Definitions of Honor

Epilogue
Parting Ways

The rest of the journey to Nikesake was slow going. The massive Hiruma Nokatsu straddled more than rode a horse that could just barely support him as he couldn’t walk with his fractured leg. Yasuki Genji was likewise mounted upon a ‘salvaged’ horse though the jarring pained his badly lacerated back. The other two horses held the two ‘prisoners’ that had been taken, each bound tightly, and watched closely by ‘the Mountain’ and ‘the Maw’ as Shiba Tetsujin-no Sodona fondly thought of Yasuki Gorobei and Kaiu Hachi who also lead the horses. Tetsujin himself walked gingerly so as not to agitate the arrow that still remained lodged beneath his right shoulder blade. The missile had been cut short to minimize the threat of it catching on things, but it still pulsed and throbbed and caused him pain when he stepped to hard. Shinjo Lily who proved the most knowledgeable of the group in medicine advised against removing the arrow without a shugenja present as the barbed head could cause additional damage and possibly hurt Tetsujin even worse on the way out. Lily’s left arm had swollen even more, and the joint hurt terribly when she tried to move it, but she did not think it was broken, and expected it to heal on its own in a few days with rest. Kakita Hojatsu had escaped the skirmish with only a slight cut on his arm from a shuriken in the dark, but Daidoji Mizue as the only truly unscathed member of the group, insisted on watching him closely in case the cowardly weapon had been poisoned.

Fortunately for all a regular patrol of Shiba troopers came from the direction of the Waystation behind, having been made aware by the attendant there that trouble was perhaps afoot. The patrol had an Isawa priest with them that eased the worst of the wounds with prayers to the water kami, and used the same to help speed them to the nearest resting point: a little village about half way between Toshi no Omoidoso and their destination.

A magistrate arrived before the end of the day and the two prisoners were turned over to the confessors and eventually sentenced to death for assaulting servants of the Empress, but not before confirming the group’s suspicions that they had been hired by Yoritomo Ito to avenge the death of his brother and return the statue he believed they had stolen.

After a couple of days, Tetsujin, the Crab and his usual bodyguards, and the Crane were well enough to continue their journey, but it would be some time before Nokatsu’s broken leg would bear his weight, even under the care of a shugenja. Shinjo Lily refused to leave her friend’s side, so the group sadly parted ways. Against his better judgement Yasuki Genji agreed to pay for Nokatsu’s room and board, and care until he was well enough to travel again, and invited him to catch up if possible, laying out a plan to purchase poppies and sake in Nikesake to take to Dragon lands.

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Seven Ronin

The traveling party, consisting of Crab Clansmen: Hiruma Nokatsu, Yasuki Genji, Yasuki Gorobei, and Kaiu Hachi, as well as Daidoji Mizue and Kakita Hojatsu of the Crane Clan, and Shiba Tetsujin-no Sodona of the Phoenix, and Shinjo Lily of the Unicorn quickly realized that the assault on their beast of burden could only mean that the raiders were not interested in theft – or they would have wanted to preserve the ox to make it easier to get away with the goods it was hauling.

That meant the ronin were interested in the death or deaths of some or all of the party members. Without the ox to pull the wagon, the group stood no chance of making it to the safety of the next Way Station before nightfall, and would almost certainly be forced to camp out in the open where they would be exposed to a night attack. Shiba Tetsujin had just traveled this road about a week prior, and he quickly scanned through his exceptional memory for the most defensible position on the roadway ahead for the group to make their stand. The Phoenix yojimbo suggested a point near the summit of the trek, a couple of hours ahead, where it was relatively open, and granted minimal opportunities for a terrain advantage to their attackers. The group quickly agreed that this was their best option, especially since Yasuki Genji was stringently opposed to even the suggestion that his cargo might be left behind.

The band of travelers made it to their desired destination with the massive sumai champion, Kaiu Hachi pulling the wagon in place of the ox. They set up camp, and built a fire to ward off the chill spring night of the Phoenix lands, where here and there patches of snow could still be seen in the cool spots where the sun rarely reached here in the foothills.

