NOTE: This log is THREE SESSIONS! So it is very LONG!
With Akodo training for the rest of the day and the festival of the Humble Turtle on the following day, the19th of the Monkey,the group visited some of the different attractions within the city. They visited the Shire to Amaterasu and the Temple of the Fortunes to give thanks and receive blessings. Isawa Masanori and Shiba Yosuhiro retired to their rooms and gave orders for them not to be bothered. It was clear that Isawa was tired after the journey thru the mountains and was looking forward to a day of resting. The group was also informed that the local daimyo, Matsu Kioma, would be hosting a very early court the next morning for the visiting dignitaries before the festival began. Akodo was able to finish his next level of training before the night ended and also was pleased to receive the cooper saya he had ordered in Face of the East castle from the Yasuki trader. With everyone finished with exploring the city they went to sleep early to enjoy the long day of festivities
The following morning, they were awaken quite early as court would begin at the hour of the Hare. It was held with the rising of the sun due to the fact that the festival rightly followed the events of the original battle in which Kenson gakka swapped hands. The morning is crisp and the sounds of autumn can be heard beyond the city walls. Court was going to be held at the Civic Hall and all was calm as they made their way thru the village. The sounds of the gentle chords of three fue could be heard as they entered the Civic Hall. The Hall was subdued as people mingled thru the private chambers and corridors for independent conversations, and the grand ballroom on the second floor opened up onto four tremendous balconies facing the three walls of the city and Shiro no Meiyo.
The group begun to mingle thru the crowd and quickly were able to indentify some of the more key personalities of those gathered there. There was a visiting Crane courtier, Daidoji Handen, who had came with several crane monks in addition to his own entourage, so that they could visit with their brethren at Yaruki Jukko Temple. Akodo Ikare, the general in charge of the troops garrisoned at Kenson Gakka, and his wife Akodo Miko were walking around with Miko making sure to introducer herself and her husband to all the gathered guests. And of course there was Matsu Kioma, the daimyo of Kenson Gakka, whose wife was following Akodo Miko’s example and introducing herself and her husband to all the guests. And behind the scenes was Noshi, the head monk from the nearby Yaruki Jukko Temple, directing his monks in preparation for the festival.
Kakita Hikaru decided to talk with Daidoji Handen’s yojimbo, Daidoji Shiko, who had radiant silver hair and an almost irresistible sense of humor. Shosuro Shinriko made her way thru the crowd speaking to a variety of people including a Dragonfly courtesan that was visiting Kenson Gakka for the festival as well. Shinjo Luke spotted a Otaku Battle Maiden in the group and stroke up a conversation with her while Hida Kengetsu talked a Yasuki Merchant by the name of Yasuki Genji although Hida kept glancing over at Kakita Hikaru with obvious resentment towards the handsome Crane she was conversing with. After conversing for a while, Yasuki Genji informed Hida that he was trying to aquire a pendant owned by Akodo Miko and asked if perhaps Hida could assist him in persuading her for a cut of the profits? Hida was doubtful but agreed to try to help out his kinsman. Hida then went to Shosuro, accidently rudely interrupting her current conversation, to ask her for her assistance. Shosuro’s first question was to ask Hida what Yasuki Genji’s intent was for the necklace. It was obvious that such a question never occurred to Hida so he simply answered that he did not care why his clansmen wanted the amulet and choose simply to try to help out someone from his clan. Shosuro thought about it for a while and decided that she would assist the poor Hida in return for him owing a future favor. Such a condition worried Hida but after a good deal of consideration he reluctantly agreed. She said that she would get Kakita and that she would try to talk to Akodo Miko and that Hida should get Akodo Akio in order to talk to Akodo Ikare and separate him from his wife.
Meanwhile , Akodo Akio visited with several people he though looked interesting in the crowd; a Dragon shugenja named Agasha Todaro who was a travelling storyteller who liked to tell stories but only if he could get one in return. Akodo and the Dragon Bard spent some time comparing a few famous bardic tales and Akodo also shared the some of the adventures that he and his companions had experienced over the last year. Akodo also spend some time speaking with a Fox samurai-ko named Kitsune Kiden who was there to stay at Kenson Gakka for the winter. She was impressed with Akodo Akio and had heard the tale of the young group of samurai going across the Empire. After a while he saw Hida making his way over and introduced to Kitsune. She invited them, and their companions of course, to stay at her father’s home who just happen to be a minor daimyo in the Fox clan. They said that they were honored for such an invitation and would maybe be able to call upon such an invitation someday. With that finished Hida asked if he could speak with Akodo and Akodo excused himself politely from Kitsune Kiden.
Hida explained the plan to Akodo and also said that it would be a good chance to maybe get some input on the martial art that they were trying to develop. Hida also wanted to talk to someone about getting instruction in the “_Art of the Sword_” Akodo Akio reluctantly agreed and they made their way over to Akodo Ikare and Akodo Miko. As they reached the general and his wife they were joined by Shosuro and Kakita. Pleasantries and introductions were quickly exchanged Subsequently Hida inquired about the training that Akodo Ikare and Akio had done the previous day and explained his interest in the Lion martial art “ The Art of the Sword” . Akodo Ikare explained that although he was not very proficient in the art his wife was. His wife smiled at the compliment but reminded her husband that she was not an active bushi anymore and that those days were behind her. Shosuro and Kakita were then able to convince Miko to talk to them privately for a second while the men conversed about their martial arts plans. The three samurai-ko talked about Miko’s pendant she was wearing and it turned out it had been a gift from her husband. Shosuro mentioned how beautiful it was and how she would love to own a pendant as beautiful as that one. With a little conversation manipulation Shosuro was able to get Miko to divulge the only possible way she would be willing to part with her pendant. It seemed her grandmother had been involved in a skirmish near the Lion and Dragon border and her mempo, which had been passed down for generations, had fallen into the Drowned Merchant’s River and had never been recovered. It was Miko’s, and her families, dearest hope that the mempo could be found and recovered someday.
