"Ryuuzaki-dono, a moment of your time," Todaisen Nobuhara quickened his pace, struggling to keep pace with Sanosuke's long strides as the latter made his way through the corridors of Wakigami Castle. Coming up to the other general's side, he produced a small piece of parchment and studied it briefly before speaking. "We've received a message from Lady Okuni at the newly-constructed theater in the canal district. Apparently she's been receiving threatening messages from a 'Phantom Ninja' who has voiced their intent to steal a particularly expensive suit of armor they are planning to use as a prop in their upcoming production." The administrator frowns thoughtfully, before turning to Sanosuke and continuing without waiting for a reply, "I realize that this would normally be the domain of Goemon-dono, but I thought to send Fujibayashi Nagato-dono to investigate. She has had little to do recently with hostilities winding down. I wished to get your opinion on this first, however, before taking any actions."
"'Phantom Ninja'?", Sanosuke echoes thoughtfully as his brow furrows. Unfamiliar with the concept, he attempts to deduce the nature of the "threat". "Ninja should be as phantoms, so what makes this one different? This almost sounds like it could involve one of his ... experiments. And yet, I get the feeling it's something else altogether. Wait, why does Okuni-san need such an expensive item in her production in the first place?" Sanosuke imagines Okuni and Kobayakawa "Prince Frederic Charles of Prussia" Hideaki traipsing around town, giggling like fools in love as they shop for unnecessary and ostentatious items--their glittering, picturesque forms frozen in time, illuminated by unnatural light in the background as though rendered by some fanciful artist. He immediately regrets allowing himself the tangent and tries to shake the image from his mind. "No, on second thought, nevermind. In any case, we shouldn't take any chances. I'll not be surprised if it turns out to be a hoax, but then Raizo should have handled it already. Whatever tricks this 'phantom' has up their sleeve, it'd be for the best to take care of them right away." " Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Goemon-san has proven more than capable, but Nagato-san is still one of the leaders of the Iga ninja". Sanosuke turns his head to address the adviser, "Nobuhara-san, wouldn't you agree that two ninja are better than one?" "It would be nice to give Goemon-san the opportunity to spend some time with her 'senpai', too".
Nobuhara appears thoughtful. "I must admit, Ryuuzaki-dono, that the idea had not occurred to me. Our two greatest ninja have such different styles of operation, and I do not think that they have actually worked together in such close tandem before. Of course, there is no reason that they cannot do so. Indeed, as you say, two ninja are likely better than one. However..." He pauses, still walking quickly to keep up with Sanosuke, as though debating with himself whether to continue. "May I ask a favor?" he finally queries, "Might you deliver this mission to them personally? I understand that you are busy, but I fear that our resident ninja masters may not take orders from me so readily, particularly Lady Goemon. Our personalities are... somewhat incompatible."
"Oh? I hadn't noticed. But yeah, I can speak with them myself. It will be nice to check in and see how things are going with them anyway. I'll make sure they also understand how valuable your counsel has been to Yoshiyukihime-sama... in case it does ever come down to your issuing them orders on our behalf. In these times, we must be prepared for anything." Sanosuke nearly presumed to take his leave, but stopped short as he thought for a moment. "Nobuhara's efforts do seem to go largely unrewarded. I'm still not sure if he's the kind of person for whom service is its own reward, but it doesn't hurt to ask". "Nobuhara-san, before I see to it, was there anything else you might need?"
Nobuhara appears surprised at the question. "An odd question, Sanosuke-dono. One does not often consider their own needs in my position. Of course, if you are sincere in your wish to help, there is one thing," he pauses for just a moment, "We have been working together frequently recently, both on things of this nature, the tournament, regarding Nobunaga-dono's arrival, as well as your idea for the 'idol' squad. If my work has been satisfactory to you, would you be willing to mention such to Sishauezaemon-sama? I fear he no longer values my services of late." He stops, but then another idea seems to occur to him. "Is it, do you think, because of Abe no Seimei, or the woman claiming to be her?"
"So that's how it is. Er, hang on, did he just imply he'd prefer to have more work to do? Well, some people just like to keep busy, after all". "Of course, I'd be happy to pass on to Shishauezaemon-dono how valuable your work has been. I'm not sure how long he plans to be away, but you'll have to forgive his lack of contact if the situation in Ise is more complicated than he can make known. I'm sure there's something to be done, if only he's reminded that he needn't take on all the responsibilities himself." Due to the injury sustained in Kuzunoha's sanctum, Sanosuke was not present when Nobuhara had first met and expressed doubt regarding the identity of the woman "claiming to be" Abe no Seimei. "What about Seimei? I understand she might be difficult to get along with at times, but considering how she came to us, do you really think she could be anyone but who she claims?"
"I'm sorry, Sanosuke-dono? I'm afraid I was not privy to the details of what happened on that expedition you went on. I simply find it hard to believe that the young woman I met was the Abe no Seimei, the greatest onmyouji in history." Nobuhara shakes his head, as if to dislodge the thought. "But that matters not, if you believe her to be the true article, then I will accept that. I thank you for your consideration as well, regarding your speaking to Shishauezaemon-sama about my work. After all, Abe no Semei was also the Emperor's most valued adviser, so it would seem that I have some stiff competition." He smiles thinly.
