Yesterday’s session began with Akodo Kenji, diplomat of the Lion Clan having just spoken to the former Crane Clan champion, Doji Kurohito, informing him of the nature of the Gozoku, and earning Kurohito’s assistance in destroying the Gozoku stronghold in the Scorpion Lands. Together with Kurohito, they returned to the Crab-Scorpion border to speak with Hida Kisada. The Great Bear welcomed the two guests, and Kenji handed a crystal bauble to the Great Bear, informing him that it would react in the presence of Gozoku Agents who were mostly equipped with Shadow Brands. Hida Kisada noted that the bauble was reacting at the very moment, and realized that the joke assassination attempt by Kenji wasn’t exactly a joke after all.
Kenji confessed that he was wearing a Shadow Brand, and had joined the Gozoku a year ago, but only for the purpose of being a double agent of the Lion Clan. Of course, the fact that the Shadow Brand could take control of his body was something that Kenji didn’t really bring up. Kisada acknowledged Kenji’s honesty (though commented that Kenji was probably the worst and best Lion Clan samurai he’d ever met) and decided to go with the Lion Diplomat’s plan. With Kenji’s assistance, Bayushi Sunetra opened the Scorpion Borders to welcome Kisada’s army as a delegation for military exercises. Yogo Honnouji assisted in the matter, and soon the combined Crab-Scorpion army was ready to assault the Shadowed Tower.
Kenji seeing that the group had more or less managed to organize themselves, decided that his expertise would no longer be necessary for the attack on the Shadowed Tower. He pulled Yogo Honnouji aside, given that she was a Jade Magistrate, and entrusted the job of managing the three Champions in the assault to her. Honnouji was glad to hear that the Lion was leaving, and took the responsibility, as Kenji made his way towards Lion Lands in order to help against the Tsuno invasion.
Meanwhile, in the Lion Clan camp, morale was at an all time low. For the past few nights, many of the soldiers were wracked with terrible nightmares, leaving many of the troops short-tempered and irritable. To make things worse several Lion Soldiers were being found dead in their bedrolls the next morning, their faces frozen in expressions of sheer terror. Akodo Senji, general of the Lion Clan was at his wit’s end. He could handle anything that could be killed with a blade, but when his troops were dying in their sleep there was nothing left he could do but to feel angry and helpless.
He called for Kitsu Tetsumi to try and find a way to stop these deaths from happening again. The Shugenja and the General took time to investigate the fallen. Cursory inspection showed no wounds at all, and there was no sign of poisoning. Tetsumi surmised that they died in their sleep, possibly from supernatural causes. She bade Senji to step outside and try to boost morale while she tended to the dead, and tried to speak with the corpse of Matsu Hanzo in order to find out more about the threat.
She touched the corpse and peered beyond the veil of the living and found herself in the dread realm of Gaki-do, the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. It was there that she found Matsu Hanzo, fleeing terrified, his armor ruined, his swords broken and screaming. She stopped him, forcing him to focus as she tried to get information on what had happened.
What she discovered was disturbing. Matsu Hanzo had believed that the Tsuno had indeed attacked the camp, and that the Lions, despite their training and numbers were routed by a vastly superior army. His courage left him, and he fled, dishonoring himself in the process by quitting the field. Tetsumi realized that whatever had happened to Hanzo was in the context of his dream, and his death while asleep only resulted in the young samurai turning into a Gaki, a restless ghost which died in a tragic and manner. It was a damning tactic, one that was brutal and effective, and if it was allowed to continue, there was little doubt that the Lion army would not be in any shape to stave off the Tsuno in a real invasion.
Tetsumi was horrified by the result, and tore off a piece of her kimono, tying it around Hanzo’s arm in the fashion of the Deathseekers, encouraging him, telling him that he alone can ensure that his death was not in vain. She told him not to fall into despair, as he was still a Lion, and even here in Gaki-Do, it was his duty to conduct himself as such. She bade him to find the rest of those who died from the dreams and to rally them, as their enemy had revealed that they would use the very Spirit Realms against the Clan, and even if they were Gaki, they could defend the clan from here.
