Last weekend’s game was an interesting affair, as we started rather late as compared to our previous sessions, but nobody was complaining as it was due to a free lunch.
That said, this session was very interesting, several characters were starting to find their stride and plots were already in motion. With any luck, this means that the next session will be a series of fun encounters for everyone.
Doji Satsu’s Estate
The team was in their regular meetings, going about the usual business to report on the comings and goings of their circles. Haruko gave a quick report on the district court, shaken as it was from the appearance of Akodo Kenji, everything seems to have gone back to normal.
Asahina Tezuka was quiet as always, perhaps having learned much from the monks in his temple, busying himself with plants, watering them as was his way to keep out of trouble.
Satsu and Tomiko led the meeting making certain that everyone understood that Domotai’s arrival in the Imperial City was a matter of absolute importance. She wasn’t a popular figure as far as the Crane were concerned, and it was imperative that her safety was assured.
It was at this moment that Ragan stepped forward and requested for a leave of absence to pursue his training. He reasoned that with the Champion around, there should be a surplus of Crane soldiers in the city, enough to keep Haruko safe. He and Haruko had discussed the matter, and if he was to remain her Yojimbo, he would need additional training to keep up, and this was a good chance to find a sensei.
Satsu agreed to the request. Ragan thanked him for the opportunity, as he was about to leave Naito quietly informed the ronin that he wanted to discuss a matter of some secrecy.
“I’m here.” Ragan declared, “What do you want?”
“A small favor.” Naito spoke, as he handed the ronin a scroll, “You are to visit this ruin inside Crane lands. I have it on good authority that you will find several… rebels in the area. They will not harm you, seeing as you share something in common with them.” he eyed the Ronin’s wrists meaningfully.
“Hand the scroll to them, tell them to meet with me as I have a proposal they may wish to consider.”
Ragan narrowed his eyes. He didn’t trust Naito, but if the courtier’s suggestions were right, Ragan could be helping keep Haruko safe. That was enough… for now.
“Very well.” Ragan said, “I won’t be responsible for what else will happen after I deliver the letter.”
“Of course.” Naito bowed, “Fortunes keep you safe in your travels.”
The following day, Naito found himself receiving a rather interesting guest. Soshi Arika, a young fourteen year old Shugenja of the Scorpion Clan presented herself carrying a letter from her sensei, Bayushi Kaukatsu.
“I was informed to deliver the letter to you and await further instructions.” The young Scorpion shugenja had a quiet voice and a serene expression underneath the gauze-like veil that she wore. Clearly an influence from the Scorpion Clan’s time in the Burning Sands.
Naito read the contents of the letter. He remembered this, he was the one who offered if there was anything he could do for Kaukatsu, a politeness if anything, but the Chancellor did say that he would need a suitable husband for his protege. The letter was kind enough to suggest that perhaps a shugenja would be appropriate given Arika’s interests.
Inwardly Naito swore, an Air Shugenja of the Scorpion so close to them? Thankfully he had a better way to divert her. “Come with me.” he said to Arika, “There’s someone that I’d like to introduce you to.”
Doji Ai and Asahina Tezuka were in the Temple of Ebisu that morning, sampling Ai’s latest discovery, a drink from the Unicorn Clan called kohi, a bitter drink made from roasted beans of some sort.
“It’s a bit of an acquired taste but you should really try it. It keeps you awake even when you’re very, very tired,” Ai’s speech was just a tad faster than usual, “I should know.”
Tezuka tried some, after a lifetime of bitter green teas, a bitter brown tea was more novelty than anything else. Still it was good to have guests in his temple that weren’t just after blessings.
Their quiet morning was disturbed when a servant arrived to inform them that Naito was here.
The Courtier arrived, and along with him was a Scorpion Shugenja. It didn’t take very long for Tezuka to understand the nature of this introduction given that Arika was younger than him.
Naito gave some perfunctory introductions, and Arika tried to make up for Naito’s lack of enthusiasm with some polite chatter.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Tezuka-san.” Arika bowed, “It’s rare to find someone as young as you as a head Shugenja of their very own temple.”
“A necessity rather than any indication of skill.” Tezuka deflected the flattery with humility, “How may I be of service today?”
“Oh, I have merely come to pay a visit to the temple and to meet you.” Arika responded, “I’m currently here on a temporary assignment from my sensei, and I had felt it appropriate to pay my respects to the kami of the city.”
