As Isawa gave them a disappointed look he turned his gaze to the approaching Mantis Samurai, over a hundred strong, as they ran up the hill towards the tip of the overlooking sea cliff. The Mantis quickly surrounded them as an officer stepped up and asked what had occurred. Isawa explained that someone had poisoned the tea with some sort of hallucinogenic poison. After a quick discussion they took everyone still alive but unable to move under their own power from the cliff in stretchers and summoned eta to take care of the dead. Those able to walk were commanded to do so although Shinjo stayed on top of his horse.
Meanwhile back at the castle entrance Akodo was able to lean up a bit and move on his own thanks to the care of Hida. Looking around he noticed the increasing number of guards, numbering over a hundred by this point, watching the young samurai with their hands near their daishos and yari’s at the ready. There was even a circle of archers towards the back. Finally an officer appeared and demanded explanations. Akodo and Hida did their best to explain that they only knew that without provocation or explanation the Mantis Courtiers started attacking everyone as four of the yojimbos just collapsed. Afterwards everything got chaotic as the courtiers from both clans started attacking everyone. The officer seemed doubtful of this although could not dispute the claims of the guests.
As the rest of group arrived, along with their large and well armed escort, they were deposited collectively and told to tell the story one more time. After once again affirming what happened they were allowed to return to their rooms. A healer was also brought for those injured and had their wounds tended to. As they entered the palace a guard took their weapons per usual leaving them armed with only their wakizashi. He also confirmed that Shosuro had given him all her weapons. She was asked three times and each time before the last she removed a few more hidden weapons stowed away in her clothing. Finally they were escorted to the floor with their rooms in them with a guard posted at the end of the hall. Each person went thru their typical nightly rituals with a few exceptions; Kakita started composing a song using her biwa. Hida went to Shinjo’s room to share the information he had gathered from Esteban Cornejo. They spend a while going over the words phonetically to their amusement. Kitsu prepared himself to go to the spirit realm to help those slain today cross over to their final resting realm.
As Kitsu finished his preparation he put on his spirit mask and sent his spirit in search of the slain men. After a while of searching the only one he found was the spirit of the Crane courtier he had personally killed as it seemed the rest had found their way without assistance. Kitsu manifested a spirit daisho to help the spirit reclaim his identity and guided him towards the bridge to Yomi, Realm of the Blessed Ancestors. As he got closer to the bridge Kitsu and the spirit both noticed a large mass of darkness approaching them quickly. Kitsu ordered the spirit to run and he also ran towards the bridge. The darkness caught up to them as they approached the bridge and attacked Kitsu trying to rip off his mask as Kitsu put himself in between the darkness and the crane sprit. Although Kitsu told the spirit to run towards the gates on the other side the spirit was too terrified to move. Kitsu then decided it was time to fight and summoned an Akodo bushi, Kakita Rensei and Shosuro Itode. As he finished his prayer he saw the gates to Yomi open and an Akodo warrior in armor several centuries out of date, Kakita Rensei and Shosuro Itode all fly thru the air and slam into his back melding with his spirit. The spirit tried attacking him again but was unable to overpower Kitsu’s will. Kitsu then attacked with everything he had. The attack sliced thru the darkness ripping it into may shreds. The shreds quickly started to reform but Kitsu attacked again ripping it even farther. Seeing that it would take time for it to heal Kitsu grabbed the Crane Courtier’s spirit and rushed towards the gate to Yomi and almost threw the spirit inside. He then went back to the darkness and continued attacking it. He was able to open it almost all the way to the center of the huge being and when he stared into it all he saw was nothingness staring back shocking Kitsu and forcing him to stumble backwards. The darkness continued to heal itself and Kitsu though he could see thousands of hidden screaming faces inside of it. Understanding that he could not defeat this being Kitsu forced his spirit back towards his body. AS his spirit rushed thru the spirit realm back towards his body he saw the darkness giving chase. Rushing across the sea he saw the spirit form of Kyuden Gotei looming in the distance. As he approached the darkness was almost upon him when a sudden bright red glow emitted from inside Kyuden Gotei with an almost blinding light stunning the darkness as it tried to reach out and grab Kitsu. Not looking back Kitsu slammed his spirit into his body and awoke screaming.