Meanwhile Akodo akio and Hida had been informing Akodo Ikare about the design of their new martial art. Akodo Ikare was surprisingly impressed by their ingenuity and the possible versatility of the proposed style. He also saw how easy it would be to bring diverse units into a cohesive team. He told them that he wanted to support and sponsor their effort although it would come with several conditions; this martial art could only be taught to Lion or Crab samurai and that its name must be something that represented the unity between the two clans. The pair was unsure about the only Lion and Crab training requirement as they wanted to maybe use to bring the Empire as a whole together but in the end they agreed to the conditions. Akodo Ikare summoned a servant to bring him some paper and ink and quickly but elegantly wrote out a sponsorship letter. He told them that they could count on the social, political and economical support of him and his family for any matter related to bringing the martial art to life. They thanked him deeply and were excited that their vision was slowly becoming a reality.
The morning court soon ended and at the Hour of the Dragon the festival began. The festival was to be a lengthily affair with a great deal of formality before events. But it was not a somber event, on the contraty the festival is filled with life as the entire city is awake and thriving with the sights and sounds of celebrations. Fireworks sparkle withing Merchant;s Row and children happily twirl in the streets. The festival began with a procession of Lion soldiers, marching in ranks along the main thoroughfares before the crowds. They were dressed in the full regalia of war and made a full circuit around the town ending their march at the parade grounds where they take up watchful positions at the edge of its rough ground. Another group of soldiers – one for each century the Lion have held the castle – arrived with tall sashimono bearing the Lion mon. They placed
the mon within a row of shafts cut into the earth at the far end of the parade grounds (between them and the Merchant Row). This was the official signal of the festival’s commencement. Kioma appeared, and with a single clap, the first events began
The first contest was Yabusame in which a mounted samurai fires arrows at targets placed on tall poles to their right and left as they ride by them. Each round, the targets become smaller and are placed farther and farther away from the rider. Those who miss a target are removed from competition, and the last qualifying archer is declared the winner. The young group of samurai looked towards their Unicorn companion with a grin and Shinjo Luke entered the competition. He quickly outshone his competitors and after several rounds the last competitor missed leaving Shinjo as the victor. The award ceremony would take place towards the end of the Hour of the Dragon and everyone was invited to watch and of course the winners would be presented with their prizes.
The next event the group was drawn to was the Sumai competition. Hida was instantly interested and signed up for the competition. He took the time before the competition to run back to this room and get his kesho-mawashi that he had received from Hida Kana. He was able to make it back in time for the competition and quickly dominated the competition. His last competitor was a strong Matsu samurai-ko who had also been leading the competition. They faced each other and as their fists touched the shikiri-sen they exploded towards one another to the cheers of the onlookers. Hida was able to overpower the smaller Matsu samurai-ko and quickly won two out of three bouts against her for the victory. He was a gracious winner and then quickly went back to his room to change back into his kimono. He wanted to change into his armor but was doing his best to overcome his Benten’s curse and be more accepted in society.
Although there were other competitions and events going on around them, and vendors selling all sorts of trinkets, the next even the group was interested in was the Oriru competition. In each round of this competition, two riders bear down at one another, racing toward each other on horseback. They try to seize and unhorse their opponent, dragging him to the ground. The event progresses in rounds until only one victor remains. This is a fast-paced contest and it is favored greatly by Master Kioma, who studied extensively in the Unicorn lands as a youth. Hida didn’t like his chances on horseback and Shinjo didn’t think he was strong enough to be a real competitor. Shosuro said that she would stay ou of these bushi based competitions and Kakita wasn’t in the mood to wrestle Matsu while on horseback. Akodo thought about it for a bit and knowing he was the strongest of the group decided to give it a try. He called for his mount and joined the competition. His strength and last 6 months on horseback served him well and he easily unhorsed his first two opponents and only the last opponent was able to force him to call upon his spirit and kharmic well being to remove the last contestant from his horse.
The last competition in the hour of the dragon that drew the young group was Seikakusa. In this competition each round, a master swordsman faces the contestant (both of whom have boken) and asks him to strike a particular location on his body. If he succeeds, he progresses to the next round, where the location to hit becomes more difficult. This competition is decidedly different (and quite a bit more difficult) than others at the festival. It demands an excellent knowledge of kenjutsu and allows for more than one person to “win’: Both Kakita and Akodo Akio decided to join the competition but threst declined as they did not feel that their kenjutsu was sufficient enough to succeed in the challenge. The two rival clan samurai stepped up on their turns and proved that they truly were excellent sword users by striking each location perfectly when it was called.
As the Hour of the Dragon came to a close and the Hour of the Serpent approached it was time for the award ceremony. Champions in each event received a ring of copper with dyed silks sewn around it. Also along the ring were the date and the Kenson Gakka name. These were presented by cavalry, a tall lance lowered before the seated winner with the ring about the tip. All the winners, including the winners from the young group of samurai, graciously accepted their awards and prepared for the last, and possibly biggest, part of the festival.
The final morning event is a recreation of the first Battle of Kenson Gakka, which took place originally on the southern Way of Righteous Vengeance, where it meets the divergent road into Scorpion lands today. All are invited to watch, and bushi may participate if they wish. The battle is a fairly straightforward conflict of mock Scorpion forces defending the pass from Lion aggressors. Imitating the first foray of the Lion army at the time, the goal is simply to gain control the pass and slaughter as many of the enemy as possible. General Ikare conducts the Lion forces, while Matsu Kioma acts as the notorious Scorpion general who defended Kenson Gakka at the time – Bayushi Takida. The forces meet upon the parade grounds after all the other contests and events were done. The group decided to be all Lion and were given false armor which was padded and thinner then common armor with the mon of the proper clan. They were also issued boken to be used in lieu of katanas for the event and Shinjo got a set of ten padded tip arrows as well. Once the “troops” were ready the battle begun.