Once she had left Gaki-Do, Tetsumi immediately reported her findings to Senji. The General took this information to heart, and began sending orders to his men, telling them the nature of this trick. He told him men to stand firm against these dreams, to not give in to the dangers presented in the dream, and to fight on and conduct themselves as true Lions.
That said, the troops were still restless, as while it was easy to listen to such advice, no man could know the measure of another’s courage, and few were willing to test the horrors that had claimed so many of their comrades alone.
Senji awoke that night to a cry of alarm. He roused himself, fetching his blades as a runner entered his tent to tell him that the Tsuno had begun their assault earlier than expected. Senji growled at this treachery, cursing himself for believing that Matsu Turi would have stuck to his deadline. Of course the Dark Oracle would strike at this moment. He stepped out, rallying his troops to him, giving them a speech that they would not fall to the Tsuno’s advance, and that the Lion would be victorious this day.
His bravado lost momentum the moment the first Tsuno charge drove deep into the Lion’s defensive line. He watched as the Tsuno mowed down his troops, aided by the Dark Oracle of Water’s spells to lend them superior mobility. Soon they were upon him, slaughtering his honor guard even as he fought with the desperation of a man doomed to die. Senji struggled to fight on despite the pain of his wounds, and the fear that threatened to freeze him in place. All around him all he could hear were the cries of the dying, and the Tsuno’s chilling war cries.
Finally, the last of his men fell to the Tsuno’s cruel blades, and Senji found himself alone against the Tsuno horde. Rather than run away, he girded himself and lunged towards the endless horde.
This was when everything came to a sudden halt. An eerie silence filled the air, as everything stopped. Tsuno stood frozen arms raised to deal the killing blow, arrows were suspended in mid-air and all Senji could hear was his racing heartbeat and his labored breathing. He discovered that his wounds were gone, figments of the dream.
“Impressive” a voice called out, as a large misshapen hand shoved a frozen Tsuno Ravager aside, revealing a grotesque mockery of a Lion samurai. The creature was eight feet tall, and its carapace resembled that of samurai armor. Senji looked on, horrified even as the creature brought a hand up to its mempo, and took it off, to reveal the face of Akodo Kenji, the Lion Clan Diplomat.
“I am Oni No Kenji.” it spoke as it revealed its six arms, each one holding a katana, “And I had not expected that there would still be courage like yours in the Clan.”
Senji breathed deep, drawing on something inside him for the courage to face the Oni. He knew that his chances against it were slim, but his honor would not allow this Oni to live.
“Silence, demon.” he spoke as he drew his blades, “I care not for your words, all I know is that you are an Oni, and for that you must die.”
“Brave words.” Oni No Kenji sneered, before his next words were cut off by the Lion samurai.
Senji’s initial assault was nothing short of brutal. His blade cleaved through the demon’s carapace, carving through flesh and bone as he lunged past the demon. The Lion spun around at the end of his charge, surprised to find that the Oni was still standing… and laughing.
“I’d expected more from you.” It taunted, and Senji’s confidence crumbled as the Oni fell upon him six blades whirling about at deadly speed.
Senji defended himself as best as he could, feeling one blade, and then another pierce his defenses, and soon he found himself impaled on two of the demon’s blades, each one going right through his body. The Oni gave a derisive snort as he kicked him off its blades in an almost negligent manner. The Lion fell on his back, his body refusing to move.
“I could kill you now.” Oni No Kenji spoke, “But you’ve impressed me with your futile courage, Akodo Senji. Know that I could have ended you now, samurai. But you are simply not worth my time.”
“Damn you!” Senji spat, “I can still fight! Come back!”
The Oni simply sneered and walked away.
Senji awoke in his futon, bloodied and barely alive. The servant who found him panicked and summoned the Kitsu for aid, and had it not been for the timely intervention of the shugenja who healed him from his most grievous wounds, he would have died of blood loss. Tetsumi was among those who aided the General to heal, following his wishes to leave scars, as a reminder of his own failure to slay the Oni that threatened his men.