The party set up a watch schedule, which placed Yasuki Gorobei and Shinjo Lily standing guard for the first two hours, which passed without event. The same could not be said of Shiba Tetsujin and Hiruma Nokatsu’s second watch. While patrolling the outer limits of the camp – Tetsujin spotted a figure, crouching in the shadow of a small scrub plant. Tetsujin immediately hurled his spear and raised the alarm, but it was not fast enough to prevent the lurking shadow from hurling a burning brand in to the extremely combustible wagon load of paper and driftwood beneath which Yasuki Genji and Daidoji Mizue slept. Even as the cargo erupted into flame, arrows begin to whistle in from the darkness. The Phoenix quickly had a foot long shaft protruding from his right shoulderblade, while the big Crab watched one arrow narrowly miss, and another vibrated in his Sode without penetrating.

As the rest of the party wakened, arrows continued to fly into camp from the north, east, and west, with one striking the Unicorn Battle maiden as she mounted her horse, and another driving into a roused Kaiu Hachi as he charged off into the darkness from which his assailant fired. The injured Tetsujin helped to pull Mizue clear of the burning wagon as Yasuki Gorobei did the same for his father on the other side while the Kakita stood guard and took a shuriken in the left arm for his trouble.

Now astride her mount, Lily thundered into battle and quickly took a shot at the massive shadow that loomed beyond the firelight. Seemingly unaffected by her arrow, the crag-like man scrambled forward and brought his massive Ono down on her left arm, with a sickening thud that rendered the extremity virtually useless.

In the darkness, crashing and cursing could be heard as the massive Hachi tried to chase down and put an end to the concealed archer, but instead found a swordsman standing in his way.

Genji tried frantically and futilely to scoop dirt onto the rapidly expanding sheath of flames consuming his profits while his son stood guard, and Nokatsu shambled after the Shinjo.

With the party now scattered, a horseman thundered through the center of the camp and drove a yari through Gorobei’s right thigh as he passed. A conflicted Genji surprised even himself as he yelled for his son to forget the cargo, and deal with the raiders, running for what he perceived as the cover of a nearby bush. Unfortunately for the trader, a second horsemen swept in from the darkness as soon as Genji left the protected area where his towering son stood guard, and ripped the Crab’s back open with his katana. An enraged Gorobei charged to his father’s assistance and brought his tetsubo down on the rider’s head, driving it down into his torso with a thunderous crack.

Hearing her patron’s cry of pain, Shinjo Lily spurred her horse Salem away from her own attacker, and swept Genji up onto the back of her horse to remove him from further harm’s way. Meanwhile, Nokatsu engaged the moving lump of rock with an ono that had struck her. This left him exposed to the archer on that side of the battle, and he took an arrow in the arm with minimal affect.

Frustrated by having to stand guard over his charge, and not engage the enemy, the Crane Duelist, Kakita Hojatsu cried out a challenge to any of the attackers that were man enough to face him. Much to his surprise, the first horseman circled around and answered his challenge. The leader of the ronin band dismounted and drew his katana, squaring off against Hojatsu in single combat, while Tetsujin continued to watch over Mizue. The duel was over in two passes, as Hojatsu opened his attacker’s hip with his first lightning strike, sidestepped the counter attack, and finished the ronin with a follow up strike that left the ronin’s head rolling in the dirt.

With their leader fallen, the remainder of the ronin band quickly began to crumble. Yasuki Gorobei jumped astride the horse that his enemy no longer needed, and rushed to his cousin’s side. Hachi defeated his first opponent with a sledge hammer blow that caved in his rib cage. The archer he had been protecting shot Gorobei’s horse out from beneath him and fled rather than face both Crab alone.

Dropping Genji off near the protection of the Phoenix yojimbo, Shinjo Lily circled back around to help Nokatsu, but to her horror looked to see she may be too late. Hiruma Nokatsu delivered a strike with his tetsubo that would have given pause to an ogre. The slab of a man merely smiled through a gap in his teeth and delivered a return blow that snapped Nokatsu’s left femur and might have severed it completely if not for the Crab’s heavy armor.