As the battle began one of the Lion soldiers charged forward only to be surrounded. The traveling companions rushed forward to the surrounded man’s aid. Kakita immediately struck down one of the “Scorpion.” With a single arrow Shinjo sent three cowering. Shosuro struck one of the “Scorpion” as they moved to flank Kakita. Hida and the Lion they were helping both defeated an enemy. Akodo dropped the “Scorpion” Shosuro had wounded plus another. With the skirmish having barely begun Kakita downed the last “Scorpion.”
The battle’s favor began to turn in the favor of the Akodo Ikare’s “Lion” army and the companions were given orders to hold their position as nine enemies charged them. Kakita’s boken flashed and one of the attacks dropped. Shinjo, Hida and Akodo took three more and the “Scorpion” attacked in vain. It was then that Shosuro let out a roar like the mightiest of wild lions. All across the battlefield warrior looked about in sudden panic and confusion. With their enemies suddenly in a state of bewilderment it was easy for each of the companions to defeat one of the remaining “Scorpion.”
With the latest wave of “Scorpion” defeated a path in the battle opened to reveal the enemies reserve of archers. The companions rushed forward and overwhelmed the archers. The companions dropped 6 in their opening attack. Shinjo sent another six into cowering with a single arrow. The archers knew they were outmatched. They sent one wishful, and ineffective, volley at the companion before fleeing and securing the tides of favor of Ikare and his troops.
And finally with a few final war cries the mock battle was finished with the “Lion” forces under the command of General Ikare winning the encounter. After a grueling almost 2 hour battle the young group of samurai had emerged victorious. They were given seats of honor beside Kioma’s box, where Daidoji Handen observes the festivities. From there, they found themselves the focus of the closing ceremonies for the morning portion of the festival before the festival opened out into the countryside beyond the city walls. Besides the seat of honor they were also awarded a silk ribbon.
During the last moments of the festival, a sense of serenity overtook the field. Samurai who had participated in the competitions stood before the crowds, and the monks of Yaruki Jukko, who had been working behind the scenes to pull all of the events together, finally appear among them. They carried wooden crates that presumably contained war-hawks trained by Lion falconers. The birds’ release into the sky was meant to officially mark the transition into the next phase of the festival’s ceremony. The crowds watched, hushed, as the birds were released, but a shuddering rumble arose when it is seen that they are not war-hawks at all. One hundred tiny doves pierced the sky above the fields, their white feathers soon nothing more than tiny flittering dots upon the cool blanket of afternoon blue. (Note: Doves – unlike hawks – are not a pleasant sight in Rokugan. They are an omen of war, and a harbinger of dark tidings.)
Immediately, a hushed gasp of shock ushered through the crowd, and the eyes of Kioma, Ikare, and others responsible for the festival turned to Noshin and his monks. A brief encounter followed between Noshin and Kioma, who is irate at the obvious insult the monks of Yaruki Jukko have made toward the castle and all its guests. He demands that they leave immediately. For his part, Noshin was apologetic and conciliatory, looking sidelong at his fellows half with confusion and half with thinly-veiled anger. The monks withdrew quietly, all rather flustered and not a little surprised by the doves themselves.
Shosuro realizes that there is definitely something more to the monks and Noshin then meets the eye and decides to take Shinjo with her to secretly follow Noshin. They disappeared into the crowd and discreetly followed Noshin till he reached the Shrine to Amaterasu. Seeing no one else around and feeling that enough time had passed to be appropriate Shosuro approached the monk to question him about what happened. It soon became obvious that Noshin was just as shocked by the events as everyone else. Shosuro was able to learn that his original name was Soshi Tankenka who served as a Shugenja for the Scorpion before retiring. As Shosuro was talking to Noshin, Shinjo noticed the shadonw of a man lingering around a nearby corner, as if listening. He gestured to the spot so Shosuro noticed and made his after who was ever spying on them. When Shinjo rounded the corner he saw an old man, feebly walking home. He made his way acroos the square and entered on of the private homes near the well. He sent his raptor with the command to get Shosuro and lead her back to him. When the bird appeared at Shosuro’s side she was startled but then realized that the bird was trying to guide her somewhere. She bowed to Noshin and apologized but she had pressing business elsewhere and Noshin nodded knowlingly and said it was not a problem and wished her luck.
When Shosuro got to Shinjo he reported what he had observed and pointed out the house. He had seen no one leave or go in since the old man walked in and the door was the only entrance. Shosuro and Shinjo look thru a couple of the windows and see no one inside and no one answered their calls when they knocked on the doors. They finally decided to simply walk inside and when they did they found the 2 room house completely empty. This puzzuled them for quite a bit and went off in search of the rest of their group to report their findings.
The rest of the companions had decided to look at a couple of the vendors and had dinner at the noodle house next to the sake warehouse. When they finished eating they decided to visit the sake warehouse where they were quickly soon met by Shinjo and Shosuro. After the stealthy pair had relayed their short story they realized something unusual was possibly happening around the festival. As they ate they heard unsettling rumors that some sort of monster had attacked someone at the Temple of the Fortunes. Curious they quickly finished up their drinks and made their across the town to the Temple of Fortunes. On the way they spotted Daidoji Handen having a very public lunch with Akodo Miko. Both are laughing, though Miko’s behavior is well within the boundaries of etiquette. Handen’s loud exhibition is blatantly shameful, a blemish upon his clan and an insult to the Lion (particularly Ikare, who is the subject of the scene he is causing). Kakita and Shosuro decided to intervene a bit on Akodo Miko’s behalf by summoning a servant and sending it over to her with the information that something wrong was happening at the temple which needed her attention. When the servant arrived Akodo Miko was able to excuse herself politely and made her way over to the young group. Shosuro hinted that they were rescuing her from the embarrassing situation but there really was supposedly something happening that her husband should probably look into. She thanked them for their assistance and made her thru the festival to find her husband as the group continued on their way to the Temple of the Fortunes.
