Seven games into the campaign, and we’re at an interesting point in the game. Lot’s of things have happened, and now the setting as the team knows it is changing. The team was caught flat-footed by some of the events here, but I’m hoping that by the end of this, the team will have managed to rally together and show the world what the Crane are capable of.
Ragan arrived at the ruins of Eternal Vigilance Castle, an abandoned Crane Fortress that was lost in the Clan Wars. What was once a mighty castle was now mostly reclaimed by the land. He looked at his surroundings before taking a seat by one of the stones and waited.
This was where Naito instructed him to go. It wasn’t too far away from Toshi Ranbo, but there was almost nothing there. Still, given the people he was supposed to meet, Ragan knew better than to trust to how someplace looks.
After the better part of an hour, it seemed that he’d made his point.
“You’re a long way from anywhere, brother.” a voice catches Ragan’s attention as a Daidoji stood up from the tall grass, wearing a cloak designed to blend with the environment.
“Am I?” Ragan replied nonchalantly, “I was told I was right where I needed to be.”
“Then I pity you for being cursed with that information.” The Daidoji pulled down the cloth mask concealing his features, exposing a weathered face with one blind eye.
The Daidoji’s hand drifted to his blade, “State your intent, and sate it clearly. Your words decide your fate.”
“I mean no harm.” Ragan pulled out a letter, “I am only a messenger.”
The Daidoji took the message and opened it, reading the contents, “This Naito is a fool.” he said, “Was he the man who sent you on this errand?”
“Sadly. But the part of him being the son-in-law of Kikaze is true. That much I can attest.”
“Troubling then that he would be related to Kikaze. Then again, given that it was Kikaze himself who dispatched the men who tried to kill us, I suppose they aren’t so different after all. You’ve done your job, what do you plan to do now?”
“My duty to him ends after I deliver this message. As ronin, I just did what I had to do to get by. Maybe you have need of my skills?”
“Perhaps, but as Ronin, you can easily talk to someone else about this location.” the Daidoji frowned, “Your employer has sent you here merely to die.”
“Maybe. But I wouldn’t have taken this job if I knew I wouldn’t get by. Contrary to what most samurai believe, becoming ronin doesn’t make you stupid.”
“You have courage, I’ll hand you that,” the Daidoji grinned, “What skills do you have?”
“Whatever I need to get by. Skills that most samurai deign to be trivial and beneath them. I’ve helped build castles and ships… I’ve helped break them too.”
“Interesting claim. Knowing what you do about us, you don’t have much of a choice. YOu’ll be expected to do some unpleasant things, but I’m certain that might not be new to you.”
“Oh? And how much is this unpleasant work worth to you?”
“Revenge is our motive.” the Daidoji replied, “And perhaps a chance to change the world anew so that those in power will never be able to do this again.”
“Injustice, as I’ve learned, is relative. But your conviction seems genuine, even if your purpose seems… fleeting. I’m listening, if only because your goal is admirable.”
“Then you can be of use, rather than be slain where you stand. You’re an odd one, already you’ve been sent to a situation where you could be killed and yet you merely accept it.”
“I’m simply open to new experiences. I have freedom to choose, act and learn the value of my actions now that I’m free from the restrictions of acting under a lord.”
“A curious way to live. You sound more like a monk. Very well, I’ll wager on you for now, the others will want to meet you.”
Naito sipped his tea. His request to meet with Tomiko and Haruko was met with a formal invitation from Tomiko regarding a small tea-tasting event in the estate.
It was a good enough cover for them to discuss the matter. He’d worded the letter carefully, letting slip that it was to discuss matters that might be too… delicate for Satsu’s sensibilities. Tomiko knew what that implied, her brother’s idealism was an occasional obstacle that could be circumvented discreetly.
“I’ve come in contact with the Harriers,” Naito began, “and I believe that we may be able to turn this to our advantage.”
Haruko looked at him in shock, “The Harriers? Wait, where did you meet with them?”
“That question is irrelevant.” Naito snapped irritably.
“Of course it’s relevant!” Haruko was obviously distraught, “You didn’t go anywhere since you arrived, the Harriers are in the Imperial City!”
“And we can turn things around.” Naito said, staring her down, “Allow me to finish.”
Haruko shrank back, uncertain and afraid of what might be going on.
“They requested that we bring Doji Domotai to the gardens of the estate in the Spring Festival.” Naito said.
“They want to assassinate our Champion?” Haruko couldn’t contain herself.
“Haruko, please.” Tomiko sipped her tea thoughtfully, “I presume that there’s more to this, Naito-san?”
“Hai. I’ve promised to set the event up, but it gives us a chance to foil their plans, and perhaps get them to rejoin the Doji family.”
“Intriguing, but I don’t believe that hosting the event here will be prudent.” Tomiko explained, “We’ll have to find a different venue. I would much rather that such a crisis didn’t happen under our roof. I’ll see if I can make use of my contacts.”
“But what if they try something?” Haruko asked, “Shouldn’t we be trying to protect Domotai?”
