A Distant Sound of Thunder

The Oracle of Death

Before we return to Otosan Uchi, Toturi invites us out on one last hunt. The guards capture and bring him an insane man who has wandered onto his land. Kokuei thinks he might be a Phoenix monk. He mutters something about “the tree of Fu Leng” and says we “will all die of laughter”. The shugenja attempt a few spells to make him more lucid, but nothing seems to work. A few minutes later, a dead tree falls on the path; the madman seems to think that Toturi’s death has been averted, but ours is still assured. Tatianna tries to understand further what “die of laughter” means. We do know that the castle jester has been rather depressed lately.

In the early morning, during the changing of the guard, the alarm is raised as one of the guards turns up dead. We find a place near the wall where it looks like a big heavy box has been dragged. Susumu summons a kami to help track where it was taken. A water kami shows us that after killing the guard, someone bundled up in winter clothes hauled a big crate over the wall into the shiro. One of the guards saw the crate get dragged into a building. A water kami has seen the suspicious person around the shiro several times before. We track the crate to a barred door that may be the armory. Torako brings a gunso to try to get the door open, but we determine that a weight has probably been put up against it.

We finally get the door open to find the jester standing with two lit sparklers over the open box, which is filled with gray-brown powder. A couple of guards quickly get Toturi as far away as possible. Hidetaka tries to talk the jester out of it. Eventually he is convinced to hand the sparklers to Lily, and Susumu casts a spell to douse the crate with water. Hidetaka gives the jester an honorable death. We go back to talk to the madman and find that he is gone.

At the Topaz Championship, Torako notices that the other Matsu seem to both love and hate her, including Suko. There seems to be an intense rivalry between the Scorpion and Sparrow contestants, and they end up fighting a duel. Daiken tries to train the Sparrow a little bit, and Hidetaka tries to talk the Scorpion out of it and succeeds in getting him really flustered. The Sparrow succeeds in delicately slicing the Scorpion’s face, and the Scorpion hacks into him. Susumu is able to heal the Sparrow. The Scorpion loses his first official contest duel against the Crane and immediately leaves; the Emerald Champion is afraid he and his chaperone are going to get an army and crush the Sparrow Clan.

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The Plague

Daiken receives word that his wife, Kuzumi, is pregnant, and she joins us at Court. A new guy is running Shiro Akodo, and so the Court events are not running completely smoothly. Kokuei shuts himself away to do research on a new spell. Daiken is not seen for a couple of days, so Susumu goes to his room and is told he is sick. Lily and Hidetaka are also looking under the weather; Susumu examines Hidetaka and thinks it might be a flu of some kind. Susumu asks Torako to try to see Daiken, and she does her best but is also turned away. She learns that Daiken is being seen by Toturi’s personal physician (for political reasons), so Susumu goes to see the physician. Apparenly, it’s a really unpleasant illness. Susumu remembers that a horse of ours had a similar illness, and suggests purification with Earth spirits. Toturi’s physician asks Susumu to oversee Lily and Hidetaka’s care. That evening he hears that two servants have become ill.

In the middle of the night, Susumu is woken up by the physician. Daiken is the only one who is not getting rapidly worse; the others have developed extremely high fevers. A Crab visitor mentions that people were sick in his household before he left a week ago, which suggests the Plague to Susumu and the physician. They come up with a plan to divide the guests and staff into groups under the guise of a Court game, to limit the spread of disease. Each group is assigned a different set of activities to keep them occupied–go tournament, scavenger hunt, hunting party, battle simulations, arts, etc. The servants are assigned to only serve one group each.

The next day, Hidetaka begins to get better, suffering some swelling but avoiding the gangrene. Our two shugenja expend all their energy casting spells to treat the increasing number of sick people. The entire hunting party (which the original Crab was not in) gets the plague. When another group goes out hunting, they also all get the plague. The shugenja make the connection to horses. They check the stables, and every servant with contact with the horses has gotten sick. They put a quarantine on the stables–no one new goes in, no one comes out.

Daiken finally gets over his illness and is bewildered by the situation at the castle. Lily retreats to the stables and notices that all the horses have fleas. She uses a traditional Unicorn treatment for the fleas, and we eventually get a handle on the plague. Overall, about 100 samurai and a proportional number of peasants died. A few days later, Toturi comes down with whatever Daiken had. We don’t see him again for almost a month, when he emerges, looking weak. Now that the plague is over, Kokuei has time to work on his spell again.

