Last weekend’s session was much shorter than the first episode as there were only three players in attendance: Silver Countess, Hikkikomori and Paulo. As such the stories involved their repective characters dealing with having to live in Toshi Ranbo and situations specific to their archetypes.
Asahina Tezuka was not a happy boy. Thanks to a split-second decision to save a prostitute that ran to him for help he found himself in the not-so-desirable position of having to do something about it. He couldn’t just turn her out into the street again, not after determining that someone was casting magic to find out more information about her.
The next morning, Tezuka awoke early to cast a few spells, using the Water kami to give himself a vision of the people who the girl was running away from. He was able to get a look at three men, all of which had a crude tattoo in the soles of their feet. One was a shugenja, while the other two wielded sticks. Clearly this was bigger than a simple Temple Shugenja should be handling alone. It was time to go see Satsu for help and advice.
He left the girl in his Temple for the time being, giving her some responsibilities to clean and care for the Temple Grounds as he had to go down into the city and report to his superior. Upon arriving at the estate of Doji Satsu, he was quite surprised to see a Crane Samurai with an insufferably smug expression conducting a kata for Satsu and Tomiko. He soon learned that the samurai in question was Kakita Hayate, a duelist that was assigned to serve in Satsu’s estate.
After Hayate’s boisterous showboating, Tezuka requested to speak with Satsu. His superior nodded, and they walked to a private room where Tezuka explained his situation to Satsu.
Satsu on the other hand, had his own topic of discussion for Tezuka, bringing up Yoyonagi’s conversation in court with Tomiko.
“You think they’re related?” Tezuka had a pained expression.
“It would make sense. Yoyonagi says that a great deal of money had been stolen from the establishment. That same day, a prostitute from there comes begging for sanctuary at your Temple chased by thugs.”
“I don’t want anything to do with this.”
“You don’t have a choice.” Satsu said, “Aside from herself, you are the only other Samurai that was there. You alone can confirm or deny anything that Yoyonagi says.”
All of a sudden Yoyonagi’s gift of cash started to make sense to Tezuka. A bribe? He couldn’t be certain.
“I don’t want to testify. I’d rather be left alone.”
“You don’t have that luxury, Tezuka. Sooner or later you’ll be called to do something. I advise that you at least find a way to figure out the truth for yourself, rather than testify without actually knowing anything. Consult with the magistrates, perhaps they can help you.”
Tezuka knew that there was wisdom in Satsu’s words, and he wasn’t happy about it either. Upon being excused by Satsu, he went to Haruko to ask for assistance.
“Well, since I’l just be here writing letters, why don’t you ask Ragan to join you?” Haruko offered, “He’s a good Yojimbo, and you can take Hayate-san with you as well. He’s new to Satsu-sama’s service and stand to get used to the city.”
Tezuka chafed at the idea of taking the pompous Kakita with them, but perhaps the kakita blade of his could disincentivize any troublemakers.
And so, saddled with a Ronin and a Duelist, Tezuka made his way to the Magistrate’s office. There he met Bayushi Sato, the Magistrate assigned towards the Red Light district. The Magistrate listened to Tezuka’s predicament with polite silence.
“Well then, if you feel that this is beneath you… and considering that the girl is a prostitute, why don’t you turn over the matter to us?” Sato asked, “Simply have the girl report to me and I’ll see what we can do. That way she’s no longer your responsibility.”
“Thank you for your offer, Sato-sama.” Tezuka said, “But I’ll have to think on this a little longer.”
The group left the Magistrate’s office with Tezuka even more confused. If he’d just left it to Sato-sama then he still wouldn’t know what to testify… or if Sato-sama returned with results, he’d have to take a Scorpion’s word for it.
“Good choice not handing her over.”
Tezuka turned to see that a Doji magistrate had approached them, throwing sour looks at the direction of the office. “I’m Doji Mika, doshin to Sato. Let’s go talk somewhere else, you can tell me about it there.”
They entered a tea house and proceeded to a private function room where they could talk freely. There Mika took down the information they provided, but paused after Tezuka’s account.
“You know,” the magistrate pondered, “You keep bringing up that you don’t want to testify regarding the matter. If this is just an issue of theft and the girl is a scapegoat, what does it matter to you?”
Tezuka didn’t want to bring up the gift that Yoyonagi left him. He’d not mentioned it to Satsu, and he wasn’t about to tell this magistrate either.
“I don’t like having to testify without knowing everything.” he said after some thought, “Besides, I don’t want to put my hand on anything involving organized crime. I just run a Temple, last thing I need are goons attacking hapless monks because I decided to dabble in their affairs.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Mika nodded, “I may just be a doshin, but I’ve got some contacts. I’ll forward you my findings.”
With that, the team returned to Satsu’s residence. Mika would have to deal with the issue for now.
The following day, Tezuka found that he was given a new assignment: to accompany Haruko, Ragan and Ai in the local District Courts to conduct business. As the ones who control the Merchant Quarters, it falls to Satsu’s house to conduct the formalities involved in managing the local district court. Haruko was the courtier assigned to the matter, and she would need some form of assistance and protection from any clandestine spellcasting that might happen.
