With only a little time before the ceremony Hida, Akodo and Shosuro quickly run for the baths to clean up from their excursions while Shinjo and Kakita simply brush out their things and make sure they are presentable. After the baths the three samurai quickly prepared themselves in their finest clothing before heading downstairs in time for them to leave for the ceremony. The Kitsu Tombs were just a short ride from the Castle of the Swift Sword and they arrived in under an hour. Although the Kitsu Tombs was not the ancestral home of the Kitsu family it was the seat of their power, and all the greatest Kitsu heroes had their remains interred here. Most other Lion families had their dead placed in the Hall of Ancestors. Shiba’s horse carried the scroll chest and once they arrived at the at the Kitsu Tombs set the ornate chest down in an area obviously cleared for the ceremony. Introductions were made and the ceremony was started. With his normal flourish Isawa went thru the unsealing ritual for the chest as the Kitsu shugenja’s bought out their scrolls for the festival. Once the scrolls were received and sealed inside the chest the group quickly bid their farewells and returned to the inn.
At the inn Isawa informed them that due to the delays presented in their route by the necessary trip to the Mantis the caravan would not have enough time to travel to Shiro Agasha and retrieve the Dragon scrolls and still make it to the Shrine of the Ki-rin before the festival was to take place. Because of this Isawa and Shiba, would once again depart the caravan and pick up the scrolls from Shiro Agasha and meet up with them as the Shirine of the KKi-rin. Since Kakita had done such a good job of protecting the caravan last time she was once again in charge until his return. He would be departing once they reached Toi Koku. From Toi Koku it would take them approximately ten days to reach the Shrine giving them about one day of delay if necessary. He then went over the map with Kakita and the rest pointing out the trail that would be using to get thru the mountains to reach the Shrine once they left the Emperor’s Road. He also pointed at their crossing for the next day: Obroreshinu Boekisho Kawa. With a name like Drowned Merchant River, Hida was obviously curious on its origins. Shosuro explained that, in the 9th century a group of bandits attacked a prominent merchant and tortured him and his family, eventually drowning them in the river. Local peasants said the ghosts of the family haunted the banks of the river, but that was mostly local peasant superstition.
Once everything was fully discussed they group went to bed although Hida prayed to Megumi for some protection from spirits
The next morning, the 28th of Monkey, the group awoke to cross out of the Lion lands into the lands of the Dragonfly. As they departed the seamstress from the night before, clearly haggled and with no sleep, ran up to give Hida his kimono which she had just barely been able to prepare in time. Hida thanked her for her hard work and the caravan quickly moved towards the north. Hida asked Shosuro a bunch of questions concerning ghosts and how often Shosuro dealt with them. Shosuro explained that she was knowledgeable on the subject as they were hobby of her and did try to find them when she could but that did not “deal” with them often. She explained that jade was the only way to actually harm them and, like taint, was the only real protection from them. She then showed her gold plated jade coin and explained how it could be thrown at a ghost or given as payment to one in order to stop them from moving. Hida considered all this and asked “Can I grapple with them?” Shosuro simply shook her head and tried not to laugh at the innocent and perplexed expression on Hida’s face. He then asked about Bayushi Sozui and Shosuro explained that she was a Scopion Instigator with training as a bushi and disguise but was a “unstable and unsanctioned” individual who did not operate with the backing of the Scorpion clan, practically a ronin. Understanding Hida moved back up to the front of the caravan at his usual place alongside Akodo.
A few hours before dark they reached the Drowned Merchant River and quickly boarded a rope barge to cross the several mile wide river. When they reached the other side they were told of a decent camp site nearby. They quickly made their way over and made camp and prepared watches for the night. Hida decided to take first watch and was the first one to notice the faint glow approaching the campsite. The glow soon resolved into a pair of harrowing figures- the merchant and his wife, glowing white in the moonlight. Their eyes were empty sockets and their faces were drawn with pain and horror. As they approached they gave a hideous howl into the sky, screaming:
”Where is the blood of my children? Where are the men who tore them from me?
The howl quickly awoke the rest of the caravan. The tortoise and Shosuro, upon seeing the ghosts, could not abide the horror they inspired and ran screaming in terror into the darkness. Akodo almost joined them but his strength of honor and will kept him in place. Kakita quickly reached for her bag of jade dust and commenced spreading it over her katana as she watched and Isawa scrambled for his scroll case looking for an appropriate spell to banish the ghosts. In answer to the ghost’s question, a quartet of smaller ghosts, two boys and two girls, appeared in the middle of the camp. They were eyeless, like their parents, and their small bodies were run through with arrows and nage-yari. They held out their arms and rushed wailing towards their mother and father but vanished again just before they met. Their screams turned to agonizing screeches and then to horrible wet gurgle that slowly dies down. The two parents stood aghast, then held out their hands pleading to the caravan:
”The line of my ancestors ended with their murder. The cries of countless unborn cannot be silenced with time. Tell me that justice has been brought to their butchers that I may finally rest in peace.”
