We are summoned back to Otosan Uchi and placed under a Crane magistrate in charge of the Imperial roads. We are put in charge of protecting the roads and given a large amount of leeway. We head to the Topaz Championship. Tensions are high, especially between Lion and Crane.
Late the night after the championship, Torako and Hidetaka notice from inside and outside respectively some suspicious characters hanging around Tatianna’s room. The two inside are pumping some sort of gas into the room. Hidetaka chases two away; Torako killed one and maimed another. A drunk Daidoji challenges Daiken to a duel; Daiken defers until the next day.
We interrogate the captured enemy, but just as Hidetaka is about to persuade him to start talking, he instantly keels over dead, too fast even for poison. Susumu suspects some kind of Maho spell; Kokuei confirms that a corrupt spirit of fire was involved. Based on the magical theory, the caster is not too far away.
Kokuei summons spirits to track the two enemies who got away. They appear to have died in the act of running away. Just before they died, one of them said, “We have to get away, or Akodo Arasu will kill us.” Arasu is at the Championship and just announced an engagement to Matsu Suko. Hidetaka fetches Arasu and shows him the bodies, which he says he does not recognize. Kokuei informs Arasu of their alleged last words; he doesn’t seem to know anything about it. Hidetaka follows Arasu back to the teahouse; Arasu is writing a letter that he seems very paranoid about. The letter is handed off to a tired-looking servant, who goes to an already-prepared horse. Lily delays the servant by asking to see his papers (he is extremely helpful and understanding); Hidetaka uses the opportunity to acquire Arasu’s letter. The travel papers are for travel north into Phoenix lands. Arasu’s letter is encrypted; Hidetaka transcribes it while pretending to inspect the horse. From the letter he is able to uncover the name of a village.
Kokuei uses air spirits to backtrack the assassins from the attack, but doesn’t learn much. Susumu goes out to try to find Hichi the ratman. Hichi is very agitated that Tatianna was attacked. He reports that a rider left the city unusually late that night.
Hidetaka consults Kokuei on the cypher; they discover that it’s REALLY well encrypted. Also, that village is in Shiba lands, near the Akodo border. Lily sleeps in Tatianna’s room for the rest of the night.
Around dawn, our presence is requested by Bayushi Shoju, Scorpion clan head. He thinks the assassins may have been thieves like some that previously attacked him, based on the manner of their death. He requests that we cooperate in our investigations. He seems to know we’re headed to Phoenix lands.
Daiken shows up for the duel he was challenged to; four Daidoji show up to negotiate as seconds for duels to the death. Hidetaka acts as Daiken’s second; he requests that they ask the Emerald Champion’s permission to duel Daiken while we go on our imperial business.
Susumu summons an earth spirit in Arasu’s teahouse. Men with corrupted spirits on them have been in the vicinity, but not in the teahouse, three times for a few hours each time; they spoke disparagingly of Arasu’s engagement.
We ride to Phoenix lands. In the village, one of the peasants says he’s seen the messenger Arasu sent. He’s been through here a few times to stop off before heading to “the monastery of lost souls”. At the monastery, we learn that the messenger, Jade Horse, has been running food to the monastery and letters to a monk named Toturi. Toturi and another female monk there were at last year’s Topaz Championship in the company of the head of the Akodo school. Torako gets to see an unencrypted copy of Arasu’s letter to Toturi: it is full of trivial family gossip; Toturi is apparently Arasu’s brother, the Lion’s great shame. He’s a tactical genius, though.
Suddenly Hichi comes running straight toward the monastery warning us that a huge number of bandits in black pajamas are attacking from all sides. We set Toturi up as tactician and start trying to fight them off. We fight a great bloody battle, but due to Toturi’s superior leadership, we were able to drive off the attackers.
In an examine of the attackers, we find that their weapons are of very low quality. The officer Kokuei killed doesn’t have any useful information on him. The bandits were peasants hired in “a keep up north” in Phoenix lands a day and a half away, but not one that Kokuei recognizes from the description of the location. None of the bandits had corrupted spirits waiting to kill them like the previous assassins did. We put the Ikoma who was with Toturi in charge of getting a message to Shiro Akodo as quickly as possible. Then we ride for Shiro Akodo, sending Lily on to Shiro Sano Kakita, where we last saw Arasu.
At Shiro Sano Kakita, Lily asks around and learns that Arasu was headed “home”. She goes across the Lion-Crane border to Shiro no Yojin; they think he was headed for Shiro Akodo. The whole party arrives at Shiro Akodo at about the same time. The people there tell us that Arasu was not there and was last known to be back at Shiro Sano Kakita. We arrange to take some troops along the road to search for him. We find a fort with a notable amount of activity. The samurai look in great disrepair; they claim to be holed up after being attacked by bandits. Hidetaka challenges their claimed identity and we get attacked. During the battle, Akodo Arasu comes out with his bodyguards. We manage to kill the bandits; apparently another 500 men had attacked Arasu at the same time the monastery was attacked, and besieged him in the fort.
Upon interrogation we find that these bandits were peasants recruited in Lion lands as the previous group were in the Phoenix. We escort Arasu back to Shiro Akodo; when we get there, the castle is flying Scorpion colors and there are Scorpions on the walls. Bayushi Shoju has apparently been investigating in our wake. When he arrived here, he took it upon himself to take the castle. When we arrive, he immediately offers to turn it back over to the Lion. Shoju is informed that the things he had stolen from him have been found in the castle. The party are invited to witness as he reclaims these things, many of which are extremely valuable. The castle is returned to the Lion.
Kokuei questions the local spirits about the possibility of maho being used; they are twitchy, like they may have been compelled to lie. Susumu is told by a spirit that there is great potential danger, then that there is no danger. Apparently many of the Scorpion’s things have been in recent contact with corruption.