The day in court would have been relatively normal, had it not been for the sudden (and unexpected) arrival of the Lion Clan’s head diplomat: Akodo Kenji. Having the Lion Clan’s best diplomat suddenly arrive in a lowly District Court was certainly a breach of standard protocol, but it achieved it’s objective. Everyone was suddenly paying close attention to the Akodo.
Kenji waited for his turn before he spoke up, retelling the tale of the War of the City of the Rich Frog, where their Champion died not in honorable battle but from foul betrayal. It was a stirring account that left many of the assembled in tears. Of course, many of the other courtiers present also knew that it was a preface to a the Lion’s real move.
“It has come to our attention that one of the perpetrators of the betrayal against the Lion is now working under the patronage of the Crane,” Kenji spoke, pausing for effect, letting it settle into the minds of his listeners. “Shigure, the woman behind the Three Leaves Merchant House is within Toshi Ranbo.”
Haruko was stunned, she had just met Shigure… the woman that her father had referred her to! Surely there must be some mistake… for her father to be associating with someone who’d committed that kind of atrocity to one of the Great Clans?
“As such we find that we must implore the Crane to acquiesce with a simple request.” Kenji continued. “Surrender Shigure to us, and we will trouble you no further. Surely this is a simple request from one honorable Clan to another?”
Haruko forced herself to reply, to buy time, “That is a truly moving story, Kenji-sama, but I must bring this to the Doji Trading Council and my superiors. Will you be so kind as to allow us a little time?”
“A little.” Kenji smiled, “But remember that each day that Shigure is allowed her freedom is another day that our Ancestors do NOT rest easy.”
Kenji excused himself then, and the assembled Crane samurai met with each other to discuss the event. This was a serious accusation with several unpleasant consequences. If the Crane surrendered Shigure, they would have willingly lost one of their largest merchant houses and earned the distrust of the remaining Merchant Houses under their patronage. If they refuse to surrender Shigure, then they face possible repercussions from the Lion Clan.
It was then that Ragan spoke up. “Actually… I believe that I might have a solution.”
All eyes turned on him.
“I won’t say what I have in mind,” he continued, “Not in pleasant company, but I believe I have a way to remove Shigure without harm to the Crane. I’m a Ronin after all. The only question is: Do you trust me?”
Haruko looked at her Yojimbo. If she’d brought this up to the authorities she could easily see the tensions between the two Clans going downhill. If her yojimbo knew any way to fix this…
“Do it.” she said, “Don’t tell me anything, but do it.”
Ragan found himself visiting Shigure later that evening. Shigure remembered him from Haruko’s visit, and inquired as to why he was there. Ragan told her that the Lion were looking for her, and accusing her of a crime that led to their Champion’s death by betrayal.
Shigure thanked him for that information, not bothering to confirm nor deny her involvement. Instead, she asked Ragan what the Crane intended to do about it. When Ragan admitted that he didn’t know. Shigure looked disappointed at that.
“I wonder then what the other Merchants will think after I’ve told them? If I die, then they will know that it is because the Crane refused to protect me.”
Ragan said nothing, and excused himself.
The next day, Ragan asked Haruko to set up a meeting with Kenji, and asked for Tezuka to change his appearance to that of a Mantis by the name of Kasuga Shin. Haruko reluctantly agreed, and they met in a restaurant not far from Satsu’s estate.
There Ragan explained that he could get Shigure to leave the city by herself, but he needed a week to make it happen. He wanted to stop the Lions from acting too hastily.
Kenji seemed to take the affair in stride, and then asked Ragan about how he knew about this.
“Oh, I was listening when you told the story in the District court. It was very moving.” Ragan lied.
“I see. Where exactly where you standing at the time?” Kenji asked, well aware that the Mantis was nowhere there… and Kenji had a flawless memory. Since the person lied, Kenji filed that away for future use.
“Somewhere near Haruko.” Ragan answered dismissively, “In any case, can I at least get your promise to not do anything until I can get Shigure out of the town?”
“Very well.” Kenji smiled, “You have my word”
Ragan spent the next few days staking out Shigure’s estate with Tezuka, who had been rather unceremoniously commandeered into the service. They spent several hours watching until finally a palanquin appeared.
The two tailed the palanquin, using a spell to eavesdrop inside to determine that it truly was Shigure making her escape. She’d commissioned a Mantis ship to pick her up and bring her to the Mantis Isles, too far away for the Lion to bother with seizing her. Upon Ragan’s urging, Tezuka sent a spell to Kenji to inform him of Shigure’s intent to escape.
The followed Shigure until she arrived at the ship. The Mantis captain was waiting for her, and led her aboard. Tezuka and Ragan could do nothing but watch and listen as they eavesdropped on the conversation.
“Your quarters are below deck, Shigure-san.” the captain spoke, “I’m certain you’ll find your accommodations quite satisfactory.”