One night Daiken and Torako see a suspicious character in the shadows, but before they can catch him he runs up the wall and disappears. They inform the castle authorities, who can find nothing. Susumu asks an earth spirit about the intruder and is told he has been in the Shiro four times. The first time he just touched the front door; the second time he went in the stables and messed with the food; the third time, a few days ago, he went into the kitchen and messed with the water; the fourth time, we scared him off. Susumu goes to the kitchen and summons a water spirit. He is shown that the intruder made some gestures over the well and mimed pouring something in with both hands (empty-handed), and no spirits were involved. He talks to an earth spirit in the stables, who implies that more than one of the “light people” have intruded in the castle recently. In the stable, the intruder did a dance in front of the hay. Daiken wonders if this could have anything to do with the yuriki he bequeathed to Toturi.

Daiken talks to Toturi about the intruders; Toturi seems very disturbed by the idea that someone might be practicing attacking his castle. The two shugenja systematically go to each section of the castle wall and ask the spirits about any “light people” who may have come over. Over the past year, seven people have come over a total of 47 times, all during the winter. In years past, they have come in over a thousand times; the last big group was 55 crossing six years ago, also in winter. They do not appear to have left any footprints in the snow. Susumu talks to Hichi, who says thay they are “good with snowcraft”, and points in the general direction of where they come from. Hichi believes that now that one has been noticed, they will never come back if they’re smart, but he promises to keep an eye out. Winter court otherwise ends without issue.

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The Lion United

We arrive at Shiro Akodo and convince the gunso to let us in; fortunately, we arrive before any of the other parties competing for the Clan leadership. Unfortunately, there are only 12 samurai there. Lily sends out messengers and Hidetaka stops by a fort on the border, and we manage to gather about 250 more men to fight for us. Our scouts tell us that three armies are approaching, two led by Toturi’s Akodo cousins, and one by Matsu Suko. We try without success to parlay with the cousins’ armies.As the armies approach, Toturi hastily completes his gempuku and Daiken attempts to teach him the fundamentals of dueling as well as court and etiquette.

When Suko’s army arrives, she demands to know if it is true that Arasu’s brother defends the castle. We tell her that it is, and that he was chosen by Arasu as daimyo. She tells us she is honorbound to defend Toturi and the castle, although she does not personally acknowledge Toturi in any way. Torako is under the impression that Suko is very, very angry with her. Tatianna takes Suko a pot of tea and possibly makes a small connection to her. A few days later, the generals of the other two armies also swear to Toturi.

We are acutely aware that the Lion’s respect for Suko is the only thing holding the situation together. Daiken plays several experimental games of Go with Toturi as he tries to comprehend the situation. He talks to Hidetaka about suspicions that Akodo was actually sneakier than Leadership would imply. Finally, Toturi announces his intent to go to war with the Crane in order to unite the Lion. Daiken gifts Toturi the services of his yuriki.

Our party return to Otosan Uchi to report our doings to Doji Satsume. He has a copy of the report about the conspiracy that Kokuei wrote. We relate to him to the best of our ability the events surrounding the transfer of Toshi Ranbo. We are invited to Winter Court by Toturi (Suko is noticeably absent). Kokuei feels betrayed because he wasn’t able to prevent war after all.

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The Unavoidable War

The Daimyo assigns Torako to a gunso as per her request; Tatianna joins her in solidary. Susumu decides not to get involved unless noncombatants are attacked, but first makes sure the fake Akodo is dead. Kokuei is opposed to fighting and would prefer to try to negotiate; Daiken agrees but will fight if necessary. They plan the speech he will magically broadcast. When the army comes into view, a hundred-foot tall illusion of Kokuei tries to convince the Scorpion that this battle is not the Emperor’s will. It doesn’t quite succeed, but it does demoralize the enemy.

Tatianna manages to hit the Scorpion general with an arrow to the rear end. Kokuei steps up to support the troops. Tatianna prevents someone on the Lion side from opening the gate. Daiken tries to put out part of the city that is on fire. The Scorpion start hurling diseased corpses over the wall, which provokes Susumu to join the battle. Finally, Torako gets to duel the Scorpion general and defeats him. We check for any additional Scorpion spies and make sure the city is not on fire. Kokuei tends to the wounded, and Torako starts a big party.