“Of course we will.” Naito said, “I’ve already considered that angle.”
“Well then, I can speak with my brother about the event. This will be a good time for us to push Doji Ai’s designs in public while we’re at it.” Tomiko smiled, “Now then, more tea?”
The Phoenix Embassy
Doji Satsu bowed as he looked at his counterpart in the Phoenix clan, Asako Karin.
“It is a pleasure to have you here.” Karin smiled, “It is good to see a friendly face now and then. With all the talk of Shogun lately, things are starting to feel a lot less friendly in the Imperial City.”
“Indeed.” Satsu smiled, “Though I come to bring tidings both as a friend, and with regards to the Shogun matter. As you can imagine, the Crane are without a candidate for Shogun, putting us in a curious position of a voter.”
Asako Karin sipped her tea, “And the friendship part?”
“That was my next statement.” Satsu chuckled, “I have it on good authority that I can bring a third clan to vote to a specific candidate for Shogun.”
“Now that is interesting.” Karin said, “Why approach us then? Certainly you’d have other clans willing to ask for the Crane’s vote.”
“Let’s just say that the other candidates for Shogun are… less than desirable. However Shiba Danjuro is a man known for his humility and dedication to the spirit of the position rather than it’s benefits.”
“And what must we offer in return?”
“Peace.” Satsu said, “The other clan wishes that the Phoenix cease the border hostilities. Their situation with the volcanoes have left them little choice but to send refugees against the borders, and a cessation of hostilities will go a long way to get the Phoenix their vote.”
“You could conveniently choose to let your ongoing contracts with the Mantis clan to lapse. Surely there are safer trade routes as opposed to relying on a Clan of pirates and former bandits.”
Karin smiled, “Well stated, we’ve been looking for means to try and circumvent them a while.”
“There is a third condition however.” Satsu’s face was serious.
“And that would be?”
“A mutual defense treaty.” Satsu said, “In these times we cannot say whom among the other Clans would have designs against ours. We three represent the most peaceful of the clans, but our combined might can insure that we all live long enough to reap the benefits of this arrangement.”
“Well said and well considered.” Karin replied, “You make for a compelling argument and one that I will bring up to the attention of our Champion, Shiba Mirabu. I will fight for this and make sure that we secure this alliance.”
“But we cannot assure you that we will become Shogun just yet.” Karin said, “We have three of seven Clans. We need one other.”
“Do not be concerned.” Satsu said, “I plan to make more friends to secure our victory.”
The Temple of Ebisu
Naito stood in the gardens, waiting for his contact to arrive.
“You call us again. You run a great risk by doing this a second time.”
“The event has been moved to an Otomo estate.” Naito replied simply. “She will be there.”
“Why the change?”
“Take it or leave it.”
“Very well, but in exchange we need you to give us information on where she will be most vulnerable. Surely you have access to her security detail?”
“Hai.” Naito said, “You will want to strike as she is being presented in the fashion show. People will be too far away to protect her.”
“Duly noted.” the Harrier responded, before vanishing into the shadows.
A discreet Imperial Estate
Asahina Tezuka stook among others in the estate. It was one of those owned by the Imperial families, and he was surprised to find just how many of the people here were from other clasns. It was a microcosm of the empire, and each one seemed to be perfectly comfortable with one another.
No matter their politics, these people gathered here had another thing to unify them.
Kage smiled as he looked at his ward, “Tezuka, this is what the Empire was meant to be. Free of stereotypes, and built upon a meritocracy. Each and every one of the people here have their hearts set on Shourido, and understand that in order to thrive in the world, they need the strength to do so.”
Among them was a tall, regal man in a black kimono and silver hair. Kage identified him a Anotsu. “The founder of our order. It was he who codified Shourido, and taught those who deserved to understand it so that they could thrive.”
Anotsu turned to Tezuka, “I’ve heard much about you from Kage.”
“All good, I hope?”
“Excellent, in fact. The influence you’ve gained for the Temple is extraordinary.”
“And in the end, that’s what the end goal is right?”
“End goal?” Anotsu shook his head, “No, for you, that is merely the beginning.”
Doji Ai was spent. She’d been working nonstop on the kimonos requested by Domotai. One for each of the Champions… but thankfully she didn’t have to weave it from scratch as she would normally have done.
This time she would merely have to oversee the designs. They’re meant as gifts, and she was glad that she didn’t have to spend that much time designing for people she didn’t know.
“Ai-chan!” she heard a voice behind her, and she turned to see her foster parents, Kakita Mai and Kakita Noritoshi.
It was a splendid reunion, as Ai had not had a chance to see her foster parents in all this time in the Imperial city. Of course Mai had heard of Ai’s new fascination with Kohi, which then led to the courtier chastising her artisan daughter on the dependency on gaijin substances and the need for sleep.
Ai pouted and protested but she was very happy to have her parents here. With the debut on the way, she was going to take the fashion world of Rokugan by storm, and as luck would have it, she would have Domotai modeling for her in an Otomo estate!
