Last weekend’s game was rather slow on my end, I was off my game as far as GMing goes. That said, I think we were able to lay down a few new plot hooks as well as tie off a few of the ones I’ve started early on in the campaign.
Asahina Tezuka winced at the sight of the violence before him, but did not avert his eyes. Two of the heimin men circled one another, bruised and bleeding. They were fighting bare-handed, with the savagery of dogs.
Around them were a crowd of onlookers cheering for one or another, while a rat-faced man collected bets on who would win.
“Watch closely.” Kage spoke. The monk stood stoically beside the young Shugenja, “Observe man at his true nature. These men fight to the death, so that they may earn enough money to live. This is the true nature of life. We fight every day so that we can survive.
You’ve been cooped up away in your temples, raised to believe in the false teachings of Bushido. Duty, honor… these are mere words to manipulate you into being pawns for someone else.”
Tezuka offered no reply.
“You’re a man with incredible potential as a Shugenja.” Kaze continued, “To throw away that potential in the service of the unworthy would be a waste. They would have you cast yourself in harm’s way without a thought, but think of just how much good you can do if you weren’t asked to be suicidal?
Know your worth, Tezuka. Control, Determination, Insight, Knowledge, Perfection, Strength, Will… this is the basis of Shourido.”
“I will need to think upon this, Kaze.”
“Of course,” Kaze said, “I believe you’ve learned your lesson here.”
Doji Naito felt his throat go dry the moment he read the letter. It was an immaculately written one, with elegant calligraphy, precise folding and a simple message.
It was an invitation to a tea ceremony with the Imperial Chancellor, Bayushi Kaukatsu. One of the most influential courtiers in the Empire today.
Naito’s maind was racing a mile a minute, trying to think of what this could be about. An invitation from a Scorpion was a trap, definitely, but what kind?
Already he had little choice in the matter but to accept. The objective now was to somehow get out of that tea ceremony with as little damage as possible.
He arrived at Kaukatu’s residence in the Imperial Palace, accompanied by his wife, Daidoji Akeha. They endured nearly two dozen separate checkpoints, and several interviews to verify their identities and reasons for visiting. Naito shrewdly had to admit it to Kaukatsu, extra-strict security was one way of mentally fatiguing someone even before the battle started.
He arrived and was welcomed in a small building in the gardens of Kaukatsu’s estate. It was meant to give the impression of humility and simplicity, but the craftsmanship spoke otherwise.
Kaukatsu was there, welcoming him with grace and dignity. Naito girded himself for war and returned his pleasantries.
It was during the ceremony that Kaukatsu brought up the real reason for this meeting.
“I called you here today to discuss a private matter. I hope you will forgive my transgressions towards a family matter, but I have come upon information that will be of interest to you and your Father-in-law.”
Naito schooled his features, exerting every ounce of effort to not appear surprised. Just how much did Kaukatsu know?
“I see.” he replied quietly, sipping his tea.
Kaukatsu continued, “My intelligence network has come upon information on the whereabouts of certain missing Daidoji that your Father-in-law may be interested in.”
The Harriers. Naito was alarmed. The Scorpion knew about them, and were dangling them in front of him. A favor, or blackmail?
“That said, would you wish to receive this information?” Kaukatsu offered, “I hesitate to bring this up to your Father-in-law directly, as Daidoji Kikaze does not entirely look upon the Scorpion favorably.”
Naito grimaced. He had an obligation to locate the harriers and convince them to return to the clan. Now the Scorpion was practically giving it to him.
“And what of yourself?” Naito asked, “What do you gain from this?”
“Your goodwill.” Kaukatsu said, “Besides, terrible business, these Daidoji. The Crane shouldn’t be sullied by such characters.”
Naito didn’t like the sound of that. But given this… his biggest lead?
“Very well, I accept your generosity.” he replied, bowing. Knowing full well that Kaukatsu will most likely find ways to call on that ‘goodwill’ at the most opportune time.
Tomiko wished that this was just a normal visit. An old friend of hers, a fellow courtier from the Kakita provinces had paid a visit to bring her ill-tidings.
It would seem that there was a growing sentiment against the current Crane Champions, Doji Domotai. Due to her being raised in the Lion Clan, and her decision to exterminate the Harriers, many of the conservative members of the Clan have started harboring resentment at her “ill-considered” actions.
It was troubling news. For one thing, the Champion was the figurehead of the Clan. There was no way for a champion to be removed without giving an impression of weakness for the Clan. The only way she could be deposed without compromising the clan was through assassination.
With disgruntled daimyos, and the harriers missing Tomiko knew that things were going to get a lot worse if they didn’t find a way to stop this.
Add the fact that Domotai was due to arrive in two weeks time. She needed to find a way to swing popular opinion of Domotai somehow… to win over the conservative factions before they decided to resort to violence.
Ragan smiled as he sauntered into the nearby tea house. He’d been tasked to find testimony to assist in springing Shinjo Tai out from prison. It seemed easy enough, and being given a bag of Koku as extra incentive for anyone he met to motivate them to testify was always nice to have as well.
Thankfully he didn’t think he needed it.