Kokuei and Daiken make profuse apologies to the Crane for the deaths of the monks. Tensions rise, but the apology is accepted. The river kami leaves off possessing the head monk, leaving him very shaken, and returns to its domain. Susumu offers to hire the now aimless bushi as a yojimbo, but he declines.

A few days later, we wake up feeling woozy one morning and Tatianna sees that there has been a struggle in Hidetaka’s rooms and he is missing. It looks like four people climbed into his window and dragged him out and through the city streets. Kokuei summons an earth spirit, who describe the abductors as four plainly-dressed but strong Scorpion. A water spirit shows the abduction: they said something to him as they took him. An air spirit reports that they were after him because of his “pure heart”.

Daiken follows the abductors’ trail through the catacombs and out into the woods. Tatianna goes to get Hichi to help us and Lily brings us our horses. Eventually we come upon the remains of the Scorpion army we defeated.

Hidetaka sneaks out of the Scorpion camp and meets up with the rest of the party so discreetly that they don’t notice him for several minutes. Daiken makes our report concerning the events in Kenson Gakka and we are soon summoned before the Emerald Champion. He tells us we did a good job and to go report to our new boss. After a bit of asking around, we find our new boss, a Seppun, in our old boss’s office. He tells us that he is not giving us an official assignment, because he doesn’t want us to suffer the shame of an almost certain failure; however, the Lion are about to attack Toshi Ranbo, and if we could prevent an all-out clan war from erupting between the Lion and the Crane, it would greatly benefit the Empire.

Before we leave Otosan Uchi, Hidetaka notices something odd in the direction of Tatianna’s room and bursts in to see two men standing over her, one trying to poison her and one reading a scroll. Hidetaka attacks and downs the poisoner; when the spellcaster aims his spell at Hidetaka, both our shugenja recognize it as maho. Hidetaka checks on Tatianna and notices that the poison was being carefully dosed; they were probably trying to weaken her for a time to make her more vulnerable to the spell, not trying to kill her.

Susumu summons an earth spirit to analyze the maho spell. It tells him to ask an air spirit, but also that the attackers came from far away. Kokuei summons an air spirit; it says that the spell was a “brain-sucking spell”, which takes a single piece of information out of a victim and leaves them empty. When Hidetaka was attacked, they tried to find out his true affiliation. The two said nothing meaningful while in the room. The items we find on the bodies seem carefully placed to be innocuous or misleading. We have the bodies removed and burned. Torako is charged with destroying the maho scroll.

Kokuei gets a letter from some of his stagehand friends saying: ever since the comment the Emperor made at Daiken’s wedding about how his hatamoto should see Kokuei’s play, they have been booked solid with requests to see it performed, and could he please come and do the special effects. He puts them off with polite niceties for now.

As we pass by Shiro Akodo, we see the army mustering out, headed for Toshi Ranbo, though they deny this is clan war. Since the party are all officially off the clock, Torako stays back and rides with the Lion army. On the way to Toshi Ranbo, Kokuei brainstorms plans to prevent the war. Hidetaka suggests to find a way to put the city back into Lion hands without dishonoring the Crane.
Torako learns that the conquest of Toshi Ranbo is meant as a wedding present from Akodo Arasu to Matsu Suko. She tries to remind the troops of their duty to the Emperor, and her wish that things not get out of control. She expresses these feelings to Akodo Arasu, who assures her that the Lion will easily defeat the Crane.

Outside a teahouse in Lion lands, Hidetaka witnesses a Matsu attack a group of four Kakita, who handily defeat him. His last words were “He tasked me.”

In Toshi Ranbo, Daiken and the party meet with the Crane general in charge, and find that he is well prepared to defend the city. Daiken sends Lily out with a letter to Doji Satsume asking which proposed solutions would be acceptable to his clan. Hidetaka proposes that the Crane give Toshi Ranbo to Arasu and Suko as a wedding gift. The general is delighted by the idea but doesn’t have the authority to implement it. Daiken discovers that the Daidoji duelists have not been after him because of the former general’s defeat, but because a certain Asahina has been stirring up trouble for him.

In the middle of the night, Susumu wakes to a man standing over him. It’s Toshi Ranbo’s Emerald Magistrate, Bayushi Mugotai, offering to help. In his opinion, the Lion Clan Champion is the one most in favor of this war, but leaves the matter mostly in the hands of Arasu and Suko, while Satsume would like to avoid war and would just as soon give up Toshi Ranbo to keep the peace. He doesn’t understand why the Scorpion attacked Kenson Gakka, especially if they were also orchestrating this thing in Toshi Ranbo.