Meanwhile Shinjo and Hida were having a great time wording out the strange gajin language. Neither of them was sure if they were pronouncing it correctly or even what they were saying but progress is progress and the sounds coming from their lips were amusing to the pair of them. All of a sudden, all the red crystals on Hida’s armor begun to shine with a blinding light forcing Hida and Shinjo to cover their eyes and blink in the sudden brightness. A few moments later the crystals dimmed leaving them wondering the cause or such a bizarre sight. And then they heard Kitsu start screaming. They rushed out into the hall, along with Kakita and Akodo who had also heard the screaming, rushing towards Kitsu’s door. Hida knocked violently on the door asking if Kitsu was alright. Only hearing a few gasping moans coming from the other side Hida tossed etiquette to the wind and slammed open the door. They found Kitsu wearing a strange mask, sitting in the middle of a ring of candles and incense, rocking himself gently and moaning to himself. Shosuro appeared at this point as she had heard the knocking and slamming of the door by Hida. As the group made their way over to the sodan-senzo Akodo was the first to ask if he was alright. After a few calming breaths Kitsu begun to explain what had happened, including the importance of the fact that the darkness had tried to take off his mask because if that was too happened Kitsu’s spirit would become lost and not be able to return to his body. Deciding that they needed someone with more experience Kakita told the guard to Mantis guard at the end of the hallway to summon Isawa Masanori.
After a while Isawa arrived. He was definitely grumpy to be summoned late at night again but listened with patience to Kitsu’s story and Hida telling of the effect of his armor. Isawa had no real information about this darkness that Kitsu had witnessed but he would bring the information to the Council of Five when he returned to the Phoenix Clan and advised Kitsu to do the same to the shugenja leaders of the Lion clan. He also told them not to worry on any physical manifestation of the darkness here in Kyuden Gotei as it was protected by powerful magic to keep such things from occurring. With that he bid them to try to stay out of trouble for the rest of the evening and to join him in the morning for breakfast. With that he bid them all a good night and went back to his room. Kitsu assured his companions that he would be ok and they also said goodnight to one another and went back to their respective rooms to sleep.
The next morning the group awoke and made their collectively down to breakfast. Shinjo kept his quiver on him in the hopes that they would be able to depart soon. They were escorted to a private room and were served breakfast. Not long after they had sat down they were joined by Isawa Masanori and Shiba Yosuhiro. They continued to eat breakfast until a guard came by and issued them each a letter. He was quickly followed by a large amount of guards who proceeded to surround the room using the hallways on the outside standing with their backs towards the paper walls. As everyone read the letters it was a accusation of aggression against the Mantis and their Crane allies citing them as the party responsible for the poisoning and death of the diplomats and their yojimbos. Everyone reacted with outrage at such an accusation. The deliverer of the letter asked that they remain where they were and to not to try to leave the room. With that he bowed and left. Isawa seemed a little bemused by the whole situation and told everyone to remain calm. Someone more important would come and tell them the details of the situation.
A little while later Doji Hiroyuki came in and joined them. Everyone bowed respectively before asking if he knew what was going on and why they were blamed for the poisoning and the deaths of th courtiers. He replied he did and that he had helped draft the letter. It seemed the peace between the Mantis and Crane was a tedious thing and they were hoping to use the investigation into them as a public smoke screen to appease everyone while searching for the real culprit. Isawa Masanori pointed out that he was on a schedule and needed to be leaving Kyuden Gotei by the next morning. Doji Hiroyuki bowed in response and said he understood. He would do everything in his power to make such a thing possible. He also made it understood politely that this incident should remain a private one and was not for general knowledge. Once that was finished he asked if any of them knew what had happened to Doji Maeme as it appeared that he had disappeared at some point. The last Doji Hiroyuki had seen of him was the night before when Maeme woke up screaming. He had assured Hiroyuki that he was fine but in the morning he had disappeared. Although a few of the group threw questioning glances at each other they assured Doji Hiroyuki that they did not know what had happened to his assistant. He thanked them for understanding and made his way out.