The tea house was in the military district of the city, and inside he could see that there were plenty of Lions inside. Whatever possessed Tai to start an argument there was beyond Ragan, but he figured that Tai wasn’t very bright.
It was a simple matter for him to suss out a mouthy Lion, encouraging them to brag about the matter until he got what he needed. One of the Lions bragged about how their compatriot took the first shot at Tai, and Ragan quietly took note of his name.
He left the tea house with the information and surrendered it to Ai. Surely calling on the mouthy Lion to testify in court regarding the events will bolster Tai’s case significantly.
Doji Satsu bowed as he looked at the diplomat of the Dragon Clan, Mirumoto Shiori. The samurai-ko was a middle-aged woman with a severe expression. Her kimono was austere and perhaps a little on the plain side, tailored more for comfort as opposed to fashion. The twin swords placed in a display case behind her told the rest of the story. She was a diplomat, but also a warrior.
“I find myself increasingly concerned over the current vacancy of the position of Shogun.” She wasn’t the type to beat around the bush, it seemed, “With Akodo Kaneka slain, and revealed to have been part of the Gozoku conspiracy almost every single one of the more militant clans have put forth one candidate or another.”
“What do you have in mind?” Satsu asked, he was well aware that the Dragon as well as the Crane did not have a candidate for the position.
“We’ll have to choose among the candidates, and I’d rather that we work together to choose someone who will serve in that position without… distractions. I’m certain that there are more than a few candidates that we’d rather not succeed.”
Shiori called for some tea to be served, waiting until the servant left before resuming the conversation. “I for one do not wish for the Crab, the Lion or the Scorpion to win this. As those without a candidate, we are in a peculiar situation to be kingmakers to those we support.”
Satsu knew the candidates well enough, and he could see why Shiori would favor the Phoenix. The Lion were in a remarkably strong position, and giving them the seat of Shogun would only cement their independence from Crane funding. The Crab are not to be trusted, as even if Kisada was a fortune, he cannot erase the fact that he led an assault to seize the throne in his lifetime. Paneki, the Scorpion Champion and candidate is well respected, but is still a Scorpion. They already hold half the courts, if they were to secure the rank of Shogun, then they would have an advantage in a place where the Crane could not follow.
Satsu nodded, “In which case, we have two votes to the Phoenix.”
Shiori nodded, “I know that my clan and the Phoenix have not been in the best of terms, but their candidate is the lesser of two evils. Everyone else is a danger to us and the empire.”
A short visit to meet with an old Utaku maiden who had retired to become a nun gave Doji Ai much needed information on the nature of the reclusive family of battle maidens as well as their unique role among the Unicorn Clan.
She’d returned from her visit to good news from Ide Xian: finally, Tai was free and she got the embroidered cloths from his ancestors.
Everything was finally in place.
Doji Ai secluded herself in the indoor gardens of the Unicorn Embassy. Tapping into the wellspring of inspiration that she’d compiled with her experiences with the Unicorn Clan, she began to weave threads into cloth, and cloth into a kimono.
The act of creation to her was a means of touching the sublime, as her inspiration drove her hands, and her heart dictated the patterns and designs of her work. She incorporated their histories and their hopes into the kimono. In it she incorporated the classical patterns of their earliest days as the Ki-Rin, and incorporated the alien worksmanship of the times in the Burning Sands.
In the end the kimono sang of wanderlust and discovery, of love and mercy to fellow man. The resplendent patterns shifted as the cloth moved, an illusion woven into it as to dazzle and amaze.
Ai was spent, exhausted from effort, but it was finally complete. A Kimono fit for a god.
Moto Chen, champion of the Unicorn was apparently in Toshi Ranbo to see the gift and judge it if it was worthy of being given to Shinjo. One look at it and his doubts melted away. He worried that the Crane would not be truly able to show the height of Unicorn’s culture and reverence to their kami, but the kimono did all that and more.
Determined to find a way to turn popular opinion on the Champion around, Tomiko called on the other courtiers, her brother and Doji Ai to discuss a means to bolster Domotai as a symbol of the Crane, rather than some half-lion pretender.
The idea was simple, they would use their economic strength to lock out all the kimono makers in Toshi Ranbo, and Doji Ai would use her skills to craft a Kimono for Doji Domotai in the same ancient style she used for Tomiko and Satsu in their introduction to the courts.
The other courtiers would then work as gatekeepers, letting slip the rumor that such a kimono would be used by all Crane, and that they could “let” a few of the other courtiers of the clans in on it before Domotai’s arrival. It was the first in a new wave of an artistic revival that the team came up with, one that championed the Crane’s initial contributions to art and culture even before foreign influences from the Scorpion and the Mantis diluted what was beautiful by virtue of something as fleeting as novelty.
With the conclusion of this session, I think I can start taking off the kid gloves. The stage is set and all the plot hooks are foreshadowed. Threats, allies, opportunities… everyone is represented well and the group is poised to make great progress, or run into some serious opposition from the other groups.
At this point I’m going over each of the clans in my head, and finalizing their agendas and next steps. The team is now entrenched to the point that any of the other clans will affect them in one way or another, and it falls to them to find out how to deal with those as they come.