In the morning, Daiken meets the guy from Kensen Gakka who had been possessed by the river kami. He is also here to try to stop the war…somehow. He was also a “pure heart” of the Scorpion before being kicked out for not committing an act of violence. He has become influential throughout the city but has no plan of action. Daiken offers him a job as a yuriki.

Kokuei writes a letter explaining to the Lion how they have been manipulated into starting a war, which he gives to Arasu when he and Torako arrive. Arasu agrees with what Kokuei has to say, but doesn’t thing the rest of the Lion will be convinced. If Suko can be convinced that the Crane intend to cede the city, she may remove her army. Daiken receives permission from Satsume to give Toshi Ranbo as a gift.

We arrive back at the Lion army to find it on high alert. They have several Daidoji tied up, saying that they killed 43 Lion officers. The assault at dawn is now almost assured. Every captured Daidoji has the same facial tic as the Akodo who took the girl hostage and the Matsu who attacked the four Kakita. Daidoji Uji thinks that the spell “Haze of Battle” could cause the irrational behavior we have seen. He offers to commit seppuku to offset the dishonor and appease the Lion. Because of the murders, the Lion Clan Champion is more willing to become personally involved. Arasu tries to take personal responsibility for any maho that may have been used on the Daidoji, but is refused. He is given permission to duel Daidoji Uji over the murders if the Crane will also hand over the city.

Lily interrogates the prisoners, who seem to take full responsibility for their actions. They are then hanged. Kokuei goes to the Lion Clan Champion to sell him on dropping the duel and just accepting Toshi Ranbo. When he gets there, Arasu is there, having assumed the Clan Championship on his uncles death. However, he still believes he must respect his last order. Kokuei tries to talk him out of it, but fails. Hidetaka does get him to consider downgrading it to first blood. We set up a secret meeting between Arasu and Uji.

At dawn Uji cedes Toshi Ranbo and the duel begins. Arasu goes all Obi-Wan and Uji kills him with one stroke. Arasu hands Lily his daisho and tells her “Give this to the Phoenix. He was right. I wasn’t smart enough to stop it. Don’t let them kill him.” We start to hurry out of there. Uji says, “Tell your Phoenix I believe him.” We leave Daiken’s yuriki behind to handle matters locally. We ride hard toward a monastery in Phoenix lands.

We hand over the daisho of the Lion to Akodo Toturi. He plan to first take Shiro Akodo and we ride there as fast as we can.

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Kenson Gakka

We go back to Hida lands to allow Hidetaka to train with them and start our tour of our gifted lands. We discover that Hida Shiroi had been engaged but she left to become a bushi. Shiroi seems interested in marrying Susumu’s sister. Daiken moves in with his wife on the lands bordering Crane and Imperial lands. They enjoy two weeks of wedded bliss before we are all sent out on a series of unmemorable assignments. We are assigned by our superior to fill in for another magistrate at the Lion town of Kenson Gakka during a festival. We arrive a week before the festival and are given rooms in the palace. A group of Asahina monks arrive as guests at the local monastery. Susumu hangs out at the town, drinking and trying to get to know people. Lily tries to stay available to people in her capacity as a magistrate. During a game of Go, Daiken sees an Akodo who looks familiar go in and talk to the daimyo.

The morning of the festival, we are all invited to court/breakfast. Lily has nice festival clothes made for the party. We meet a Daidoji and a Dragonfly courtier. During the festival, party members engage in various tests of skill. Daiken and Torako keep an eye out for shenanigans. Kokuei opts to avoid the festival entirely and goes for a ride outside the city. During the battle re-enactment outside the city, Kokuei goes back into the city.

After the battle, crates of birds are released by the monks, but instead of war hawks, they are white doves, an omen of death. The monks are horrified. As they leave, a couple of the monks look suspicious; Hidetaka and Daiken follow them. The daimyo suggests to Torako that going back and appearing to enjoy the festival may help to calm the superstitious. Hidetaka and Lily note a mark on the back of the neck of some monks. The head monk can’t be found at the monastery. Closer investigation reveals that none of the Crane monks have the mark, but 11 of the Lion monks do and only three do not. When questioned, neither monks with nor without admit any knowledge concerning the mark.