“Nokatsu!” the Unicorn maiden drew her bow, and launched an arrow at the mountainous ronin to draw his attention. In response his companion began returning fire.

With his massive axe hovering over the Crab, who could not stand in the weight of his armor and weapons with one leg, the massive warrior pointed at Lily. “You – get off the horse, and come fight me like a warrior, or your friend dies.”

Lily dismounted and drew her katana, even as Salem screamed his own challenge and charged the archer.

Lily came forward, sword held in one hand, her left arm too swollen and sore to be of any real use. The diminutive samurai-ko looked like a goblin facing and ogre before the tremendous bulk of the man the other ronin called ‘The Rock’. With cat like grace, she feinted to one side and rolled to the other catching the huge man off guard. Luck was with her as the man tried to pivot to follow her and lost his footing in the darkness. The big man stumbled and Lily struck, sweeping her sword across the backs of both of of his knees and severing the tendons. Helpless to control his own legs, the big man fell to his back with a crash howling in pain and rage.

Kaiu Hachi rushed over to help the little battle-maiden, but there was no need. Salem proved equally up to the task, and brutally trampled the last archer beneath his iron shod hooves, trumpeting his his victory to the heavens.

In the end, two of the seven ronin were missing, having shamefully chosen their lives over victory and honor. With the help of Lily and Salem, the group was able to round up four of the horses their opponents had ridden.

Two of the would-be-assassins, the big axe-wielding ‘Rock’ and the Salem’s trample victim still lived, although without the attention of a shugenja, Lily doubted the archer would survive his internal injuries long. As the only local Clansman, the group deferred to Shiba Tetsujin’s judgement on how to deal with the prisoners. The man who had taken the name ‘philosopher’ could not bring himself to ruthlessly execute defeated men and decided they must be brought to a magistrate for judgement.

Yasuki Genji wept for a while, more over his loss of profit than from the vicious strike that had laid his back open to the bone. As soon as Lily had finished bandaging the wound, he drew a pair of chopsticks from his obi, and began picking through the corpses of the ronin. He yelped with joy when he discovered each of the men they had defeated (including the two non-corpses who were not in a position to protest) had two koku on them (except for the leader on whom he’d found three), and declared loudly that he swore he’d seen these koku before, insisting that they were the same he had given to Yoritomo Ogura for the very goods that were still giving off a bonfire glow to the night. The Crab trader did not need to remind the travelers that Ogura’s brother Ito probably still believed that Genji and possibly the rest of the party as conspirators, were responsible for the death of his brother, and the results of the trial that had allowed another to take the blame. “At least with these koku, and the sale of the horses, I might almost break even for this trip. This reminds me of the time…” spirits renewed the Yasuki spun another unlikely tale involving his run in with a djin that had granted him three wishes, which he’d spent on a keg of sake, a fortune in gold, and a beautiful woman…who, when he had awakened, had left with the gold and the sake.

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Repercussions

Since they were all traveling from Toshi no Omoidoso to Nikesake, Yasuki Genji,Kakita Hojatsu,Daidoji Mizue,Shinjo Lily,Hiruma Nokatsu, and Shiba Tetsujin-no Sodona decided to travel together for strength in numbers, and company. They were further accompanied by Genji’s enormous son, Yasuki Gorobei, and his equally massive nephew, Kaiu Hachi. During the journey, Hachi presented an endless stream of witticisms he was writing after the pattern of the ‘Tales of the Scorpion’, which he insisted would make him famous some day. His cousin, Gorobei agreed that he would be famous – as the laughing stock of every court that heard his ‘witticisms’. Hachi agreed this is exactly what he wanted since they were supposed to be funny.

Yasuki Genji was likewise very talkative, and told numerous stories of often off-color adventures involving an escape from the upstairs window of a geisha house and unlikely encounters with Snow Maidens that supposedly resulted in a missing child wandering in the woods somewhere.

The group made less than exemplary time, with the ox-drawn wagon, but the journey was pleasant enough, and there was no real hurry.