“A fine idea, Arika-san. Perhaps a tour of the temple complex is in order?”
“If it is no trouble.” Arika smiled, “I would not dare interrupt your duties.”
“Not at all.” Tezuka said, “You are a guest, and surely a moment’s diversion will be a good way to spice up an otherwise routine day.”
Doji Ai smiled as she bowed, “Then if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to make a rush order. No rest for the wicked, or kimono makers, it seems.” she grinned, giving knowing winks in Tezuka’s direction.
Silver Countess: GAMBATTE NE, PLAYBOY!
Satsu strode into the Imperial Household, led by the guide and soldiers of the Seppun House Guard. He was there to meet with one of his Clan’s highest ranking Courtiers, Doji Tanitsu, the Imperial Advisor.
Tanitsu met him in his quarters, dismissing the Seppun Guardsmen that stood watch with a slight nod. “It is alright, I know and trust this man.”
Satsu bowed, “Thank you again for allowing such a meeting in short notice. I’ve come to discuss a matter that was brought up to me by the Dragon Clan diplomat, Mirumoto Shiori. It seems that she wishes to propose an alliance with regards to the race for the position of Shogun.”
“Interesting.” Tanitsu offered a place by a low table where they could talk, taking the opportunity to serve tea as well. “The position of Shogun is quite a controversial one. The Emperor allowed the position to be valid due to his brother, Akodo Kaneka, but with Kaneka’s passing even the empty position is a threat to us.”
“Hai.” Satsu agreed, “Given our current selection of nominees, I’m afraid that we have little in the way of good choices.”
“Bayushi Paneki, Hida Kisada, Akodo Senji.” Tanitsu agreed, “All three of which have had outstanding abilities in the field and more than a fair share of combat experience. Their men revere them, the empire admires them, and each was hailed as a hero at one point or another.”
“Which leaves us with only Shiba Danjuro.” Satsu agreed, “As a Phoenix, he is well acquainted with the idea of duty over the self, and is the least likely to use his position to advance his Clan.”
“Not entirely.” Tanitsu said, “I’ve received a missive that there is a chance that we might be able to field our own representative to the Shogun. In fact, our Champion is on her way to speak with him before she arrives to the Imperial City.”
“I see.” Satsu said, “Be that as it may, do I have permission to speak with the Dragon and the Phoenix as our backup plan?”
“Of course.” Tanitsu said, “it cannot hurt to have contingencies in place.”
“Very well.” Satsu smiled, “I will wait for Domotai-sama to arrive with our representative, and request for further orders when it becomes necessary.”
Tanitsu nodded, and the conversation flowed to other topics, regarding the economy, how Satsu’s life has been in the Merchant Quarters, and if there is anything that they needed at the moment in court.
Later that week, Doji Domotai, the champion of the Crane Clan arrived in the city. Her visit to the estate of Doji Satsu is one that is both dreaded and welcomed given the Champion’s reputation.
Thankfully, the group was well prepared. Doji Satsu and Tomiko were on hand to welcome her to the estate. However, Satsu’s fears were confirmed when the Champion spoke with them.
“I was supposed to arrive withour representative to the position of Shogun.” Domotai explained, “However, the man I approached was apparently one of those who felt that I was unfit to lead the Clan. Rather than accept my invitation, he threw his life away by Kanshi.”
She referred to the ancient art of suicide to protest against one’s lord.
“I have fought in wars of my own.” Domotai said, “But to see a capable vassal throw his life away in protest of your own leadership…”
“Is a terrible thing.” Tomiko interjected, “But we cannot let that define you, Domotai-sama. Instead, we must find a way to change how they perceive you. You’ve been slandered even before you know it, and you suffer through no fault of your own.”
Satsu frowned, “It’s a setback, Domotai-sama. Nothing more. Do not be too concerned, the Shogunate is a strong position, but one that we do not really need in order to control it. Sometimes being the advisor is more powerful than the one who holds a title. We have contingencies in place with Tanitsu-sama.”
“It is reassuring to know that.” Domotai said, “I hold my remaining vassals close, but cannot shake the paranoia that accompanies seeing my best men abandon me and claim to be patriots for doing so.”
“We’ve forseen this.” Tomiko smiled, “but we have a plan on how to reinforce those loyal to you and to wipe out the doubt in the hearts of those who are struggling.”
“Oh?” Domotai asked, “And what do you have in mind?”
Tomiko smirked, “To put it simply? We’re going to give you an image change.” The courtier nodded to the direction of a shoji screen, “Ai-chan?”