Senji reported to her, telling her all the details of his dream, and his ill-fated duel with the Oni bearing the Lion Diplomat’s name. He’d just finished his report when the tent flap opened, and Akodo Kenji sauntered in with a grin.
“So, what did I miss?”
Tetsumi hauled the diplomat away as soon as she saw him, dragging him to a place where no one would overhear their conversation. She confronted him with the details, of an Oni in Yume-Do slaughtering Lion troops in their dreams, damning them to Gaki-Do, and bearing his name and his face.
Kenji realized that the Oni was the dream reflection of Oni no Okura, whose summoning he’d interfered with in the dream realms a year before. He explained that he’d given her his name in order to save Okura’s reputation. Tetsumi told him that such a move was dangerous, and had an unexpected side effect. In giving it his name, he gave a dream a fraction of reality, and the Oni was now able to interact with Ningen-Do.
The two discussed their options. It was imperative that they stop the demon. Kenji was convinced that they had to somehow bring a force of Lions to try and slay the Oni in Yume-do. To do so was risky however, and would mean pulling some of the Lion’s best men into a Spirit Realm where the Tsuno might be waiting. Tetsumi realized that she might have a second option: Matsu Hanzo, and the rest of the slain Gaki might be able to possess the Oni, or at least weaken it enough so that a smaller force of men could kill the creature. It was a gamble, but at that time, it was the only option they had.
But before they proceeded with their plan, Kenji took some time off to contact his Tea House back in Two Rivers with an unusual request: To send all his tea and the kohi (coffee) he had purchased from Yoritomo Yoyonagi to the Hall of Ancestors. He also gathered the Ikoma Bards, telling them to write in the histories that the men who died in their sleep were never to be referred to as victims, but as the vanguard of this battle.
“They saw and fought the enemy first.” he reasoned.
While the two were in council, Akodo Senji was summoned by his servants. It turned out that their prisoner, Shiba Tsuke, former Master of Water of the Phoenix Clan was calling for him. The General met with the prisoner, who offered a deal: in exchange for his freedom, Tsuke would bestow all of the Phoenix Clan’s secret water spells, all of which could be useful against something as powerful as the Dark Oracle of Water.
It was a powerful advantage. With the spells, the Kitsu could react in a manner that would reduce Matsu Turi’s effectiveness. But the consequences on the Lion’s political standing with the Phoenix will be nothing short of catastrophic. Releasing Tsuke would mean that he would be free to find and join up with Miyata, the terrorist leader once more.
Still, was it worth turning down a clear tactical advantage that could mean the survival of the Clan?
Senji promised nothing, but told Tsuke that he would bring the matter up to the Lion War Council to consider. His fate is in their hands now, though he would argue for Tsuke’s bargain, as the Lion could make up for Political loss of face later, but they needed to survive long enough to make such a thing possible.
Akodo Senji returned after speaking with the prisoner to find Tetsumi and Kenji, and heard of their plan. And so it was decided that Matsu Broli, Matsu Hiroto, Kitsu Tetsumi, Akodo Kenji and Akodo Senji all would ready themselves for the inevitable plunge into Yume-Do. The group shifted to dream realm with the help of the other Kitsu, and it was there that Tetsumi and Hiroto began a summons for the Gaki.
No sooner had they been able to call upon Matsu Hanzo when the Oni no Kenji manifested out of Kenji’s shadow.
“I had heard of Lion courage, but to see you again so soon, Akodo Senji? Are you truly so blind to your weakness?”
“I’ve brought friends.” Senji growled, as he readied his blades.
At Tetsumi’s signal, the assembled Gaki lunged towards the Oni, forcing their way into its mind. The Oni staggered back, clutching its head as the will of one was being hammered by the anger and hatred of the Hungry Ghosts. The team advanced, ready to seize any opportunity to slay the demon at it’s moment of weakness.
To their surprise, the Oni fell to it’s knees, even as it begged the Gaki to stop. It was clearly losing the battle against the ghosts, as it drew it’s blade and turned it into itself, two arms trying to commit seppuku, and the other arms trying to stop itself.