When the group stopped for lunch, things took on a slightly more serious turn, as Kakita Hojatsu chose this time to confront Shiba Tetsujin regarding the slight to his honor the night of Yoritomo Ogura’s death. The two engaged in an iaijutsu duel with makeshift bokken, and the result was a kharmic strike with no clear victor.

Not to be left out of the opportunity to test themselves, Shinjo Lily asked to test her skills against the Kakita duelist in a kenjutsu match, and lasted over a minute before conceding defeat to a decisive abdomen strike. Hiruma Nokatsu engaged Kaiu Hachi in a sumai match that ended in him tumbling head over heals out of the ring in two straight matches.

With lunch and festivities ended, the group pressed on the rest of the way to the nearest way station, where they joined a traveling shugenja and his yojimbo, and another merchant and his four guards. About an hour later, a group of seven ronin arrived and took a corner of the covered waystation, seemingly making special note of the Crab Trader and his retinue. At Tetsujin’s recommendation, he and Yasuki Gorobei ‘reviewed’ the contents of thier wagon to show there was nothing likely to yeild a profit from stealing. In the morning, the wave men left while it was still dark, before the group had risen for the morning. Hachi told a comical story of one of the ronin trying to sneak up to the wagon during his watch, but the enormous man caught him, and ensured that no further attempts were likely to come from that individual.

With the threat of un-wanted attention from seven armed travelers, Shiba Tetsujin got the local Waystation guard to sign off on their papers with permission to travel in armor for the remainder of the journey.

The group watched warily for signs of the Ronin as they continued on their journey. Their fears were confirmed as well founded, when finally they approached a bend in the road, with a large rock escarpment to the south. The group sprang into action, with Hachi, whom Tetsujin thought of as ‘The Maw’ leading the charge up the hill. But it seemed that the ambush was intended only to hinder their mobility, as the two archers fired upon the ox that was pulling the cart, bringing the beast of burden down with two lethal flesh cutting arrows and withdrawing. The ronin were not without cost of their own however, as Shinjo Lily shot one of their archers from the back of her magnificent Utaku steed.

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A Tangled Web
A Murky Murder Mystery

Having been appointed by Shiba Yuri to assist with the investigation into the death of Yoritomo Ogura, Shiba Tetsujin-no Sodona met with Isawa Kenji to review the facts of the investigation to date.

Though he concealed it well, Tetsujin could tell that Isawa Kenji was not happy about having a novice brought into his investigation; and Tetsujin suspected that the magistrate did not appreciate Shiba Yuri’s interference either. Nonetheless, Kenji dutifully gave a report on what had been assertained thus far, "The one armed ronin, Keiko testifies that she met withDaidoji Mizue at “Shinsei’s Rest” bath house the day before he was killed, where Mizue offered her a sum of koku to eliminate the Mantis Captain. Several witnesses at the bath house confirmed seeing the two converse and your own testimony confirmed that the two were in the bath house without you or her yojimbo to verify what was discussed. Keiko states that she refused the dishonorable offer, and went back to tell her associates, two ronin by the name of Tanitsu and Fuji, of the offer. Later that night, many witnesses testified to hearing the Crane involved in a very public argument with Yoritomo Ogura, who was seen stumbling out of the front of the inn, but was not seen returning. Keiko states that about that time, she awoke, and realized that her associates had slipped out of the tenement they share. She states that she feared that they had decided to accept the offer that she had declined. She headed toward the Laughing Cat, and states that she came across her associates assaulting the Mantis captain. According to Keiko, she attacked from behind, and was able to kill the two ronin, but it was already too late to save Yoritomo Ogura, his wounds were too great, so she immediately came to report what had happened."

“Mizue’s testimony did not vary much from Keiko’s except in that she states the subject of their conversation was a favor of a much less nefarious nature. Mizue asserts that she hired the ronin to acquire an exotic statue for her.Yasuki Genji was supposed to be securing the item, but indicated he would need more time. Mizue stated that she knew she needed to leave to continue her pilgrimage and after asking around was told that Keiko was a reliable hireling who would be able to ensure delivery of the item once it was acquired.’

