With only an hour until the sealing ceremony would begin everyone started the process to get them more presentable although Hida took the time to take a quick ride on one of the Unicorn mounts. Shosuro showed back up in her normal outfit after finding a quick hiding place to change out of the Unicorn disguise. As the group made their way to their rooms they noticed the gifts left for them by Akodo. Shosuro treated her suspiciously checking for poison or some other sort of trap before finally opening the gift. Kakita just calmly opened hers while Hida opened his as quickly as possible. After visiting their rooms and bathing they made their way out to the main grounds where the scroll sealing ceremony was to begin.
As was common practice for Unicorn Clan castles, the grounds of Shiro Iuchi were much larger then other clans in order to give as much free roam as possible to the horses. Just before sundown the Tortoise brought out the magically sealed chest of scrolls and placed it at the center of the gathered crowd. Isawa Masanori made his way over to the box and begun the ritual to unseal it. Once the unsealing was complete a group of elder Iuchi Shugenjas made their over to hand over their contribution of scrolls for the Setsuban festival. With the scrolls placed in the chest Isawa once again resealed it to the applause and cheers of the gathered Unicorn. With the ceremony complete the festival could begin!
The Unicorn loved any excuse to host a part and an important occasion like this was a better excuse then most. There was Bariqu Wrestling tournaments, strength contests, archery contests and lots of different horsemanship contests. Thru it all they would occasionally see Shinjo Luke STILL riding from one end to the other of the training ground shooting arrows as fast as he could at multiple targets. Akodo and Hida decided to participate in one of the strength contests. The contest was simple; fling a series of heavy rocks tied with a rope as far as possible. Akodo and Hida were quickly able to prove their strength and move onto the final rounds. In the end it was Akodo, Hida, two Moto bushi and an Otaku Battle Maiden. One of the Moto bushi went up first and grabbed the 300 lb rock. As he lifted it he gave a quick whistle and was joined by a Unicorn war dog. With a quick pet for the dog he smiled, gave a few spins, and hurled the rock a great distance. With the minimum standard set he bowed to the cheering crowd and stepped back to let the next contestant go. The other Moto bushi was able to lift the heavy rock but could not match the thrown distance. Akodo Akio was up next and set his goal higher then the Moto War dog Master. He reached deep within himself and called upon his good kharma but the rope slipped at the last second and he was only able to match the other Moto bushi. The Otaku Battle Maiden was up next and just barely matched the Moto War Dog Master. Last up was Hida Kengetsu who confidently strutted up to the rock. He grabbed the rope and begun his twirl. As he twirled he focused his ancestral connection to the void (displaying his ancestor) and pulled upon his good kharma. At the last instant Kakita gave a great cheer for him motivating him even farther as he hurled the rock the air making it soar past the previous contestant’s rocks and winning the competition. As a reward he was gifted one of the Arrow of the Four Winds; the Arrow of the West Wind.
After watching the strength competition Shosuro decided to place a couple of bets on some of the horse races. After a couple of small winnings a Ide Emissary approached her with a bet; if she won he would gift her 20 koku but if he won she would owe him a favor to be granted at his convenience. She thought about it for a bit and decided to go for it. She found the horse whose kharma deserved a win and called upon her own kharma to guarantee the horse’s success. Shosuro and the Emissary agreed upon the terms and the race begun. The horse Shosuro had chosen was an old, lame, breeding mare whose equally antiquated owner had brought out for a quick run. When the race begun she took off like an arrow from a bow while the rest of the horses stumbled all over themselves and collided with one another. The old breeding mare won without a problem to the astonishment of everyone watching. The Ide Emissary sent a servant to check on the horses for tampering. With no evidence of tampering the Emissary grudgingly gave the 20 koku to Shosuro and marched off thru the crowd. The group stayed around a little longer at the festival before finally retiring to their rooms to prepare for the following day.
The next three days passed with no incident as the group passed thru the hills bordering Spine of the World Mountains that divide the northern east-west border between the lands of the Unicorn and the Scorpion having Shinjo finding adequate camping places along the way. Just after sunset on the third day, the beginning of the hour of Bayushi, to Kawa no Kin . Across the River of Gold was City of Lies and its attached Teardrop Island. Isawa Masanori explained that they would leave the caravan here and cross the river by raft to go get the boat that would take them down the river to Shiro no Shosuro. When he asked who would come with him Kakita and Shosuro decided to stay and guard the caravan as Shinjo, Hida and Akodo decided to cross with them. As they traversed the River of Gold Isawa warned them that about Teardrop Island; there was countless Geisha houses, opium rooms, sake houses, and other such establishments which all stood in open view of the streets. Those who wished to remain anonymous were provided with basket hats. As Isawa explained all this they started to hear intermingled shouts of merriment and distress. He finished by cautioning them that “ You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious ”.