The group looked around at each other and pondered what to do. Isawa said he was going to take a nap and leaned himself against a wall and closed his eyes. Shosuro decided to share another story with everyone, although she promised that this one was not dirty. So she told the story of why the sea is salty….:
The story of why the sea is salty starts with two brothers. One is very poor and the other one is very rich. One day during a festival the poor man and his wife sit for the celebrating meal when they realize they do not have enough rice. The poor man goes to his brother, who lives on an island close to the village, to ask for a barrel of rice. When he asked his rich brother for a barrel the rich brother said he could not spare a whole barrel for then he would not be able to feed his own large family. The poor brother nodded and asked if he could at least take a bowl. The rich brother gave him a bowl of rice and apologized for not being able to give him more. On the way back to this house the poor brother met an old beggar. Seeing the old man the poor brother gave him some of the rice he had just received from his rich brother. The old beggar decided to tell the poor man a secret as a reward for his generosity. He told him that in a wall near by was a empty hole. If the poor man looked inside he would see a bunch spirits. He told the poor brother to give some of the rice to the small spirits he saw inside. When offered a reward he should accept only for their stone mortar and pestle. With the mortar he could have everything he ever wanted. The poor man followed the old beggars instructions to the letter and forced the spirits to give him the mortar and pestle as reward for the rice. They told him he simply had to say “Magic mortar, magic mortar make me X” and it would make what ever he had commanded. To make it stop he simply had to tell it “Magic Mortar Stop! That is enough!” The poor man took the magic item back to his family and they made enough rice for the entire village. When the rich brother learns of this he goes to this brother’s to demand an explanation. The poor brother tells his rich brother the story and the rich brother demands that he give him the magic mortar for it was his rice that his brother had given to the spirits. Accepting this as true the poor brother gave the magic mortar to his rich brother. The rich brother quickly raced back home before his poor brother could finish explaining how the magic mortar worked. When he got on his boat he brought out some rice cakes his wife had made him for the trip.As he bit into one he realized that a little salt would make them a lot better. So he commanded the magic mortar to make him salt. But he could not make it stop for his greed and had made him leave with haste and not learn the command phrase to stop the mortar. The weight of the salt sank the boat, drowning the rich brother. To this day the mortar lies at the bottom of the ocean making salt. And that is why the sea is salty”.
Everyone nodded and thanked Shosuro for her story. They continued talking about random things but noticed that Shinjo was doing something with a hidden compartment inside his quiver. He seemed to be tying twine in the same way he did for his fireworks. No one said anything because they did not want to alert the guards to whatever Shinjo was doing. After a while they heard people coming down the hallways. A few seconds later all the guards kneeled as Yoritomo burst thru the door and started demanding how they had helped Doji Maeme escape. Kitsu answered that they had done nothing of the sort. Yoritomo did not believe them and asked if they had nothing to do with Maeme’s disappearance what they were doing conspiring in Kitsu’s room the night before. Hida said that Kitsu had been upset about the man he had killed and again Kitsu said they had nothing to do with the disappearance. He also reminded Yoritomo that he was a full blooded Kitsu and as a consequence could not lie. With a grunt of disgust he told them that they were free to leave and he would appreciate if they would leave as soon as possible. They all bowed as Yoritomo left and Isawa got up and told everyone to meet him in the courtyard outside as quickly as they could. They nodded and everyone hurriedly gathered their belongings and made there way outside. As they exited the palace they were given their weapons back. The Tortoise were waiting with the scrolls and caravan and once everyone was ready they headed out. As they went thru the nearby the town the celebration was still going as it seemed that the news of what had happened had not been told to the general populace.