They arrived at the Temple of the Fortunes to see a throng of people gathered before the Temple dedicated to the Fortunes. Their attention is rapt, focused upon the front of the structure. The group knew this was strange as it was dishonorable and unseemly to notice ouburts, scuffles and any other interaction that shame those involved. As they made their way thru the crowd they kept hearing people talking about the presence of a creature hidden within the temple. Once they made their way thru the crowd they saw a group of samurai in front of the double doors leading into the temple; a Hiruma Crab, a Daidoji from Handen’s entourage a Kitsu and an Ikoma. The gathered did not notice their presence until they were only a few feet from the men. The Hiruma was the first to see them and nods his head in respect to their equal station. The rest of the samurai bow and introduce themselves as Daiidoji Wiyuko, Hiruma Garie, Kitsu Tsuntsen and Ikoma Aseru. Hiruma Garie said that they should all wait as he had sent a messenger to a Kuni Witch Hunter within the city. The Kitsu and the Crane have little time for theory, too busy tossing thinly veiled insults at one another. And the Ikoma just watches the rest, curious at this odd circumstance. The Witch Hunter’s name is Kuni Udorei, and he is a very old man. He arrived through the crowd some ten minutes later with the leaden gait of a man who should have retired long ago. It takes him another three minutes to walk from the garden to the steps of the temple, where he turns slowly to the group of samurai and speaks directly to Garei, without bothering to bow.
“There is no Taint within,” he says simply in an aged, breathy voice, then begins the long trek back across the square. Hiruma Garie looks embarrassed and decides to accompany Kuni Udorei back to his room. Akodo Akio decides to take charge and with the agreement of his companions and directs them to positions in front of the Temple and opens the doors. When they open the doors they are presented with an eerie and hollow interior. All of the candles normally illuminating its interior have been douseds, and there is an unusual smell in the air, like that of rusted metal. Somewhere within they can hear a rumbling sound like grating stone. Akodo tried communicating with whatever is inside but is met only with silence. Leaving Shinjo and Shosuro to guard the door and watch the rafter covered ceilings the rest of the group slowly entered trying to peer into the barley lit surroundings. The main room is unremarkable, meditation mats placed about the central pillars and candle racks lining the wall. There is an altar at the far with one of the seven idols to the Major Fortunes. When they approached the altar, they saw a small (and recent) offering of rice, dried meat, and incense before the altar. As they looked around they saw a small creature approach them from the shadows. It looked humanoid, smaller but in rough proportion. It was thin, but not scrawny; its muscles lean beneath a rough hide-like skin. Its predominant features are its immense, pale colored, pupil-less eyes and a thick coat of hair that falls from the sides of its slender, rat-like face. It was wearing a thin parka-like dress made from a peasant fabric. It appeared to be female. Akodo and Kakita indentified it as a Zokujin; humanoid race who lived in the Spine of the World Mountains for a very long time and were connected with the Earth Element. They also served as miners from the Akodo clan for the many copper mines in the area. As the group starred at the strange creature they saw the hunched figure of one Kenson Gakka’s eta class enter. His clothes were filthy and he walked with the aid of a makeshift cane. He knelled before the samurai and did his best to explain his and the Zokujin’s presence. The man’s name was Hoji, and he was a caretaker who cleaned out the musty halls of the labyrinth deep beneath the castle. He knew the small zokujin better than any in the city, and had named several of them. He refers to the one present as Kakera (“morsel”), due to its small size and the many predatory beings that he claims inhabit the lower levels.
They looked at Kakera for an explanation. She spoke with a slow and methodical pattern, expressing little variation in vocabulary and an incredibly logical mind. “Recently”, Kakera says in a voice like an avalanche, “the zokujin population along Three Sides River has grown ill and haggard. This is due to the contamination of their natural food source – the ground-rocks of the area – by its runoff.”
The group questioned her why she thought such a thing and she explained that she was the local tribe’s Spirit-Speaker, similar to a Shugenja, and explained that:
“There is something very wrong with the Great Water,” she tells them. “We believe its spirit is gone. I came here to speak with the man who brought these.” Gesturing at the nearby offering. When asked why, she tells them that they “smell of the Great Water, a scent that has been long missing from its shores. Please help us or we will surely perish.
At this moment Matsu Kioma, finally having a free moment to investigate this disturbance, enters the temple. He is surprised by the zokijin’s presence and immediately presses for its return to the labyrinth, “Where its kind belongs”. Kakera looks to the group of young samurai for help and after they spoke on it’s behalf he agreed to not banishing it back to the labyrinth but the creature was there responsibility and its actions were their own. They reluctantly accepted the responsibility and Matsu Kioma stormed out with his entourage.
With Matsu Kioma gone the group discussed their options. Although Kakita and Akodo had some theological knowledge it was nothing in comparison to a shugenja’s. Shosuro told them that Noshin was a retired shugenja and as an enlightened monk from the local area would probably be the best source of help and information. Everyone agreed on this and decided to leave Shosuro with the zokujin and the eta in the temple while the rest go to the Shrine of Amaterasu where they had last seen Noshin. With the plan made Shosuro stayed at the temple and the rest journeyed onto the shrine.
As the young samurai passed a closed alleyway they spot one of Handen’s Crane yojimbo gambling at the end. A few of them also notice a curious red mark upon the back of the yojimbo’s neckline below the hairline. Not wishing to draw attention to the Crane’s dishonorable actions the group moved on. When they reached the Shrine of Amaterasu they could find no trace of Noshin. They debated on what to do for quite some time and finally, unable to figure out how to resolve the spirit issue without the assistance of Noshin, decided to track him down at the Yaruki Jukko Temple. They would first have to collect Shosuro and Kakera before heading out. As they passed the alleyway where they spotted the gambling Crane, Kakita took a moment to question the men she had seen the yojimbo gambling with as he was no longer there. They answered her questions quickly and it was apparent that they did not want to get the yojimbo in any trouble. Assured that they would not do anything that would dishonor the Crane, Kakita left the pair behind and caught up with the rest of her group.