"Your skepticism is not unfounded, Nobuhara-san. And that sort of thinking is needed to balance some of our clan's more trusting individuals. Please keep up the good work." Sanosuke continues without missing a beat, though clearly more to himself than the adviser, "Now then, where might those two be..." He sets off in search of Goemon and Nagato to see how they feel about this "phantom ninja".
Unlike Goemon, who is no doubt out on one of her vigilante adventures, Fujibayashi Nagato is easy to find and, after some brief mental communication, Sanosuke is invited into her quarters at the castle to meet. Instructions are given to Goemon to arrive there as well, as soon as she's defeated whatever villain she's battling this week. Fujibayashi's room is sandwiched between Tsukuda Katsuo's and Goemon's in what is unofficially known as the "Ninja Wing" of the building; a small block of rooms to which the clan's espionage specialists have organically gathered over time. In addition to the quarters, it also contains a dojo and a meeting room for planning operations, the inside of which is always littered with maps and books on various locations around the country. Nagato's quarters in particular are modest, containing only a pallet for sleeping, a chest containing tools, weapons, and other necessities, an oil lamp, and a wall scroll depicting a human silhouette on the wall. Several kunai have cut through the paper, embedded in the wall behind, piercing the mock figure's vital points with dangerous precision. The ninja herself is standing when Sanosuke arrives, the room's door open, and busily fastening a guard to her wrist, scarf already draped around her shoulders and weapons at her hip. "Sanosuke-san, you're just in time. I've just finished getting ready. Why don't you brief me in the operations room?" Though she sounds curt and businesslike, there's a certain energy about Nagato, and a quirking of her lips as she speaks. She's obviously excited to have a new job.
Sanosuke smiles at seeing Nagato's own way of showing her enthusiasm. "Sure thing. We're just waiting on Goemon-san, but I can let her know we'll see her in at the operations room. In the meantime, how are you doing? I'm impressed with how easily you completed that last job. Were there really no complications?"
"The last job?" Nagato finishes tying her wristguard, but her eyes are cast off to the side, no longer meeting Sanosuke's gaze. "There were some... complications. We were able to work things out, though. Ninja have ways of dealing with that sort of thing," she laughs faintly, "As much as I hate to give him the credit, my subordinate was key in the capture. You've seen how practical he can be with his skills. That's why it's important to always have a partner." Turning back toward Sanosuke, she puts her hands on her hips. "Speaking of, we're just waiting for Goemon-san, right? Let's head over to the operations room, before she beats us there," Nagato smiles, "We can talk more there."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I feel a lot better knowing Ame-chan's got my back. I hope you and Goemon find a good rapport on this job, too". Sanosuke turns toward the exit and crouches into a runner's start position. "I know I can't keep up with you, Nagato-chan, but I'll do my best". The general looks back over his shoulder to the jounin. "Ready?" Nagato always seems ready enough. He turns his sight back to the path before him. "'Sanosuke-dash', engage! Let's gooooo!!!!!" Sanosuke heads for the operations room as quickly as he can, still fully expecting to be met on entry by two very not-out-of-breath ninja.
Nagato is, indeed, already waiting in the command room when Sanosuke arrives. He didn't see her pass him, and she doesn't appear out of breath. In fact, she has what looks like a bit of a cocky smile on her lips. "'Sanosuke-dash'?" she asks, raising an eyebrow. An empty table fills most of the room behind her, surrounded by shelves on which stacks and stacks of scrolls have been meticulously stored. On the opposite wall, a large map of Wakigami is pinned to the wall, several key areas marked with red ink and short messages drawn in a careful hand; probably Katsuo's, though such curly calligraphy seems out of character for the stoic ninja. Just when Sanosuke finishes taking all this in, a slat opens silently in the ceiling, and a lithe figure drops into the room. Standing up on the table, arms crossed below her chest and her scarf inexplicably flowing, Ishikawa Goemon looks proudly down upon them. "The hero of justice arrives!" she exclaims, before leaping gracefully down and landing before the pair, "Hello, Sanosuke-san! Nagato-chan!" "Yeah, you can really tell she was trained by Sandayu," Nagato mutters to Sanosuke out of the corner of her mouth, before turning and greeting Goemon with a bow.
Sanosuke likely arrives at the command room without having lost much breath, but certainly more than Nagato. "Yeah, it's more of a combination technique I developed with Hanbei-chan. I'm not surprised I couldn't keep up with you without her, Nagato-chan." As he speaks, Sanosuke surveys the orderliness of the command center. As the Great Ninja of Justice descends from above, he realizes she was probably waiting there for him to arrive. "Goemon-san always had a flair for timing, didn't she?" , as he thinks back to their first encounter, where the ninja was "summoned" via Raizou's conch shell and triumphantly slew a member of the opposition. The general smiles at Nagato's comment--amused, or perhaps pleased, with the relationship that seems to be developing between the ninja. "Hm, that's right--Nagato-chan probably knew Sandayu pretty well, too. Maybe she can help Goemon find some closure after what happened with her former master." "Yo, Goemon-san. Glad you could both make yourselves available for this mission. The target itself might not seem as significant as your usual fare, but the 'Phantom Ninja' part has me a little worried." Sanosuke goes on the explain the details of this peculiar mission on Nobuhara's behalf... "So there you have it. Any questions?"