"HOI!" The heavy percussion of drums came soon after the call into the night air. The sound broke through the clamoring and droning sounds of festival revelry, flowing along the light spring wind with as little effort as the scents of festival foods. People from all walks made their way up and down the promenades of the city, the likes of which were lined, for the most part, with cherry trees. It was the Festival of Blossoms and Masks in the city of Nado, and all took part. A few enchanting members of the human hill clans had come to Nado in their boats, bringing with them sweet forest vegetation and exotic animals from deep in the hilly woods of the cool northwest island chains. The caravans of the Ookamijin, the wolf-men and women of the south, had brought with them hearty foods and tales from old days. The Tengu Clan had flown from their high-perched mountain homes, bringing with them weaponry of iron and jewels from the mountains. Even some of the Torajin had come to Nado, though their numbers were few. Looking out over the water of one of the many hand-made waterways of the city of Nado was a man; a lone man with his wooden mask situated atop his head rather than over his facade. He was of the Torajin, the tiger-folk of the eastern coast and her many small islands and atolls. He was ragged in appearance, his nearly forty years on the earth having been, more often than not, hard ones. Ueno Taro was, by large, a quiet man. He looked at the fried fish he had bought for himself, eying it as it eyed him, skewered upon its stick and dead as a stone. He narrowed his eyes and sniffed it. He then took a bite, removing the thing's head, chewing and swallowing. He sighed. He hummed to himself after a momentary silence, standing and devouring the rest of the small fish before tossing the stick into the waterway. He had to find work, and Nado was as good a place as any. With the festival, he added mentally, it was even better. People needed things done. Taro got things done. It was simple enough in his mind; however, in practice, finding work was a rather difficult thing in those days. Retribution was not an art any longer, and folk were frightened to bring karma down upon their heads for hiring swords and muscles. Karma and law, at least. The emperor frowned upon hired swords, thinking that combat training was best received in the standing army of the crown. Training was nice, but experience was a better teacher than any general. That was Taro's thought, at least. He looked about. Karma, laws, and then there were the youkai--the demons. Something strange was happening in the land. People were no longer the enemy of one another. Not chiefly, at least, for the demons had come from their caves and crypts to haunt and devour mortal men and women. Exorcists and hunters were now more valuable than ronin and ninja. Taro spat upon the ground at the thought of them, demons and their hunters both! Curse them!