Hidetaka and Lily go to the shrine in the city to talk to the head monk. Daiken stays behind to try to determine who had the war hawks last. The head monk has noticed the marks on his monks, but never thought anything of it. The fourteen monks are all retired Lion samurai, but the head monk is a Scorpion. Hidetaka notices a man who may be eavesdropping on his conversation. Hidetaka confronts and then tails him but sees nothing of note.

In the streets, Susumu sees something odd: a man haggles with a merchant to buy something, then immediately crosses the street and sells the thing to another merchant. Then he does it again in reverse. Daiken discovers that the crates were untended for at least two hours before the mock battle. Tatianna joins Susumu in watching the man who continues to resell. Tatianna examines the wares: various knick-knacks and souvenirs. She buys a doo-dad for each member of the party as she attempts to watch the reseller. He has haggled the merchant down to a very low sum when the merchant buys; the merchant’s wife immediately offers the same item, a small turtle statue, to Tatianna to buy, which she does. When confronted by Susumu, he claims he is lulling them into a false sense of security for the second day of the festival.

At the shrine to the Fortunes, a crowd is gathering. One of the peasants claims a waist-high demon creature with a lizard head was seen. We do find such a creature–it’s a copper goblin. Kokuei attempts to Jade Strike it. No effect, except for scaring it. It claims that it is looking for the river spirit, which has gone missing. For several years, apparently. We go down to the river to talk to the spirits; Kokuei casts a disguise illusion on the copper goblin. According to a river spirit, the river kami took human form and left in the direction of the city; it doesn’t know why. The copper goblin says she can feel spirits (she sensed the water kami on the shrine offerings), so we go into town in seach of the water spirit.
An earth spirit in one of the shrine offerings of food tells Susumu that the river kami brought it there, and that the journey was entirely on the road from the south.

We enlist Hichi’s help to sniff for a man that doesn’t smell like other men. When we get back to the town, it is in a complete uproar. Akodo Akare’s baby has gone missing. A questioned earth spirit says that an old woman with a limp took the baby. None of the guards remember a woman like that come in or out of the palace, although they did see a younger woman with a bag. A spirit leadss to a nearby well. The baby appears to have been carefully placed on a jutting root deep in the well. The baby is covered in a talc-like rare pollen. We wash the talc off and return the baby. Akodo Akare almost looks disappointed to get his baby back. He also has a mark on the back of his neck like the monks.

Another copper goblin tells Kokuei that there is a man with a broken head in the labyrinth beneath town who needs help. We head down into the labyrinth. We meet the Dragonfly courtier, who lights the ground on fire and runs away. Torako chases after her. She seems to go through a wall and disappear. We discover that the head monk from the monastery is actually the missing river kami.

We hear that Akodo Akare has found the rare talc on his baby and has headed for the monastery. When we catch up, he has slaughtered all the Crane monks, accusing them of taking his baby. Hidetaka is having none of it. He exposes the Akodo as not being who he says he is. One of his own guards takes him out. He seemed to have a handkerchief on him casting an illusion. None of the marked Lion monks seemed to be at the monastery at the time of the slaughter.

The rest of the party return to town with the river kami , just in time to hear the alarm going up, “The Scorpion are coming!”

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A Brief Respite

After finishing our business at the Wall, the party splits to attend to various family duties, agreeing to meet back up in Dragon lands to report to Togashi Yakuni. Susumu checks in on his family, making sure his little sister stays out of the “family business” (she’s doing their books). He’d like to set her up somewhere away from them, but leaves for now so as not to upset the family.

The bulk of the party travels through Bayushi lands; Hidetaka’s grandmother is impressed that he “stole an army”. In Matsu lands, there’s still tension over Matsu Suko’s engagement, but things are generally cheerful since they’re stomping the Daidoji. Lily heads to Unicorn lands to try to acquire a dog. In Phoenix lands Kokuei continues his training and begins researching a new spell. We discuss sending Susumu’s sister to Winter Court somewhere, and perhaps getting her married to Hida Shiroi.

We arrive at Kyuden Tanbo. The hatamoto tells us that Yakuni has not come down to meet us, and we are not allowed to know the way to where he is. Before Susumu can suggest blindfolds, Hidetaka requests that a messanger be sent to Togashi, then attempts to follow the messenger, but misses his departure. Daiken suggests blindfolds, successfully this time. We also agree to let tattooed monks carry us up the mountain. We hang out with the monks at the temple for the first day.Hidetaka is invited to spar with the monks training in jiujutsu.