Akodo, realizing that who had ever performed the murder was long dead, tried to comfort them wit the fact. The ghost understands that nothing can be done to avenge them, rise into the air. Their moans turned to shrieks like those of their children, and as they vanish into the night sky, the horrible gurgles of the drowned follow after them. With the ghosts gone they checked on their horses and went out to gather those who had fled. Although their honor was tainted they did not speak of their actions. Upon inspection their hair had gained a streak of white for their troubles although Shosuro’s had no such marking. With everything gathered the group slowly went back to sleep and the rest of the nigh passed without incident.
The following morning the characters take the time to performa purification ritual to honor the departed ghosts. Isawa performs a Blessing of Purity ritual which took an hour but would prevent the spirits from tormenting the caravan again. The next several days pass without incident with Hida practicing his courtship and proper speech with Shosuro and Kakita and taking the time to practice with Akodo as well for their new martial art. At night Kakita played her biwa for the caravan. Finally on their third day out of Castle of the Swift Sword they reached Toi Koku.
The Distant Paddy Village was where merchants came to deliver rice to the Dragon Clan. Although the Dragon were very different from the other clans they still needed to eat, and the mountains did not grow crops very well. As they looked for an inn they noticed a vast quanity of rice and other food merchants and their produce all being prepared to be shipped north into the Dragon lands. They quickly find an inn and Isawa tells them that he had arranged another shugenja to accompany them while he was gone and that he would be joining them for dinner in about an hour. Until then they had time to themselves. Akodo, Shosuro and Shinjo take the time to relax but Kakita decided to check out the village and Hida went to converse with the Tortoise. Hida found the Tortoise in the stables and asked Yuri and Shinobu if he could give the their Haiku’s he had promised. They gratefully accepted and arranged themselves to hear the poetic young Crab:
Dance of affection
The strength of heart is woven
Path of feelings true
Scatter or spread
They adorn and they protect
Gifts of the oceans
Yuri laughed a little at Hida’s view of courtship and jokingly reminded him that it had nothing to do with affection and everything to do with “reward” with a wink and a nod.
Meanwhile Kakita was viewing the large amount of food trade going on in Toi Koku. As she walking around she heard her name called and quickly saw Mirumoto Uriko jogging up to met her. They greeted each other respectfully and talked about what each had done since their genpuku at the Topaz Championship. Mirumoto Uriko had been put in charge of coordinating and defending all the food supply for the upcoming “large amount of guests” that the Dragon were suspecting. Kakita knew about the rumors that the Dragon were hosting the Imperial Court and nodded sagely back. Mirumoto had also heard of some of the adventures that the caravan had run across but wasn’t sure what was true and what pure gossip and rumor. Kakita told her several of the things that had happened and Mirumoto seemed pleased that Kakita had accomplished so much in the 6 months since she had last seen them. Mirumoto invited Kakita for dinner and talk but Kakita regretfully already had obligations. Mirumoto was saddened by the news but understood duty and invited her to continue this conversation if she found herself invited to the “Dragon” winter festivities.
At dinner back at the inn Isawa introduced everyone to Tonbo Taiga, a Dragonfly shugenja who used be a student of his. Taiga greeted everyone and quickly got to know eachother. It seemed that Tobo had studied both at the Dragon and Phoenix shugenja schools and wished to create a Shugenja school for the Dragonfly. Everyone agreed that it was a honorable and glorious objective and wished him luck and appreciated his assistance in the coming travels. Kakita asked him about any legends, myths or other dangers in the road ahead as her group had a tendency to draw them out. Tonbo was intrigued by this declaration and quickly gathered some of the adventures the group had been on in the last six months. With this new information he pondered and told them the only unusual thing would be the destroyed Snake Clan but that was several hundred miles north of their destination. Besides that just several peasant rumors about monsters and gajin in the mountains but nothing to be afraid of. Kakita also told everyone of her run in with Mirumoto Uriko and her hints at the Imperial Court being held in the Dragon lands. They talked about winter court in general and Isawa also issued them an invitation to the Phoenix winter court if they wanted to accept. Eventually the conversation died off and the group headed for bed.
The next morning they parted ways with Isawa and Shiba and made their way north to Kyuden Tonbo. The trip was uneventful with the group getting to know Tonbo Taiga better on the ride. Around later afternoon the caravan was halted by a Mirumoto patrol lead by a Dragonfly samurai-ko named Tonbo Sako. She asked for their papers and then pointedly asked if they had any business or information they wised to pass on to the Dragon lands. Kakita just passed on that Isawa Masanori was on his way to Shiro Agasha and should arrive soon. Besides that they had no business of importance with the Dragon besides the caravan moving thru its lands to the Setsuban Festival. With everything in order the patrol escorted them onwards to Kyuden Tonbo where they would spend the night before departing from the Emperor’s Road to go thru the mountains to the Shrine of the Ki-Rin and the Setsuban Festival.