After you see her to bed, Ichi-chan, join me in my study."

He nodded. There was no chance to refuse, to object or deflect the request. Ashidaka Koutetsu, heir to Ashidaka Hijikei, Vassal Lord of the Kakita, was the lord of his own home and would not be denied.
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Awesome Gamers Group :: Legend of the Five Rings :: The Father's Home (Otosan Uchi Throwback Game) :: Closed RP Posts-
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