They arrived on the Island and proceeded down the main street. Everywhere people walked with basket hats hiding their faces and plain cloaks covering their kimonos making indentifying anyone nearly impossible in the dim lit streets. As they neared the middle of Teardrop Island Shinjo and Hida noticed a young looking Dragon samurai-ko being pulled into a dark alley. Shinjo summoned his bow to his hand startling Akodo who had not seen the samurai-ko being taken. Shinjo told him what he had seen and after a moment’s hesitation Akodo ordered Shinjo to charge as Hida was already on his way towards the mouth of the alley. Shiba pushed Isawa’s back against a wall and drew his katana scanning the crowd for threats as the three young bushi rushed into the alley. Shinjo was first to the alley and was quickest to react to what he saw. He saw 4 people dressed in giko suits. Two were facing him holding ninja-to in their hands, while behind them was one holding a nagamaki preparing to strike the Kitsuki samurai-ko while the last one kept the samurai-ko in chokehold.
Shinjo drew an arrow and asked Akodo for orders. At Akodo’s command he sent two arrows into the executioner, killing him with the second. Hida hit the closer of the two ninja-to wielding assailants and with a mighty shove sent him flying into the other. They recovered from their surprise and lashed out at Hida with their blades. The ninja-to flashed in the alley and opened twin cuts on Hida. Hida replied by removing the eye of one of the pair. The now one-eyed assailant fell to the ground dead.
While Hida was charging, the assailant holding the Kitsuki had brought out a garrote to use on the Kitsuki. She struggled against the wire now biting into her neck but was not able to break free. Akodo drew his no-dachi as he charged the pair but missed by a hair breath as he attempted to wound the attacker’s arm. The assailant continued to choke the Kitsuki, who quickly fell unconscious. The assailant would have continued to choke the Kitsuki to death if Shinjo had not killed him with two arrows he released in quick succession. With his original opponent now downed, Akodo turned and cut the last attacker in half.
The battle only lasted a few seconds as the three bushi made quick work of the assailants. Akodo sent Shinjo to get Isawa as he and Hida inspected the surroundings. Just as Shinjo left eight cloaked figures rushed into the alleyway and quickly placed themselves between Akodo and Hida and the downed attackers and the unconscious Kitsuki. They threw off their basket hats and cloaks to reveal masked faces and Bayushi printed kimonos. They told Akodo and Hida that they would handle the situation from there and thanked them for their assistance. Akodo tried to reason with them with little success until Shinjo returned with Isawa with Shiba trailing behind. Isawa told them to make way but the Bayushi made it clear that he had no authority in Scorpion lands. He warned them to step aside and ordered Shinjo to take the samurai-ko. Shinjo looked uncertain but slowly moved his steed forward step by step. Akodo tried to reason one more time with them as Shinjo moved forward to little avail. As Shinjo came closer Hida decided to try a quick haiku to hopefully convince the Bayushi to move:
Defended we have
This young one, take assailants
We only meant well
The Bayushi stared at Hida in barely concealed shock and slowly moved out of Shinjo’s way. Shinjo moved up the Kitsuki, jumped off his horse and gently placed her on his saddle. Shinjo then remounted and without turning his horse around moved backwards back thru the double line of Bayushi until he was once again side by side with his companions. They collectively bowed to the Bayushi and quickly exited the alleyway. They quickly made their way to the opposite of town to the boat docks and chartered their boat to head down river. They quickly made their way back to the opposite bank with Isawa letting the three impulsive young bushi tend their new found ward. When they neared the shore where the caravan awaited Hida called out to Kakita informing her that her healing skills were needed. Kakita asked who was hurt and Hida yelled they had a Dragon on board which prompted Kakita to ask what he did this time. They docked the boat and Hida brought the injured Kitsuki to the shore while Kakita quickly patched her up using a little extra couple doses from her medicine kit. She was able to revive the poor kitsuki and then begun attending Hida. Seeing him bring in a samurai-ko in his arms seemed to have an irritating effect upon her and she made sure to tie his bandages a little extra tight making Hida wince. With the Kitsuki revived and bandaged she explained her purpose and name; she was called Kitsuki Kaori and was a Kitsuki Magistrate specializing in poison visiting Ryoko Owari in order to investigate ninja. Akodo scoffed at the myth but Kitsuki Kaori ignored him and continued on with her story. She thanked them all for their assistance and said if they ever needed anything to just send her a letter and she would be more then willing to assist. She then took her leave to go find a nice place to say before heading back into the city during the light of day.
With the situation handled they quickly boarded the boat and headed down river towards Shiro no Shosuro. Over the next two days the young group practiced etiquette, jijutusu and Kakita even took Akodo thru a couple of advanced stretching Mizu-do positions when Akodo expressed his desire to become more flexible. Around late afternoon on the first day they passed the village of Kura without stopping. Later on the second day, 12th of Monkey, they arrived in Shiro no Shosuro. As they arrived Shosuro explained she had some things to do and disappeared down a side hallway. They were invited to visit the famous Shosuro Gardens, the Silken Smile Theater or any other of The Castle of Pretending many attractions. What escapades await the young group in this castle of masks?