In the morning we are expected to meet with Yakuni; he comes to our rooms at dawn and kicks Hidetaka in the head. Hidetaka grapples him and after several rounds of Yakuni failing to break free and Hidetaka inflicting damage, Hidetaka releases him. Yakuni bows and leaves; Kokuei is told to meet Yakuni in a certain garden the next morning at dawn. They spend the day in meditation. Torako has a conversation with a monk standing on a parapet overlooking a cliff, who then flings himself down the several thousand foot drop. According to another monk, “he does that to everyone.”.

Tatianna gets Susumu to cast an identifying spell on the sword she found with Hichi. It is Awakened but has no special powers. It has been passed from Dragon to Dragon, none of whom have lived in Dragon lands. It “needs to be used”. Lily is asked to meet Yakuni at the stables. Her horse is there, somehow. They spend the day riding. Tatianna meets Yakuni in the practice yard and they do katas together. He plays around with imitating her style or not. Torako meets him in the practice yard. He draws his katana and falls into a stance. They spar; he hits but doesn’t really hurt her. When she finally hits him, she pulls back, but not much; he seems startled. He meets Susumu in the library and asks “Do you think the ogres can be redeemed?” They spend the day discussing the Shadowlands. Daiken meets Yakuni in his office and they play go; Daiken is soundly defeated. He is told “This skill will save or destroy the Empire within the next three years.” We are then told that we are welcome but no longer obligated to stay.

We arrive in Seppun lands for Daiken’s wedding. Since the battle of the Wall, many important Seppun have belatedly decided this wedding is worth their time after all. Many burly Seppun seem to be scoping the place out. The next day Bayushi Shoju, Hida Kisada, and Doji Satsume arrive. Kisada talks to Susumu but not Daiken; Satsume doesn’t talk to anyone. Akodo Arasu and Matsu Suko arrive in separate entourages an hour apart. Twelve Togashi monks (including the guys who carried us up the mountain) arrive. The Unicorn clan champion arrives about five hours before the weddings starts. Everyone’s parties are arguing over who is going to handle security.

Daiken invites the Asahina who raised him and our entire party to the wedding ceremony. Asawa Suke, Master of Fire, performs the wedding. At the reception, Daiken is placed at the lowest ranking table. For an hour and a half, the reception guests are not seated. Then, the Emperor and Bayushi Kachiko arrive. The Emperor looks at Kokuei and asks “Where do I know you from?” Kachiko reminds him of the controversial play Kokuei performed at the Topaz Championship. The Emperor asks his hatamoto if he’d seen the play. “No.” “You should.”

All of the clan champions give Daiken and his wife a gift of lands. Kisada additionally gives gifts of weapons and armor to the party. Apparently the Emperor ordered him to give Tatianna a Kaiu blade, so she can wield it in place of her own without dishonor. The party’s salary is also raised. Retroactively. The Unicorn give a gift of horses and the rest of the party are given lands bordering Daiken’s.

As we resume our travels, we hear a rumor that Doji Kuwanan’s fiancee killed herself. We then hear that the Doji that Daiken dueled on behalf of a while ago has been attacked across the border by the Lion and he has moved to stay with a neighboring landholder. We go to speak with him. His daughter is a “guest” of the attacking party. They attacked in the middle of the night–not usual for Lion. Most of his few samurai died defending his retreat. It was someone flying the Akodo colors. He knows of no other grievance than his clan affiliation. We ride out to the contested lands. As we approach the border to Akodo ride out to meet us. We nod and ride past, and they make no attempt to stop us. We visit the hostage girl and speak with her captor. We glean that these lands had been taken from the Akodo several years ago and he is now taking them back. He and Torako haggle the rest of the day over terms for bringing the girl back.

In the middle of the night, the house is attacked by Daidoji. Most of the party fall back to the girl’s room, but she’s not there. Torako goes outside and defends the front door with other Akodo. The party find the Akodo leader threatening the girl directly. We attempt to talk him into letting her go and surrendering. He seems extremely agitated. When he moves to hurt the girl, Hidetaka interposes himself, and Kokuei attacks with a spell to daze him. Everyone in the party gets in line to kill him. Instead, Hidetaka and Tatianna subdue him. Susumu has to exert a great amount of willpower not to attack. When Daiken tells the other Akodo what happened, one kicks the Akodo lord in the face. The Akodo withdraw and the Daidoji move in.

Kokuei believes the Akodo was a pawn in a larger plot. He likens his behavior to Hiruma Makasu’s. He claims he was only as twitchy as any Akodo would be with Daidoji attacking in the middle of the night.