“I paid good money for this.” Shigure spoke, “The Lion are getting too close, but in the Isles, they will simply have to give up the chase.”
“Captain?” Shigure, now more nervous, “I realize that I haven’t seen your crew. Where are they?”
“Astute, Shigure.” the voice of the captain changed to that of Kenji, “But I’m afraid you’re no longer in Toshi Ranbo, and as such the Lion Clan are free to enact our vengeance upon you. As far as everyone esle knows, the ship sailed to the Mantis Isles, and you could quite possibly have gotten away.”
Doji Ai sat quietly in her quarters, looking over quite a number of letters on her desk. It seems that her kimonos during the Imperial Court have earned no small measure of attention. With a sigh, she began to open each one, reading them one or two sentences in, before setting them down again.
Why were so many of them so dreadfully mundane?
Finally she’d picked up a letter coming from a strangely exotic looking paper. It smelled faintly of strange oils and perfumes, and the red stamp on the corner indicated that it came from the Unicorn Clan’s Ide family.
The carefully undid the precise folding of the letter, gazing upon it’s contents as a smile tugged at the corner of her lips. Now this seemed interesting.
The sender was an Ide Xian, a Unicorn Clan functionary who had witnessed Ai’s work in the Imperial Court. Ai was being invited over to the Unicorn Clan embassy in Toshi Ranbo for the purpose of a special commission of a rather unique nature.
Her interest piqued, Ai made preparations for a visit.
The Unicorn Clan’s embassy in Toshi Ranbo was a very odd structure. Resembling the architecture of the Burning Sands, the design incorporated bizzare touches such as stained glass windows and multicolored mosaics and lanterns that hung from chains suspended from the ceiling. Rugs and carpets from all manner of cloth and beast was strewn about and the place smelled of spices and other stranger substances.
She was led by a minor officer to meet with Ide Xian, a young woman with friendly features and ruddy cheeks and a pale complexion betraying a heritage of blood not quite linked to the Rokugani. She spoke fluently however (much to Ai’s relief) and the two exchanged pleasantries before Xian told her of the commission.
The Kimono that they were requesting was to be given as a tribute to the Kami Shinjo, who had returned to Rokugan. In order to honor her, and to wish her safe journeys in her ascension back to the Celestial Heavens, Xian sought Ai’s assistance to create a kimono that could serve as the perfect gift.
Ai listened to the request. While it was perhaps a little far fetched, she was an Artisan, and to do this for the Unicorn would bring much honor to herself and the Clan. Besides, such an opportunity could give her the inspiration she needed.
Ai gave her requirements… in order to produce a truly inspired kimono, she would need two things: a tale personal to the person commissioning the work, and an object of great personal sentimental value to be sacrificed to create the work. Xian was puzzled, but told Ai that they would serve as best as they could. Since Ai was to make a Kimono for a Clan, she would have to learn the stories and the nature of the Clan as a whole, and take something of value from them.
Xian understood… even if she found it very unusual. She led Ai first to speak with their former Khan: Moto Chagatai, the one who led the Unicorn on a bloody war against the Lion Clan in the City of the Rich Frog.
By all means Chagatai was a villain. She remembered Akodo Kenji’s stirring account of the war. Being ushered into the same room with a man whose deeds caused incredible pain and suffering to the Lion Clan was terrifying, but Ai commanded herself to be still. Inside, she found him poring over documents and maps, still plannning, still active despite having lost use of his legs.
He was older, weaker, and his legs were atrophied under the fur blanket that he had draped over them, but she knew that his eyes were not of a man defeated. Chagatai may have “lost” but he was still in combat with every day of his life.
Ai took a seat in front of him, and they spoke, with Xian introducing them and telling the former Khan of the need to get Ai to make this gift. At first the former Khan was hostile to the idea, offended that they would have to see the Crane for a gift to their own Kami, but eventually he relented to speak to Ai directly.
The two spoke at length, with Chagatai demanding that Ai prove that her art was more than something transient and ephemeral. In the face of his effect on destiny, and his war’s lasting legacy in the hearts and minds of his allies and his enemies, her art was a dream and not much else.
Ai countered that her Art was an expression of his achievements. She could immortalize the Clan and show truth where truth exists, even when such things often contradict themselves. Whereas he could change lives with tactics and his blade, she had the same effect through her art.
It was a tense standoff, and for a moment Xian despaired that the maimed Khan would simply refuse. However Ai finally won Chagatai’s permission to continue with her work.
Ai turned to Xian and smiled. Perhaps this would be her first inspired work since her father passed away.
For the first time in what felt like forever, Ai dared to hope.
And that concludes this week’s session. Hearts and Souls is turning out to be a much slower paced game than my Lion campaign but that’s to be expected. That said at least I think I can get to exploring necessary bits and pieces of each of the characters, watching them as they start to make progress beyond their initial concepts.
Tezuka and Ai are both built on the concept of evolution, moving beyond their sheltered inital selves to embrace life as it is. Painful, beautiful, moving and tragic.