“It is worth noting that there is one other suspect, although the testimony against him is not as sound. Yoritomo Ogura’s brother, Yoritomo Ito, claims that a Crab by the name of Yasuki Genji is responsible for the death. He claims that the Crab has been trying to get Ogura to sell some gaijin artifact for some time, and that he sent two hirelings,Hiruma Nokatsu and Shinjo Lily to coerce the item from them by force. The hirelings apparently did not know what they were supposed to be collecting, and Ogura was able to send them back to their employer without the statue.’

“Several witnesses from the docks confirm that the Crab and the Unicorn were involved in an altercation with Ogura yesterday. Their own testimony verifies this account.”

Tetsujin took all of this in for consideration. “What do you believe is the most likely scenario, Isawa Kenji-sama?”

Kenji responded sternly, “I suspect that the Yasuki being involved is far more likely than the Crane, but it is irrelevant. The testimony is not great enough to overcome the word of a samurai, even if she is only Ronin, Keiko’s word is far more direct than the Mantis’ suppositions. If I were to render judgement now, I would have to judge against Daidoji Mizue, at which point she would doubtless petition for a trial by combat. If I were confident her yojimbo would win, I would simply leave at that and be done – but even though she has only one arm, Keiko is far more experienced than Mizue’s yojimbo and she her reputation among the local merchants is well deserved. I cannot be confident of the outcome.”

“So we need to acquire testimony strong enough to overturn the word of the ronin?” Tetsujin asked.

“Hai”

“Where would you have me begin?”

“Go and talk to the Mantis. They seemed reluctant to share more details with me about the altercation with the Crab and Unicorn, and more-so would not go into their relationship with Yasuki Genji. Perhaps if we can get more information on his motive, we might find other witnesses to strengthen the case against him. It is possible they will be more willing to talk to you.”

Dutifully, Shiba Tetsujin went to the docks, where the Mantis Kobune was docked. He found two samurai present, both were dressed only in hakama. One wore two kama at his belt, with a daisho resting negligently on a crate nearby, upon which he was unconsciously carving with a knife. The second, bore no katana at all, but had a wakizashi in his obi. That one was unconsciously stringing and un-stringing his bow. At the approach of the Phoenix, the two lept to their feet, and put their hands to their weapons as if ready to be attacked.

Testsujin approached, and bowed humbly, hands away from his own weapon to show he meant no threat, “Forgive me, Mantis-sans. I come on behalf of Isawa Kenji-sama. I would like to ask you a few questions, if you would be so kind.”

Relaxing only slightly, the one with the kamas stepped forward, “I am Yoritomo Ito, this is Tsuruchi Koji. Unless you have come to tell me that Yasuki Genji has been arrested for the murder of my brother, than I have nothing more to say. I have already told the magistrate what happened.”

“Ah, yes, I apologize. We just need some more testimony to help establish the facts of the murder. I, understand that Genji was after some, item, from Ogura-san. If perhaps, we knew what exactly the item was, it might help us to build out case.”

“It was some gaijin statue. Ogura found it in a temple in the Colonies.” Ito gestured with his hands indicating that the item was about 18 inches tall, but approximately 8 inches wide. “It was some strange gaijin ‘god’ or something, with a couple faces, and multiple arms and some weapons and such. Whatever it was, it was worth a pretty penny, with all the people who wanted it.”

“There were more than just Genji, interested in the statue?”

“Sure, Genji, the Crane.”

“What Crane?”

“You know, the one they arrested. She didn’t have the coin for the statue so she was trying to pay for it by…other…means.” The Yoritomo made a rude gesture and laughed crudely at his companion."

Tetsujin politely ignored the Mantis crudeness, “A lot of interest indeed. What is the statue’s significance?”

Ito responded haughtily, “I don’t know, I don’t waste time with silly gaijin superstitions.”