On their way back to the temple, they saw far up on the ramparts of the fortress, the group see Akodo Ikare making the rounds and inspecting his men. As he approaches one of them, he begins screaming and pointing, though the young samurai could not make out the words. The guard seemed fearful, and backs away from him. This apparently enraged the general even further, and soon he bears down on the man, nearly pushing him over the rampart’s edge. Before anything permanent can occur, however, he rises up, screams out another order, and storms away. A few of the young samurai once again noticed a strange red dot on Akodo Ikare’s neck just like they had seen on the gambling Crane’s. Kakita could think of no poison or magic that would have such a effect and leave such a mark.
Meanwhile Shosro had decided to take matters into her own hands. Taking some of the old eta’s clothing she disguised herself as a lowly heimin and strapped Kakera onto her back as a child in hopes of her being able to find the scent of the man that had left the offering. She quickly moved unnoticed thruought the festival but to no avail. After spending all time she thought she could before her companions would return, Shosuro quickly made her way back to the temple and changed back into her kimono and gave the eta some money to get some new robes….and keep quiet about what he had seen. Luckily she was able to return and change a few minutes before her companions arrived back at the Temple to the Fortunes. They informed her of their plans and of what they had seen but Shosuro could not think of anything that the dots could signify either.
As the young samurais made their way to the stables they began to hear rumors that Akodo Ikare’s son, Ujide, had been kidnapped. Although the details were sketchy on the street the rumor was that the child had been stolen from its crib within the General’s quarters of the castle. The group tries to pursue the matter and find some strange rumors:
*Akodo Ikare’s wife, Miko, is distraught, and unable to leave her chambers. Her endless crying can be heard from the front gates of the fortress.
*The Crane ambassador, Daidoji Handen, had a couple of his yojimbo steal Ikare’s child. ‘After all, they are never with him. How are we to know where they are or what they are doing?”
*Guards were stationed outside the General’s quarters when the baby was stolen (and since the Crane arrived).
*The “copper-goblins” [zokujin] of the labyrinth were responsible for the theft of the child. They are going to use it to buy their freedom from the mines.
*Akodo Ikare is beside himself with grief, consumed with a violent rage that threatens all
those around him. He stalks the castle halls with open fury, storming through the chambers in search of his son
*“This is the vengeance of the Fortunes after the goblin defiled their temple.
*Many of Ikare’s soldiers are beginning to fear for his sanity.
*One of the castle guards was said to have seen Ikare sitting calmly within the garrison
offices, his face expressionless, immediately after hearing the news of his son’s abduction. Whether this was shock or something else, he could not tell
*This is kharma for the deaths of so many Scorpion six hundred years ago.
Uncertain of what to do the group decides to go see Matsu Kioma to inform him of their actions. When they reach them they can easily tell that he is doing his best to rally for the festivities to continue but he is begigin to show the strain of the abduction’s burden. His face appears more slomen, and his men are less animated then they were just over an hour ago. Daidoji Handen stands beside the Lion Daimyo everywhere he goes, a silent, impassive symbol of his clan’s capacity for kindness. Elsewhere they notice Ikare and his men scouring the city, searching for the child. Ikares rage is growing by the minute and they could his screams well beyond the buildings he storms through with uncaring brutality.
Akodo approached Matsu Kioma and told him all of what they had learned and their intentions. He also asked, politely and regretfully, if he could view Kioma’s neck for they had witnessed signs of unusual behavior in people all with red spots on the back of their necks. Kioma looks at him doubtfully but complies and Akodo can see no mark on the daimyo’s neck. Daidoji Handen also abided by the same request and he too bore no mark. With the Hour of the Monkey soon approaching and the late summer sun starting to lower in the sky, the group hastily made their way towards the stables and their mounts.
As they approached the stables Shinjo bade them to stop for he heard something like the yowl of an injured animal nearby. As he listnens for amoment it becomes clear that is the cry of a child, echoling through the area like a phanotom wind. Shinjo quickly leads them with his scout trained senses to a nearby well. The baby sounds scared and quite a ways down. After a quick debate Hida starts climbing down the well and as Hida descents he starts to thear the sound of running water beneath the wailing. Once at the bottom (some forty feet down), Hida could see the baby hanging precariously from a sharp root jutting out from the side of the well cavern. At first glance, it appears that the baby fell into the well, only saved by the sheer luck of having snagged upon the root. But when Hida looked closer he noticed that the child’s clothing has been carefully wrapped around the root and had an odd scent to him, like a dry talc of some kind. When Hida lifted the baby, his hands come away with sprinkles of white dust clinging to them (from moisture in the air causing the powder on the baby’s clothes to gel and stick).
Up above the rest of Hida’s companions had not been idle. Shosuro unwraps her obi, to the surprise of everyone there as its length is over double that of a normal obi and with a hook on its end, and asks to borrow some of her companion’s obi as well. Tying them together she quickly forms a strong rope and lowers the hook end of her own obi down for Hida to attach to the infant and raise the child up. Shinjo sends her hawk down as well with the command to watch over the toddler as they raised him up. Hida quickly ataches the hook to the child’s clothing and makes sure that it is securely wrapped before telling his companions to lift it up. At this point Hida notices that every action he is taking is harder then the last as it becomes more difficult to secure his grip on the walls. Not wanting to fall he calls upon his spirit to boost him up but his bad luck curse nearly causes him to fall before he can once again get his grip. Cursing the fates (and the GM!) he once again calls upon his connection to the void and successfully climbs out of the well.