“Hai.” Doji Ai smiled as she stepped back, “Sashiburi, Domotai-sama. I’ll be your fashion consultant during your stay today.”
Satsu excused himself shortly after the ladies decided to go over their plan with Domotai. He trusted his sister to handle things on his end.
He took a horse and rode towards the Imperial Palace, to meet with Tanitsu. It didn’t take long for him to gain entry, citing it as an emergency. He needed to act, and he needed the authority to do so.
“I’ve heard the news as well.” Tanitsu said, “A shame. He was a good samurai, but perhaps too hidebound in his ways. Domotai is a fine champion, but too many others have judged her for her history, her parents, her upbringing.”
Satsu remained quiet. He knew Tanitsu understood why he was there.
The Advisor snapped his fan closed, “Proceed with the plan, talk with the Phoenix and see what we need to get the votes to place Shiba Danjuro in the Shogun’s place.”
“Arigatou, Tanitsu-sama.” Satsu bowed, “We’ll put things to right. It is what we do.”
“Lady Doji smile on us all.” Tanitsu said, “I don’t imagine the other Clans will give up without a fight.”
“I’m counting on that.”
Doji Ai and Tomiko were patiently going over their plan with Domotai.
“The concept is simple.” Ai smiled, “We simply have to leverage our advantage, Tomiko-san and I have made sure to commission all of the kimono makers in the city to make sure that they can’t accept orders from other Clans.
Tomiko-san has already started it, with her introduction to the courts with Satsu-san,” She continued, “Once you make your entrance into the courts in the same style, everyone will want to dress in a similar fashion. Don’t worry about any naysayers, I’ll deal with them.”
Domotai listened intently, “And this is all to make me look more Crane?”
“More Crane and more like Lady Doji.” Tomiko clarified, “The point is to prove that there’s nothing Lion about you. You’re the champion, the very apex of what it means to be Crane, Domotai-sama. People should be able to see that.”
Domotai nodded in understanding. Like Satsu she was raised in the Lion lands to study their tactics and their ways. Her return due to her father’s dishonor and her mother’s execution was not considered to be a good sign. In Tomiko’s mind it was not that she wasn’t Crane, she simply needed time and a chance to show it.
“Ai-san.” Domotai turned to the Artisan, “Would it be possible to make kimonos of the same style for each of the other Champions? I wish to give them as gifts.”
“An excellent idea.” Tomiko agreed, “I believe that we’ll be able to make the most of such gracious a gift.”
Naito hurried up the steps to the Temple of Ebisu alone. He needed someplace private, away from the estate. With everyone otherwise occupied, this was his only opportunity to meet with his contact.
He waited in the temple gardens, until a nondescript man walked over giving him the sign that was in the letter he’d sent. He gave the countersign as it was taught to him by his wife.
It was a code used by the Harriers.
“You’re taking a big risk with meeting us,” the Harrier said, “What do you want?”
“I’m in a particular position to offer you and your men a chance to reconcile with the Clan.”
“A chance to reconcile with the same Clan that ordered us exterminated to a man?” The Harrier was not amused.
“Your skills are wasted as Ronin.” Naito tried to reason, “There are those who still appreciate the work you’ve done for the Clan, and don’t want to lose your skills.”
“We’ve found another who supports our cause.” the Harrier said, “We’re not willing to offer our backs to someone who has betrayed us once. We have a new path, and the old order will suffer for it.”
“What will it take for me to prove my sincerity, then?”
The Harrier regarded Naito cautiously, “Then give up what we want. Make certain that Domotai is in the gardens of the estate at the Spring Festival. Surely a courtier of your caliber can do that much.”
Naito felt his blood run cold. Assassination?
Then again, with the Harriers placated he could get them back for the Clan. Domotai has already been a force of division inside the Clan, will her death be anything but good for the Clan in the long haul?
“I’ll see what I can do.” he replied, even as his thoughts raced.
There was precious little time to turn this crisis into an opportunity.
And that is where we left off this weekend. Ragan’s player couldn’t make it to the game so he requested that his character take a short leave of absence in the time being. Overall things are coming to a head with the bigger issues beginning to surface: Domotai’s struggle for recognition, the race to become Shogun, the Harriers and even a little bit about Shourido.
Next game I’m hoping to be able to start early and get more done. The players are all hitting their stride and I need to capitalize on this momentum and make it a really fun ride.