At the same time, almost inaudibly behind Ito, the archer breathed, “Vishnu…”

Tetsujin plumbed the depths of his incredible memory, but try as he might, he could not place any meaning to the strange gaijin word.

“Ogura knew that the Crab wanted it bad enough to pay more. His goons tried to force it out of us, but my brother took their money and sent them home without it. He already had half of his money, so he might as well cough up the rest or he’d pay all that for nothing. Little did we know that the stinking Yasuki would apparently rather kill him than pay a fair price!”

Tetsujin noted at this that the Tsuruchi’s face seemed to indicate he did not agree with this last statement, but the archer decided not to interject.

“Please, forgive me. I am off-track – but I could not help but notice your fine yumi my friend. I have often heard of the prowess of the Tsuruchi archers, but have never had the occasion to see one in action. Would you be willing to give a demonstration?”

Yoritomo Ito jumped at the opportunity, “A wager!”

Tetsujin happy to see that his bait was being accepted, agreed. “Certainly, a wager. I should like to see something spectacular, but I’m not sure what would be a fair sum.”

Ito sized the Phoenix up and proposed, “Two koku!”

“Ah, well for two koku, it would have to be a fine demonstration indeed. I have heard that some archers prove their skill by shooting fruit off of a man’s head. I have here, an apple. Do you practice such things?”

The Tsuruchi seemed non-committal, but Ito gladly spoke on his behalf, “Ha! That’s child’s play for him.”

“Ah, well then we will have to make it more of a challenge – perhaps, moving? What if you were to go out on the water in a boat, and…throw it up in the air? Ah, perhaps that would be too much…”

“He can do it. The surest money we’ve gotten this whole trip.”

Yoritomo Ito looked considerably happier than he had during the entire meeting as he went off to row out onto the river.

As Tsuruchi Koji strung his bow and began to guage the wind, Tetsujin took the chance to interview him without his companion present. “So, it seems a close thing with the Unicorn and the Crab the other day…A good thing it did not come to bloodshed. They must have wanted the statue very badly…”

Koji looked nervous as he waited for his companion to row out a fair distance. Finding no polite excuse not to respond, he replied, “I do not think they even knew what they were after, or else they would not have left so easily. Besides, I got the impression Yasuki Genji didn’t even want the thing for himself, he was just trying to get it to provide to the Crane in exchange for a favor.” With a single fluid motion, Tsuruchi Koji drew and fired. Shiba Tetsujin turned and barely saw the apple he had given Yoritomo Ito hang in the air for a moment, thrown aloft from the rocking boat. The apple was little more than a dot in the distance, but Koji’s arrow caught it dead center nonetheless and both dropped to the water with a splash."

Truly, a tremendous shot.’ Tetsujin replied a bit in awe. “Two koku well spent. Do you fancy the idea of a chance at more for yourself, or do you relish the idea of seeing if your friend will share half?”

“He will share.”

“Very well, then I leave the money with you, and leave in peace. Thank you for your assistance.” The Phoenix yojimbo dropped two coins in the outstretched palm of the Mantis and returned to the magistrate’s office.

*

“…and so, I believe that the statue is the key to the motive, and to discovering the true culprit behind the death of Yoritomo Ogura. Have you any idea of the meaning of the word, “Vishnu” Isawa Kenji-sama?"

“Vishnu…’ Isawa Kenji thought for a moment,”yes, it is the name of a gaijin ‘god’ from the former Ivory Kingdoms. A sort of counterpart to Kali-Ma, I believe."

“A good talisman than…hmmm. I should like to investigate Yasuki Genji’s interest in this item further. I believe that we should enlist the aid of Shinjo Lily and Hiruma Nokatsu. I feel that they are merely acting as his dupes in this, and we may be able to use them to solicit more information without Genji’s guard – much as you did with the Mantis and myself. Shinsei says, “two can accomplish what one cannot.”

“I doubt that the little teacher had those two in mind. I have interviewed them, they do not seem they type to be ‘investigators’ to me.”

“Nor shall they to Yasuki Genji.”

“Very well. I will release them under your responsibility than.”

“Thank you, magistrate-sama.”