While Akodo pulled the baby out, Shosuro ran back to Matsu Kioma to inform him of the good news. She got quite a few glances as a Scorpion running thru the Lion festival about the defeat of the Scorpion and not being properly dressed as her obi was being used as a rope. Shosuro ignored the obvious looks with her usual casual demeanor and smile and quickly caught up with Matsu Kioma. She bowed and apologized for her appearance but her companions had found General Akodo Ikare’s abducted son and were rescuing him as they spoke. Matsu Kioma quickly instructed guards to find Akodo and told Shosuro to lead the way. By the time they had returned Akodo had finished bringing the child up and Hida had come over the top of the well and cleaning himself off as Kakita inspected the child for any harm. Kakita informed Matsu that the child was safe and unharmed although a little cold. She did not mention the powder which they had indentified as Sanju powder, talc like substances ground from pollinating flowers of the Rokugani coastline, and favored by certain exclusive dojos though nowhere near here.
Eventually, Ikare appears and is overcome with relief at the recovery of his child, though Shosuro can tell that he his hiding something. When he picks the baby up he immediately notices the powder and his expression fades. Once again Shosuro notices that it was almost as if he was expecting the powder to be there. Moments later, Ikare takes his child and storms off, leaving the stunned group behind. Daidojii Handen immediately goes off in pursuit and with a look from Matsu Kioma the rest of the young group follows although Matsu goes back to give the people the good news.
Akodo Ikare strode directly toward the castle garrison, his soldiers following closely behind. He ignored all attempts to distract him, and all questions about his intent. The young group of samurai trail behind him as well, and receive uncertain glances from the soldiers in his command. Ikare is a man consumed, very nearly a force of nature.When he reached the garrison, Ikare requested his horse and gathers a guntui (squad) of five Lion cavalry to accompany him. He tells none of them where he intended to go, only passing his son into Miko’s thankful arms. As the squad of Lion cavalry prepare, Handen addresses Ikare courteously, bowing to his station, and asks if Ikare’s son is OK. Ikare answers that his son seems fine and identifies Hida and the rest who saved the boy, and Handen smiles broadly at them, nodding his head in thanks and recognition. When Handen asked Ikare’s destination, however, his smile fades. “Shinden Yaruki Jukko” is his only answer. Immediately, Handen calls for his own mount, as well as those of his yojimbo. He appears very concerned. It is obvious that his concern is more than an idle reaction to Ikare’s intensity; Daidoji Handen has a personal stake in this matter as the monks he had brought with him were staying at Shinden Yaruki Jukko.
The terrain en route to the temple was serene, a strange contrast to the emotions of the General and his companions. Handen focused his attention on the various rock formations throughout the hills, but obviously suppresses some inward burden. Kakita ask of it, so Handen tells them of the companions he left at Yaruki Jukko, and how he worries for their safety. The pace quickend the closer the party gets to the temple. By thirty minutes past sunset, they are nearly at a full gallop. The General will not be swayed from his consistent orders for more speed, and was not open in any way to dialogue. A few of the group checks to see if Ikare or his men bear the mark they had seen earlier and are able to indentify it on the neck of all 5 of the Lion calvary. They quietly inform Handen of the mark which confirms his suspicions that something strange has come over
the General and his men.
As they arrive at the temple, close to the start of the Hour of the Dog, Akodo Ikare ordered his men to dismount and “collect the monks”. Handen seemed ready to protest this action, but held his tongue for the moment, diligent in his diplomatic mission. The Akodo cavalry quickly dismount and stand before the temple, announcing themselves in loud, forthright tones. A moment later, several monks (three Scorpion and several Crane) appear at the doorway. At Ikare’s command, the monks lined up in the cool evening air outside the temple, eyeing the Lion General and his men nervously. Handen moved to flank them opposite the General while the young group of samurai remained mounted to the side.
Ikare questions the monks about the abduction of his son, at first attempting at equanimity, then ordering his “men” to kill them. Precisely at that moment Kakita Hikaru was finally able to figure out that; if it was neither poison nor magic ailment that had caused the marks it could only be one other thing:
“They are imposters!” yelled Kakita.
“Throat Guard!” commands Ikare reacting quickly to Kakita’s shout. The five “Akodo” quickly change their killing strikes into strikes that hang centimeters away from the monk’s throats although one of the Crane monks was able to completely dodge out of the way and stood standing a distance away staring in disbelief at the scene. With everyone still quite stunned Ikare spoke quietly but forcefully to Kakita:
“Kakita Hikaru, these are some of my most trusted men. Be careful what you say little Crane for to question the honor of my men is to question my own. Now what do you mean?”
Kakita quickly tells the story of all the actions they had witnessed and the evidence that this was clearly some sort of frame attempt by an outside party. Her story is backed up by Akodo and the rest of her companions. Calming down Ikare tells his men to stand down and to hand over their weapons so they could go to the garrison and sort this whole thing out. His men obey unquestionably and they are soon disarmed.
But just as they about to get under way Shinjo spots an archer on the roof of the Temple. Although Shinjo calls his Dai-Kyu of Anekkusai to his hand and releases two arrows he is unable to do so before Hida is struck in his unarmed chest by a flesh cutter arrow. The archer, wounded disappears beneath the roof of the building. Akodo quickly ran behind Shinjo’s horse and jumped up behind him yelling at Shinjo to pursue the attacker. Shinjo grins and kicks his horse into action. Akodo almost decides his idea was a bad one when Shinjo charged the 15ft wall with all indication that he was going to jump it. Shinjo gave his steed a mighty kick as it leaped over the wall and landed, surprisingly gracefully, on the opposite side. Not seeing their assailant Shinjo quickly finds the tracks leading off into the forest. They see their target moving swiftly thru the trees as if they were not even there but Shinjo’s Unicorn steed was up for the chase. But just as they neared their target Akodo notices an ambush for them with at least a Kaisha (120 men company) in size. He quickly pointed it out to Shinjo and they quickly turned around before reaching the ambush point and rode as fast as they could back towards the monastery. When they reached the Temple once again Shinjo got his daredevil grin and jumped the wall again although this time Akodo was more amused and impressed then terrified.
