With their success in the Dragon Clan, the team decided that it was time to step up their plans. If they were going to get the Empire ready in time to against the Yodotai invasion they would need to start moving in multiple fronts.
Shinjo Altan (Hikkikomori) and Moto Entreri (Paulo) opted to pursue their leads to investigating the Lying Darkness threat. With a bit of research, Altan discovered that there was a subset of Kuni shugenja known as the Crystal Masters, who had dedicated themselves to the study of the properties of Crystal against the minions of the Lying Darkness.
Mei-Xing on the other hand focused her efforts inward, using the recently acquired Volcanic soil from the Dragon Lands in an experiment melding agricultural know-how gleaned from Medinaat Al-Salaam with the gentle care of the Kami of Rokugan.
Altan met with Ide Tang, head diplomat of the Unicorn Clan first, requesting for political leverage to use for their request to speak to the Kuni, and filling him in on the details of their troubles with the Lying Darkness. Tang acquiesced, drafting some letters of introduction for Altan and Entreri to speak with Yasuki Jinn-Kuen, the Daimyo of the Crab Clan’s Yasuki family.
Thanking Ide Tang, Shinjo Altan left for Crab Lands immediately, with Moto Entreri and Moto Hitoshi (Victor) in tow. Their arrival in Crab Lands was not exactly as they’d initially expected.
With five years since the last Oni attack on the wall, the Crab had been left in a state of uncertainty. Even as Altan and his companions entered the Crab provinces it was easy to tell that something was amiss. All around them bored warriors were lazing about, gambling and drinking in broad daylight. Frightened peasants shied away from their own protectors, timidly trying to keep these fearsome warriors occupied.
“What happened here?” Entreri asked, confused at the sight of what he had heard was once a mighty clan now turned into a city of wastrels.
“Indolence, I suspect.” Altan replied, “The Crab Clan is home to one of the largest armies in Rokugan, with a fighting force that far exceeds the Clan’s ability to feed them.”
“How do they survive then?”
“The other Clans pay an amount to shoulder part of the costs during the Winter Court. The Crab usually leverage their position as defenders of the Empire against the shadowlands to justify that.”
Entreri’s gaze turned to the eerie, silent wall. “And now that there are no attacks?”
“Then the Crab are in for a very difficult winter.”
Mei-Xing stood at attention even as she watched the incoming group of Unicorn samurai. The man at the head of the group was a stern-faced Shinjo with what seemed like a permanent scowl. His kimono was cut in a classical Rokugani style, and his hair was worn in the traditional samurai topknot.
She bowed as he drew near, calling on the teachings of the Ide School to appear as well-mannered as possible. She had an inkling that this Unicorn wasn’t quite as impressed about her being a native to the Burning Sands.
“I am Chief Inspector Shinjo Harada.” he introduced himself, producing a seal from his kimono for her inspection, “I’ve come here to perform my duties and to report to the Khan on the status of our agricultural holdings.”
“Of course.” Mei-Xing’s face betrayed no signs of worry, “It is an honor to have such a distinguished guest visit our humble town.”
“I have been made to understand that this holding was just recently given to your care?” Harada dismounted, the rest of his entourage doing so at his signal.
“Hai, Harada-sama. We’re doing our best to make sure that we meet the required quota for this year.”
“That had better be the case. This has been a troublesome holding, and the previous samurai posted here had proven to be inefficient when it came to meeting the quota.”
Mei-Xing hated officious people like this one. All this focus on quotas and the bottom line were important, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that his obsession for such were merely for personal gain. Perhaps his appearances betrayed more than a little bit of insecurity as to his position in the Clan? She filed that away for later even as she asked a servant to prepare some tea and to ready her documentation for what promised to be a very long day.
It turns out that Yasuki Jinn-Kuei wasn’t very difficult to find. A few discreet inquiries led Altan’s group to the estate of the Crab Clan’s Yasuki Family. Inside Jinn-Kuen turned out to be a rather affable fellow, who acknowledged their request, and gave them the lead they needed, a Kuni Crystal Master named Hisa.
Altan figured that he needed someone to stay behind and keep an eye out on the situation here in Crab lands, so he volunteered Hitoshi to stay behind and mingle with the locals under the pretext of an upcoming tournament.
“You want me to go fight in a tournament?” Hitoshi wasn’t entirely enthused by the idea, but as a warrior he had little qualms about hitting people.
“It will help you pass the time.” Altan grinned, “And besides, much in the same way Shun stayed in the Dragon, you’ll be instrumental to keeping an eye on things here. The Crab are not in the best position right now, and I don’t want any wars or political scandal to erupt to ruin their reputation… not when they seem to be so hell bent on doing it to themselves.”
“Fine.” Hitoshi relented, “But mind you I’ll fight to win.”
Without Hitoshi, Entreri and Altan left to visit Kuni Hisa. They found her in the Kuni family’s provinces, a dreary place of secrets and shadows. Thanks to Jinn-Kuen’s endorsement they were able to gain an audience with Hisa.
It turns out that Hisa was a young samurai who had earned her status as a Crystal Master only recently, and as a tribute to the ways of the Kuni. With the elimination of the Lying Darkness by Lady Moon in the days before the threat had become an academic topic as opposed to a practical one, resulting in a reduction in the number of active Crystal Masters in the clan.
Altan worried about that development, but thankfully Hisa turned out to be more capable than he thought. It took a little bit of care to bring up the topic, but he got the results he needed.
“This is an issue of utmost important, Altan.” Hisa frowned, “If what you say is true, and the Lion are compromised, then the Crab are in bigger danger than you might think.”