“Let us die together, monster!” Hanzo’s voice came from the Oni’s mouth.
“No!” It raged, despair overcoming its features as it felt the blade slowly sinking into its flesh, “Father!” it turned to Kenji, “What must I do!?”
Kenji, thinking quickly stepped forward, recognizing that the demon would listen to him as he was the one that gave it a name. “Don’t throw your life away.” he said, to the surprise of all assembled, “You are a Lion, you bear my name, and as such you will serve the Clan. You do not serve your purpose in killing the weak, but instead you must be strong for your brothers in the Clan.”
Tetsumi nodded, letting Hanzo release their hold on the Oni as it regarded those words.
“I hear father.” the Oni spoke, “And I obey.”
Tetsumi stepped forward, “As a Lion, you are unique in the sense that you alone stand in the realm of dreams. As Oni no Okura defends Tengoku, I charge you now to defend the Lion from threats that would use Yume-Do as a means to strike against us.”
“The Tsuno.” the Oni acknowledged, “And Matsu Turi. I understand. I will defend the Clan, no matter what it takes.”
With the Oni converted (somewhat) to their side, the team returned to Ningen-Do, and Senji spoke to them and the War Council of Shiba Tsuke’s proposal. It was a powerful offer after all, and one that was possibly an advantage the the Lion could not refuse. Over a lengthy debate the team struggled back and forth over the merits of earning the secret spells that could save their Clan.
Ultimately, it was Kenji who was able to provide the needed leverage to upturn the vote. He would have to leave for the Phoenix lands, in order to speak to Tamori Shaitung, the Master of Earth, whose position he had helped obtain. He would leverage a favor to obtain the Phoenix’s information on the Dark Oracles, their capabilities, powers and any other information that could prove valuable.
And so it was decided that Tsuke’s proposal was to be rejected, and that he was to be handed over to Imperial Judgement via Yogo Honnouji. The Lion Clan would do well to submit him to the Imperial Magistrates in an effort to demonstrate that even if the Lion were crass enough to drag the Master of Water from the Phoenix Clan, they were not about to take justice into their own hands.
Kenji was then looking to leverage the surrender of Tsuke to obtain the spells necessary to fight back against the Dark Oracle of Water from Honnouji as a favor from the Jade Magistrate.
It was a risky alternative, as few were comfortable with Yogo Honnouji, but Kenji surmised that her loyalty to the Empire was unquestionable, even if they didn’t get along in a personal level. With that resolved, the team decided that to release Tsuke was too dangerous a gamble that could backfire on them in ways that they weren’t prepared to handle just yet.
The session ends with the team preparing for the war. Again old plot hooks have resurfaced in this session, namely, the Oni No Kenji, and Shiba Tsuke. It was a good session with a lot of progress and interesting developments for many of the characters. Tetsumi’s grief at what had been done to the Lions who became Gaki, Kenji’s lighting-wit saving him time after time and Senji’s efficiency as both a combatant and a general were all put to the test in this session.
I hope that readers don’t find the fact that the seige of the Shadowed Tower was done off-screen as a turn-off, but that’s how things roll. Kenji was the point of view of that particular plot, and once he’d left, there was no sense for me to inform them of how it went. (which also means I have fertile ground for secret developments that Kenji doesn’t know about.)
At this point I’d like to also give a glimpse of how the Lion are faring in their preparations:
- Their conversion of Oni No Kenji means that the Tsuno no longer have access to Yume-Do, and Soultwisters will be courting disaster should they call upon that realm for spells.
- Their rejection of Tsuke’s offer means that the Dark Oracle of Water, Matsu Turi is still a powerful threat in the battle, and the Tsuno retain their ability to match the Lion’s mobility via Water Spells.
- Senji’s survival against the killer nightmares was a massive boost in Lion morale, and the General managed to assuage their fears of the unknown.
Next week is the start of the Tsuno Invasion. The clock has run out, and the Tsuno Invasion begins in earnest, and I can’t wait.