After only being gone for a little bit the group had only just finished getting ready to head out and Kakita was finishing patching up Hida’s arrow wound. Akodo Akio told Ikare the archers he had seen and they quickly geared up and made their way quickly down to the Lion Outpost/ Garrison down at the Three Sides River. Before they could reach even halfway they spotted a zokujin at the side of the road. It came up and addressed Kakeru, who had been bundled up hidden behind Shosuro the entire time, that they had found a man trapped in an air spell in the labyrinth. It seemed to be an older looking monk. They quickly realize that the monk mentioned most be Noshin who was still there best interest to finding the spirit of the river even with other troubles going around. After a quick debate they decided to leave the imposters in the care of Handen, Ikare and Handen’s yojimbo and follow the zokujin into the labyrinth. Shinjo told his horse to go back to the temple and to take the rest of the mounts with them. With a quick neigh and a stomp Shinjo’s steed set off towards the temple with the rest of the groups mounts following behind.
It takes them quite a while to navigate the labyrinth from their point of entrance to where Noshin was entrapped passing a gate towards the underground river on the way. They were guided by Kakera and her follow zokujin to their destination before finally finding Noshin trapped in part of the original hidden Scorpion headquarters within Kenson Hakka’s labyrinth.
The trap was based on the principle of distraction, the magic of the room reflect infinitesimal sounds made within back upon those inside, producing an effect similar to the “Wind’s Distractions” spell, but far more powerful (and, in theory, permanent). As the effect is Air-based and the zokujin – though magical in nature – are attuned with the Element of Earth, they are particularly susceptible to the trap and could not attempt a rescue on their own. Once the group of young of young samurais reached Noshin, they had to overcome the effects of the distraction room. Within the chamber they could see Noshing swaying back and forth as if mesmerized by some unseen force. None of their attempts to get his attention succeed. Akodo decides he will try to go in the room and get Noshin out as he was the strongest. As he entered the room they realized it was not physical strength that was needed by physical reflexes. Akodo was quickly entrapped in the spell as well but thanks to his sacrifice it was clear the necessary skill needed to bybass the trap. Kakita, being the individual with the quickest physical responses nibly made her way in and quickly got the group out.
Noshin thanked them and Kakera indentified him as the man who smelled like the water sprit. Noshin seemed surprisised that the zokujin could tell and explained his situation to the youn group of samurai:
“On rare occasions, kami awaken from the basic kami that the shugenja pray to in order to perform their spells and take human form – perhaps to better interact with humans, or maybe just to disguise themselves. One of these beings, named Sanshien after the Three Sides River which it guides, chose to take the form of the shinpu of the Yaruki Jukko temple. It was the reason that I came to the temple; it had called me there. It could no longer sustain that form and wanted still find a way to assist the temple and the area around it. I and the kami decided to join forms. Shortly thereafter, I adopted the single name “Noshin” and became the shinpu guiding the temple. Now two separate mentalities currently exist within the body of the man formerly known as Soshi Tankenka. But instead of warring with one another, we have formed an union. The man known as Noshin is no longer kami or man, but an amalgam of both. How long we can maintain this balance can be maintained is anyone’s guess. Mentally and spiritually, I believe I have moved on to a higher level. I think that the emptiness within me has only bettered me, allowing me to plumb my own inner spiritual depths without hindrance. Yet I still looks on myself as merely an adept of life. If I accept my state, I shall stop growing, and might as well commit seppuku.”
Noshin was unaware of the effect he had upon the river with the kami inside him and swore to Kenkara to fix the situation once this current affair was all taken care of. Kenkera thanked him and said that she would now leave to inform the rest of her people that salvation was at hand.
But as the group was trying to figure out how to get Noshin out and listnening to his tale. Bayushi Sozui, the archer who had attacked Hida and the mastermind behind this entire event had followed them into the labyrinth. She refrained from attacking the group directly, as she prefered to ensnare (and hopefully kill) them instead. She watched them from the shadows for a moment, considering her options As none of them spotted her she took a barrel of oil from the storage rooms and left a trail all the way around their position. With her work done she picks up a torch and steps into the dim light for them to see her. The group was shocked to see her but before they could react she told them not to move or she would light them on fire. The group suddenly notices the smell of oil and realizes that the area is covered in it and the mysterious woman was holding a lit torch. She starts to gloat that she finally was going to be able to kill them after they had caused her so many problems here and especially Hida who should have taken the offer from her back in Tsuma when he had the chance. Shosuro told them that this must be Bayushi Sozui, an instigator of the Scorpion clan but was not officially sanctioned due to her extreme measures. Bayushi Sozui told her to mind her place and looked at Shinjo to yell at him for shooting her so many times when Hida interrupted her and demanded what she wanted. Not have the satisfaction of gloating Sozui fine and dropped the torch which quickly spread into a fire surrounding them. Kakita, who had been paying attention to the route there, quickly guided them back towards their entrance but the Sozui had blocked that path with fire too. With no other option they headed towards the gate to the underground river.
The only barrier between them and freedom will be a single locked gate between the labyrinth and the tunnel system, which Sozui graciously sealed after returning from the temple. The lock was several feet beneath the surface, at a location that was once a lower level of the labyrinth. Quickly assessing the situation, Akodo jumped into the river and with a mighty blow of his no-dachi quickly broke the lock. They took a breath and opened the door being sweaped into the underground river. As they resurfaced they quickly regrouped and tried to get their bearings. Noshin was quite comfortable in the water and told them that they were in the underground river that Kenson Gakka and the temple used as a water source. Eventually it came out into the Three sides River but they should be heading under the Temple first.