“How so?” Altan paused, the Crab were in danger?
“Ever since the Lion hero Akodo Senji became Daimyo of the family he’s upheld an agreement with our Champion, Hida Kuon to send Akodo samurai to the wall to help us with the Oni.”
“And if any of the Lions that were sent were compromised by the Lying Darkness, then there could be Crab that have been infected as well.” Entreri finished.
“Exactly.” Hisa clenched her teeth. “Altan-san… this information is vital to the Clan, but I will need your testimony if I am to bring the matter to my Champion.”
“You will have it.” Altan said, worry eating away at his mind. Just how far had this threat gone undetected?
With Hisa accompanying them, the two Unicorn found themselves at the Wall, where they were to meet with Hida Kuon. The Wall itself was a sorry sight, impressive as a feat of engineering, but almost pitiful at how it was almost abandoned. The guards at the wall looked bored and restless, and the continous attempt by the Kaiu Engineers to try and “improve” upon it was starting to look just a little overdone.
They found Kuon inside the main hall of the Hida Castle, a room that was normally unused as the Crab Champions often held their council outside on the wall, often in the midst of battle.
“These are serious charges you bring, Unicorn.” Kuon’s expression was dark as a stormcloud as he regarded them.
“I understand that, Kuon-sama.” Altan said, “Regardless they are true.”
“Then there is someone else that must hear your testimony… I trust that you will have no trouble in speaking the truth in front of Akodo Senji?”
Altan felt his heart hammering in his chest. Senji was well known as a hero of the Lion Clan… for having fought the Unicorn Clan at the battle of the Rich Frog.
The Lion Daimyo stepped inside, old and bearing the scars of countless conflict, wearing the custom suit of armor crafted for him by the Kaiu as a gift.
“Speak quickly, Unicorn.” Senji growled, “I’ve no patience for word games.”
Entreri stepped forward, meeting Senji’s glare with a look of indifference. He would not be intimidated by an old general. “Very well, I will provide my testimony.”
The gaijin spoke with eloquence, even as he relayed his experience with the Lying Darkness masquerading as a servant in the Lion Clan trade delegation. His information was cross-examined by Hisa, who asked about the qualities of his opponent, of how it behaved and fought.
Kuon and Senji listened intently, turning to Hisa as Entreri finished his tale.
“It is in line with what we know of them.” Hisa said, “The manner by which they fight, how they die… this is indeed the Lying Darkness.”
“But such knowledge is not unknown to the Unicorn.” Senji said, “I will judge their sincerity myself. Are you prepared to prove yourself?”
Entreri nodded, “I fear nothing, Lion.”
“Good, then we will settle this in a duel. Let your skill prove the truth of your words.”
Entreri stood quietly in the middle of the wall, the wind howling about them as a large congregation of Crab samurai watched intently. This was possibly the biggest thing to happen in the province in months.
Akodo Senji stood across from him, body tense and angry. Entreri did not know what it is that made this combatant so hateful of the Unicorn, but he supposed such things did not matter.
“Are you ready to prove your words?” the old Lion asked.
“I am.” Entreri narrowed his eyes.
“Then show me your stance.”
Entreri knew the term from his days studying the culture of Rokugan. There was a strange form of theatrics involved in dueling. He assumed his fighting stance and studied his opponent.
For what felt like an eternity, the two stood there, studying the other for openings and weaknesses, their hearts and minds locked in a struggle to find the perfect opportunity for the killing strike.
Entreri felt it then, a cold wave of killing intent from the old Lion and reacted swiftly, his knife halfway from its sheath before he realized that it was over.
“I do not like you.” Senji said bitterly, “but your willingness to die for your words is the only proof I need of your sincerity.”
The old lion turned to Kuon, “It would seem that I have put your clan at risk, Kuon. I will withdraw my forces and conduct my own investigation in this matter.”
“I trust you, old friend.” Kuon nodded, “Should you need any assistance…”
“No.” Senji said, “This will be a matter tha we will deal with internally. I will report back to you once I have my findings.”
“Wait.” Altan spoke, “There is one more thing before you go, Senji-sama.”
The Lion Daimyo and the Crab Champion listened intently as Entreri gave a tale of the Yodotai. The Gaijin spoke intently about the nature of the threat, the size of the Yodotai’s army and their history of conquest.
Altan waited for it to settle for a moment before he spoke, “And this is why we’re doing this, Senji-sama. I admit that it is not entirely altruistic but this involves the Empire as a whole. The Yodotai are coming, and Rokugan must be able to stand against them.”
Kuon rubbed his forehead, “And so not only must we deal with internal threats, you’re telling us that an entire Empire is after Rokugan?”
“Hai.” Altan said, “But you need not take our word for it. We have nothing to hide, send some scouts to Medinaat Al-Salaam. We will escort them there so that they can report back to you on what the Yodotai are up to. Your insight will be very helpful for us as we need your expertise.”
Senji glowered, “As much as I’d hate to admit it, a threat of that scale deserves to be watched, I will send my scouts… after I’ve conducted the necessary loyalty checks.”
“I will sned our scouts as well.” Kuon nodded, “Where will we meet your men, Altan?”
“There’s a village near the Lion border.” Altan smiled, “Our contact there, Mei-Xing will be more than happy to receive them and prepare them for their journey.”
That session was one of the more interesting moments when all the players made significant progress. Being able to win the Crab and some participation from the Lion Clan to helping against the Yodotai was certainly one of the largest gains they’ve made so far. Mei-Xing’s player was playing the long game and her work will pay off a little later on.