Everything was going to be perfect.
The Day of the Spring Festival
Ragan returned to Toshi Ranbo with less than ideal company. He’d won the trust of the Harriers, but the entire idea of being back here because they had a mission to fulfill was alarming in some ways… made more so by the fact that his new allies haven’t told him any details.
There were a dozen of them in his “cell” the Harriers were operating in highly mobile and independent groups now, all the better to make it more difficult to compromise the entire organization.
“So… where are we going, Satsuma?” he asked the one-eyed Daidoji who led the way.
“To our part of the plan.” Satsuma said, “It seems that one cell has managed to discern the Crane Clan’s plans and where Domotai will be today.”
“Our part? So we’re not after Domotai?”
“We have another duty to fulfill.” Satsuma explained, “We’ll be meeting with our allies inside the city. He’ll give us the necessary tools we need to bring in our new world order.”
They arrived at a temple with a pagoda-like structure overlooking the imperial district. They slipped past the monks, heading up and away from the racket of the Spring Festival celebrations, the noise of drums and cheers and firecrackers.
At the topmost floor, Ragan saw that there were several men waiting for them. One of them, a cheerful, charismatic looking Ronin with a crystal pendant around his neck greeted their arrival.
“Good to see you all made it.” He reached into a box, pulling out gaijin rifles, “Shall we get to the festivities?”
“It has been a long time coming for you as well, eh, Miyata?” Satsuma asked as he checked the weapon. “Today we celebrate more than just the coming of Spring.”
Ragan looked on as Satsuma handed him a weapon. “That is our target” he said, as he pointed out to a courtyard far below. Beyond the reach of bows… the Imperial temple grounds.
Walking there was Toturi Naseru, the Emperor, accompanied by his brother Sezaru the wolf. Ragan realized now how everything fit together.
The harriers were betrayed when their own Champion disbanded them. In hiding, they may have made contact with Miyata’s Rebels, who were instrumental in sparking the Phoenix Civil War. Two years ago, the Gozoku conspiracy also utilized similar weapons against the Emperor in Lion Lands.
Miyata was here to try again, and here he was, closer than he’d ever been before to strike a blow against the Emperor after failing to so once. The Harriers were the key to get him to slip through Crane Lands undetected.
“Who is my target?” Ragan asked, even as he prepared the shot. He couldn’t turn back at this point. He was committed.
“Aim for Naseru.” Miyata said, “Fire on my signal, my shugenja are preparing counterspells to weaken Sezaru’s defenses.”
Ragan felt a drop of sweat trail down the back of his neck as he readied his aim.
The Empire would change at the pull of a trigger. It was so small a gesture, so insignificant. And yet it carried with it the weight of the world.
Doji Ai’s Fashion Show
Doji Satsu watched the walls in the Otomo estate where the event was going swimmingly. He’d been informed by Naito to take extra precautions during Domotai’s appearance, as it would expose her.
Turning his sight inwards, he peered into the void to expose his mind to the future. It was a short burst, but sometimes that was enough.
And what he saw troubled him.
He moved towards Tanitsu and the other courtiers. “We have a situation.” Satsu hissed, “In moments Shosuro Jimen will be walking through the doors demanding for the arrest of Doji Domotai. Apparently there’s been an attack against the Emperor and she’s being blamed for it.”
“That’s absurd!” Haruko spoke, alarmed at the change of events. She’d been bracing herself for an assassination attempt, but this… this wasn’t in the plan at all.
“We don’t have time.” Satsu said before the doors opened and the Emerald Champion strode into the hall in full armor. His presence was one that could bring the entire event crashing down.
Tanitsu, advisor to the Emperor moved swiftly to block Jimen’s way.
“I’m here to arrest Doji Domotai.” Jimen said, “Get out of my way.”
“No.” Tanitsu said, “As Emerald Champion, you bear a responsibility to your duty, and I will not stop you from doing that. However, you will not do so at the cost of insulting an entire Clan, and the Otomo family at their own event.
As a ranking member of court, I promise you that you will get to talk to Domotai and make your arrest, but not here. Wait inside the estate, and when this is over you will be able to make your arrest.”
Tanitsu transmitted his orders via cadence, telling the other courtiers to quickly escort the guests of the event elsewhere, and that everything was normal. No one was to know of this.
Haruko, Tomiko and Naito did as they were ordered, making certain that this entire debacle was swept under the rug and no face was lost.
Tomiko, Satsu and Tanitsu were present when Jimen made his arrest. They negotiated that Domotai was to be treated as a Champion and not a common criminal. They also discovered that Jimen was working on confessions by two harriers who were caught with gaijin weapons. They admitted that they were sent to assassinate the Emperor on Domotai’s orders.
The team had no choice but to let Domotai go, after arranging for a private palanquin to take her to the Imperial Quarter, as to save face. With their champion taken, their clan in doubt and the Harriers inside the city, the team had a lot of things on their plate.
Clearly it was time to set things in order.