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Makasu's Madness

Daiken soils himself in fear at the sight of the oni. Tatianna runs up and attacks it with her special wakizashi. Hidetaka grapples the huge thing. Kokuei hits it with a spell, dazing it. Lily also attacks. Torako backs away and guards Daiken. The goblins severely injure Kokuei. Everyone manages to get into boats somehow, except Hidetaka who continues to grapple the oni. Hidetaka chucks the oni onto his butt and joins the boats. The oni seems not to want to cross the water. Once we’re across, Crab siege weapons start firing at the shore.

Lily’s horse is happy to see her. Hidetaka needs a thorough cleansing after grappling the oni. Over the next few days, the gossip in the castle is all about how Makasu saved the patrol. Torako can’t help constantly correcting people on that score. Hichi is amazed at how well his people are treated on the Wall. Another patrol that left before us is overdue coming back and no longer really expected to return. Hidetaka hears that Makasu is sending out another patrol along the same route we took, that he will not be leading himself. He also hears that another patrol has returned, has “seen no evidence that a goblin horde is about to attack”, and that Makasu is having them all executed “for failure”.

The next day, Lily hears that Makasu is sending out a double-strength patrol of hand-picked veterans, and requests an audience with him so that she can be included; unfortunately, he is not seeing anyone. A woman who was part of the original patrol that went missing is pulled from the river, barely alive. We go to visit her in the infirmary, but are not allowed anywhere near her at first. Daiken talks us past the infirmary director; according to Susumu and Kokuei, every healing spell available has been cast on her. Halfway to the canyon, her patrol was ambushed by zombies. Weak and wounded, they were assaulted by goblins; she tried to swim across the river. They had been instructed to investigate a theoretical army of the Shadowlands on the other side of the canyon.

Makasu’s large veteran patrol goes out. Lily writes a letter to Makasu requesting an audience, to be delivered by his advisors. Another, even more special patrol is going out. Makasu seems obsessed with whatever is on his mind, and his advisors are worried. Shiroi doesn’t know of any special significance to the token Yakuni gave us. Hidetaka sets the available bushi to keep watch on our quarters. One night, Tatianna finds Shiroi in the courtyard violently doing katas; Hichi says he’s been at it for hours, and that he’s been more violent lately. She goes back in the morning to find him just finishing. He tells her he was praying to his ancestors (Hida, specifically). The party joins Shiroi in the bath to take counsel. He is worried about the actions Makasu is taking, particularly this new patrol, which is too large to move stealthily but too small to be a strong fighting force. Shiroi plans to talk to Hida Kisada about it before the patrol goes out.

Kokuei gets a letter from his cousin expressing extreme confusion over all the rumors he’s heard about what is going on at Shiro Kuni. He answers with more-or-less the truth, including a picture of the oni. The whole party gets summoned in front of Makasu. He personally asks us to do what his patrols have failed to do–find out what is on the other side of that canyon. We have permission to take whoever we want and use whatever tactics we need to gain that intelligence in the next three days. Trying to go around the canyon has repeatedly resulted in complete destruction of all patrols.

We go out at night with a few nuzumi. We come across the previous 75-man patrol, all killed by zombies. We recover as much of their personal effects as possible and chop off all their heads. Among their gear we find a crystal katana, which is entrusted to Torako. We rest in hiding during the day, then move to the canyon once the nuzumi have scouted it. Hidetaka and Hichi sneak up to within sight of the ruins of Shiro Hiruma. It is crawling with all sorts of Shadowlands creatures, including at least 20,000 goblins, 100 ogres, and 30 oni, some huge. No wonder Makasu was going crazy. The nuzumi indicate that if this is just the vanguard, the main force may be twenty or more times as large. Hidetaka helps Kokuei sneak up to see it as well so that he can give an accurate report. We return safely, chased by goblins almost the entire way but saved by the nuzumi. We report to Makasu; at dawn Kokuei shows a detailed illusion of the situation.

Shiro Kuni prepares for battle, calling for aid from any quarter. Daiken sends a message about the invading army to the Asahina temple. Makasu is constantly involved in everything. Lily makes good friends with Makasu, and notices that he seems a bit more manic than sane. Torako attempts to return the crystal blade to the owner’s wife, and is told to return it after the battle if they live. Hidetaka and the nuzumi see the Shadowlands army approaching a day before they were expected. Makasu seems very fatalistic. Lily believes, based on Makasu’s words, that all non-combatants should be evacuated.