They traveled for several hours when the sun begun to set. Isawa told Shinjo to scout ahead and find a suitable camping site. Shinjo moved ahead and found a great campsite with flowing water and even a small hot spring near by. It had obviously been used many times as a campsite by other travelers and had a small fire pit. Everyone was happy to rest for the night and even took turns going to the hot springs and relaxing. Everyone was still tired after the stressful day and watchs were quickly determined with Hida taking part of second watch and Shinjo taking first along with some of the tortoise. With the camp set and everyone cleaned and relaxed people were quickly asleep. First watch was uneventful and the night was calm. Hida was woken up some time later for second watch by Shinjo who quickly went to sleep. About an hour later Hida was patrolling about hundred feet from the camp when an arrow hit in the chest. Hida was stunned a bit and focused himself on defense only trying to determine the location of the archer. Before he could yell for assistance he was hit again causing him to start losing blood from the wound. With his yell everyone awoke and full combat commenced:
Kakita: Run all the way up to Hida
Archer: Shoot Hida in the leg causing a bloody gash.
Tortoise: Fan out
Shosuro: Try to run to Hida but only make it about ¾ of the way
Hida: Take cover behind tree
Shinjo: Get on horse
Kitsu: Channel ancestors
Akodo: Run up to Hida
Kakita: Look for archer
Kitsu: Run up to Shosuro
Archer: Move and try to shoot Hida
Isawa: Use flame spell to completely light up the sky
Shinjo: Gallop over to Hida
Hida: Take cover and point in direction of shooter
Akodo: use battle to determine ambush location. Notice line of things between them and Archer.
Shorusro: Run up to the area that Hida is hiding and take off Obi
Kakita: run and jump over the line of traps
Kitsu: Protect Hida
Isawa: run towards Hida to heal him
Archer: run away
Shinjo: Shoot archer in the leg to prevent him from escaping. Archer falls and disappears from sight.
Shosuro: Moves to the line and indentifies them as a complicated trap pit
Hida: move thru cover towards Isawa
Akodo: run and jump over the line of traps
Kakita: run up to hill that the archer had fallen down
Kitsu: Runs around the end of the long line of trap
Second Person: Shoot first archer
Isawa: Heal Hida
Hida: Healed by Isawa help me
Shinjo: Scans trees for target
Shosuro: put obi back on since it is no longer needed.
Akodo: run up to hill that the archer had fallen down
Kakita arrived in time to see the archer kneeling over with his back towards her. She then sees an archer over two hundred feet away shoot the first archer thru the chest and then gallop away. Akodo arrived just in time to see the rider disappear into the distance.
With the combat over the rest of the group joined Akodo and Kakita at the body. It seemed he had been committing seppuku. Akodo had used his no-dachi to push the body around and check for any obvious clues to no avail. Once the rest of the group arrived they sent for some of the Tortoise ashigaru to come over and inspect the body. They pulled out the arrow which Shosuro took the time to inspect before handing it over. They also found a strange branding style tattoo on the man’s shoulder. There were no other indentifing items or marks and the daisho seemed quite ordinary. Knowing that trying to pursue the other archer in the middle of the night would be pointless they gathered everything and headed back to camp. Once there Kitsu decided he would go and question the spirit to see what information he could gain. He asked everyone to watch over his body once his spirit was gone. He then commenced the appropriate rituals and put on his spirit mask much to the fascination to the rest. Finally ready he plunged his spirit into the spirit realm.
After a little searching he found the spirit moving towards the gates of Jigoku where a pair of large oni stood guard. Kitsu caught him before he could move onto the bridge and with a quick contest of wills was able to force the spirit to stop. He asked him several questions about who sent him and who he was. He was able to gather that he used to be a member of the Shosuro family before his first death and having his soul claimed by “nothing”. He also seemed to have been sent by nothing to kill them. As Kitsu asked more questions keeping the soul from moving on to Jigoku the soul’s lifeless eyes became blacker and blacker until they were a solid black. At this point the spirit had finally reached the bridge to Jigoku and told Kitsu that his master was coming for him. Kitsu turned around to see the darkness he had fought before closing fast. Not wanting to fight this unknown being once again he rushed back towards his body. When he looked behind him he saw the oni fighting the darkness as they grabbed the spirit and dragged him into the gates of Jigoku. Not wanting to wait and see the outcome of such a fight he fled back to his body.
Once Kitsu’s spirit was back in his body he awoke suddenly. He explained to them all the information he had learned but had no idea what most of it meant nor did Shosuro or Isawa when asked. Deciding that everything would look better in the morning the group quickly drifted off back to sleep….