With that news Shosuro once again got her obi unraveled revealing the curved hook at its end. She waited patiently until they saw starlight from a well up ahead. With a mighty throw Shosuro threw the hooked end and caught the under lip of the opening into the well. With her companions linked to her one by one they climbed up out of the river where Shosuro once again thru her hook up to catch the top of the well to assist their climbing. When they came out they saw three of the Crane monks staring at them with amused looks on their faces. They bowed before Noshin and explained to them all that the Lion garrison had been overrun by Scorpion forces. They did not what had happened to Akodo Ikare or Daidoji Handen. They suggested the young group ride, as Shinjo’s steed had arrived earlier with the rest of the mounts, back to Kenson Gakka and warn Matsu Kioma of a possible Scorpion invasion. As the rest of the group got their steed’s ready the monks took Kakita aside to speak with her privately for a bit. Once finished the monks grabbed yaris out of a nearby bush and set off into the fields. Within seconds they had disappeared.
The group quickly rode back to Kenson Gakka arriving at the beginning of the Hour of the Rat. At the gate Akodo Akio told the gatekeepers to expect a full scale attack at any moment and rode quickly straight to the palace to request an audience with Matsu Kioma. The rest of the group made their way to inform Isawa Masanori, who had been using this day to catch up on some much needed rest, about the events that had happened and the possible future. Akodo Akio was quickly granted an audience with Matsu Kioma despite the late hour and Akodo did his best to inform the daimyo of all he knew. Kioma remained callm thourought the explanation only questioning at specific details. Once Akodo was done Matsu summoned his commanders, although Akodo Ikare was obvious in his absence, and told them to sound the alarm and prepare for battle. He warned that the were to not engage in open ground with the Scorpion as they had a hidden company of archers in the hills. He then bade Akodo to go and talk to Isawa for he would like to know what the old shugenja had to say and what his actions on the morrow would be.
Meanwhile his companions had been filling Isawa and Shiba in on the details and Hida was resting for he had not fully healed from the arrow attack from earlier. They decided that they would work as diplomats and talk to the Scorpion as a unbiased third party. As long as the Scorpion were respectful they would stay out of the battle but Isawa had no tolerance for rude fools. Akodo brought the information back to Matsu Kioma who was in deep conversation with a fully armoered Akodo Miko. She asked Akio if he knew what had happened to her husband butt Akodo Akio had no new information for her. She nodded and, once Akodo had given Isawa’s message and been dismissed, resumed her battle preparations with her daimyo. With that the group rested with Hida asking Kakita if she could check on his wound in the morning.
The next morning, at the Hour of the Hare, the group prepared themselves for war. Kakita finished administering healing medicine to Hida’s wound bring him back to full fighting capacity. The Scorpion army, under the command of General Bayushi Kaseru, were prepared in the open field just ouside bow range of the wall of Kenson Gakka. Bayushi Kaseru said they were taking Kenson Gakka in retribution of Akodo Ikare’s dishonorable treatment of their retired monks. There was some obvious grumbling about such an acusation among the Lion troops but they stayed quiet.
Shiba Yosuhiro, in full battle armor and wielding a naginata thae group had never seen him use, made his way out to the army to speak with the general. The group watched as the pair talked for a bit before the Scorpion laughed and turned his back on Shiba to make his way back to his army. Matsu Kioma and the Setsuban Festival caravan anxiously awaited Shiba’s return. When Shiba came back he informed them that, although the Scorpion had no quarrel with the Setsuban Festival caravan for their fight was only with the Lion of Kenson Gakka in retaliation for Ikare’s behavior, he had said that the weak, pacifist Phoenix should go back to their libraries where they belong. Isawa smiled the same smile when he had asked Kakita and Shosuro if they would like to fight their way out of the Mantis lands and said he would stay and fight but the rest of the group could make their own decisions. Shosuro said she would not fight her clan openly but would assist Matsu Kioma in finding any remaining hidden saboteurs. Akodo said he would obviously fight and Hida wanted to join as well, Kakita reluctantly agreed to join them as she did not want to leave her companions stranded and with her agreement Shinjo joined in as well. The Tortoise were instructed to guard the caravan and if the Scorpion broke thru to do their best to complete the mission. Isawa would stay with the reserves to assist the few Lion shugenja in battle with Shiba loyally by his side. The young samurai decided they would be at the very front of the battle to better earn glory and honor.
Afterwards Bayushi Kaseru brought out the some of Lion troops they had defeated at the Lion garrison, ordering his men to brutally butcher the Lion, making a point of running the bodies over with cavalry or pinning them upon the field of battle with lances. And then ordered his men to attack. As the young group prepared to charge Hida yelled to them all:
“You better are stay alive as I still have your haikus. “
The young grop of samurai charged in the front of the battle. As they clashed they spotted the Scorpion standard bearer! The companions charged forward to engage the lone standard bearer. They attacked him as a group, striking from all sides. He put up a fair fight, but was quickly overwhelmed. As he fell, Hida took the Scorpion standard. With their goal reached, and the prize in hand, the companions began to flee back to the safety of the reserves. Twice the group was forced to engage Scorpion soldier sent to stop them. Both times they defeated the Scorpion soundly. One Scorpion in particular had his arm removed completely by Hida’s Thumb Wrench. Finally, the companions reached the Lion reserves and handed over the standard.
With the Scorpion standard taken they quickly lost the morale to fight and were soon routed from the field. The Lion were victorious but exhausted. Meanwhile Shosuro had been dealing with several saboteurs with a squad of Matsu bushi at her side. Although injured she was able to prevent them from getting to the gates, stopping them from setting fire in the labyrinth beneath the sake brewery and several sabotage attempts.
With the battle finished, and half the day wasted in Isawa’s opinion, the group quickly cleaned up and prepared to set out. They apologized to Matsu Kioma for their necessary quick departure but the daimyo understood the demands of duty and thanked them for their heroic assistance. The group departed out of the northern gate and made quick time to the next waystation where they quickly cleaned up before falling exhausted in their respective beds. It seemed that the foretelling of the Fortune of Heroic Battle and Guidance, Megumi, at their genpukku was going to bring interesting aspects to their fate…..