The early attack leaves morale on the wall extremely low. Daiken tries to cheer them up. At sunset, they attack, led by an oni. Many nuzumi join us on the wall. Kokuei impresses everyone by using his first ever attack fire spell against a clump of goblins. A Kuni shugenja lights Hidetaka on fire. Torako offends a bunch of Kaiu engineers, who plug the wall with her. Lily rescues the banner from falling and holds it throughout. Everyone engages in various acts of heroism. Makasu leads us well, and at the end of the night, the Shadowlands army pulls back; we sustain 20-25% losses.

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Escape from the Shadowlands

Daiken enlists the help of others to use the power of Kandaisa to improve his stance. Hiruma Makasu invites us to accompany a scouting expedition into the Shadowlands. Lily writes her horse a letter. We acquire some oni-damaging arrowheads and jade-infused sword oil; Susumu gets a jade-studded tetsubo. We are lowered down off the wall scaffold-style with ten scouts and ten shock troops, plus Makasu and Hida Shiroi. The first day is very physically demanding. The second day, tempers are short.

We come to a canyon we can either go through single-file, or take hours to backtrack around. Makasu seems anxious to get to something immediately on the other side of the canyon. We attempt to go through, but are ambushed by rock-throwing goblins and path-blocking ogres. Hidetaka takes the initiative in the absence of any orders by Makasu, and charges the ogre behind us. We defeat the ogre and retreat back out of the canyon, dragging the wounded or unconscious with us. During the retreat, Hidetaka continues to give orders, and Makasu allows him to be in charge.

Sending a portion of the party back to scout, we find we are being pursued by hundreds of goblins, and five zombie Crab soldiers. We fight them off and continue to push on through the night, though nearly everyone is wounded by now. As we march on we are continually surrounded by the goblin army, and are attacked again in the night. At dawn, we come within sight of the Wall with the goblin army on our heels. We turn to defend the rest of the squad as they board boats to cross the river. Before the last of the party can get into boats, Oni-no-Tsuburu appears before us.

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Into the Shadowlands

Two weeks after the incident with the Akodo, we receive a gift of Gaijin horses from the Akodo clan. Later, while in Otosan Uchi, Kokuei receives a letter from a relative staying in West Hub City. They meet; Kokuei’s friend seems to feel there is something about Kokuei’s Topaz Championship performance that is too uncomfortable to discuss in polite converstation.

Daiken goes to his lord to ask permission to engage in all the duels he’s been challenged to. He receives a scroll giving blanket permission to fight any duel he wants (his lord doesn’t seem happy about it). Hidetaka suggests holding a tournament.

While patrolling the road in Scorpion lands, we meet a well dressed Phoenix shugenja traveling alone: it is Master of Earth Asawa Rujo. His yojimbo was recently killed; he is pursuing a man who has been detained in Crab lands. We travel to Shiro Kuni, and ask after Asawa Tadaku, who Kokuei recognizes as the son of the Master of Void. We are told he is a “guest of the Kuni” and that he is out researching oni. According to Rujo, he is either being held hostage by the Crab or is defying his clan by refusing to return.

We load up on jade and take the secret passage into the Kuni Wastes; Hichi comes with us. We travel the length of the Kuni Wastes, getting within sight of the Shadowlands, without finding any clue to Tadaku’s whereabouts, until one of the Kuni reveals that they have been keeping quiet out of respect for Tadaku, who they suspect is going against his clan. Tadaku is studying Oni no Ataka, who has the name of the ancestor of him and many Phoenix, several days journey into the Shadowlands.

After some debate, we agree to guard the Master of Earth as he pursues Tadaku. When we enter the Shadowlands, Hichi disappears into the bushes, coming back with information about waiting enemies. We eventually have to send Lily’s horse back as we sneak through goblin infested lands. It ends in a mad dash to a cave fortified by the Nuzumi. The next day we are sent with four Nuzumi escorts to where Tadaku is. Rujo confronts Tadaku, and their discussion escalates to the challenge of a duel. They agree to remove to the Kuni Wastes and think it over for 24 hours before the duel.

Tadaku defeats Rujo and takes the title of Master of Earth. Rujo becomes ronin, but begins to be courted by all the other clans, while we escort Tadaku back to Phoenix lands to confirm his title. We are invited to Winter Court by a minor Asawa daimyo.

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Attack on the Akodo

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.

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