*

Upon their return to the The Laughing Cat, Shinjo Lily was presented with a letter. The letter was folded in the shape of a dark cloud, and opened up to reveal a poem. The young woman’s eyes widened in a look of abject terror and she quickly stuffed the letter into her obi without a word as to the missive’s contents.

The odd pair took a seat to wait for further instructions from the magistrate as they had been instructed. It was not long before they were joined by a very happy Yasuki Genji coming down from his rooms. “Ah, my friends! I am so happy to see you here. I know that when last we spoke, I indicated that our affairs were all settled – but alas, I fear I must ask one more small favor. You see, it seems that our friend, Yoritomo Ogura forgot to include the primary item which I had sent you to retrieve. This of course, is not your fault, and I’m sure it was merely an oversight on his part, but I am ever so afraid that I have a very tight schedule to meet, and I simply do not have the occasion to return and correct it. Since you already know where to find him, would you mind terribly going over there, and retrieving the missing item?”

The Hiruma warrior grunted noncommittally and took a sip from his cup, grimacing at the lack of sake. Shinjo Lily stood and bowed. “Ah, Yasuki Genji-san. I am sorry to say, as much as it would please us to assist you after having done us such kindness, we are unable to comply for more reasons than you may suppose. It seems I have the grave misfortune of being the first to advise you that Yoritomo Ogura-san was found dead this morning. It is rumored to be murder, and due to a slight…mis-understanding at the docks yesterday, Hiruma Nokatsu and I have been asked to remain here until the investigation has been completed.”

Yasuki Genji, looked visibly shaken at the news, and took a moment to compose himself behind his fan. When he spoke again, it was with a hint of sadness in his voice, “I am most sorry to hear of this unpleasant news. I will see what can be done to get the two of you released once more. You have been of such help to me, I am sure that you had nothing to do with this unseemly event. To even suggest it is a travesty. I will of course, find another avenue to retrieve the item. Thank you for your kind offer.” With that, the Crab Trader bowed, and returned up the stairs to his room.

When Shiba Tetsujin arrived at the inn a few hours later, he found the scarred Crab and the diminutive Battle Maiden nursing cold cups of tea and looking extremely tired of sitting in the inn’s common room. The rest of the patrons were giving the glowering Hiruma a wide orbit of ‘personal space’.

“Excuse me, Hiruma-san…Shinjo-san. Might I have a word?”

Nokatsu eyed his companion wordlessly, and Lily stood, and bowed, responding cheerily, “Of course, Phoenix-san. How may I be of assistance? Is there any word on the investigation?”

“Well, we are certainly looking into it, and it is for that reason that I have come. I need to ask you a few questions about the events that transpired when you met with Yoritomo Ogura yesterday.”

Hiruma Nokatsu sat lightly in his chair, casting occasional wide-eyed glances between the Phoenix investigator, his companion, and the door, as Lily proceeded to provide a detailed account of the events that had transpired between the two of them and the Mantis the previous day."

“I see. Thank you very much, Shinjo Lily-san,” Shiba Tetsujin bowed in gratitude. “That does shed some light on things. Forgive me, but I would like to ask you and your friend to do a favor for us.”

“A favor?”

“Yes. We would like you speak to Yasuki Genji. It seems that there is a certain statuette that may be a key component in the investigation. I believe that may have been what he was trying to get you to collect for him. We should like a clearer understanding of Yasuki Genji’s interest in the item. It is possible that Yoritomo Ogura-san may have been killed for possession of it. As someone who has worked for him once, perhaps he might be willing to divulge to you the secret of its value.”

“Ah, what a coincidence! Yasuki Genji-san just asked us a short while ago if we might be willing to return to see Yoritomo Ogura and retrieve something that was left out of the shipment. He seemed surprised to hear that Ogura-san had been killed. We told him that we could not go as we are held here.”

“Excellent, if you please. Go to him and tell him you have been released and would be happy to run his errand for him. See if you can get a clear description of the item you are supposed to retrieve, to ensure that it is not accidentally left behind again.”

With that, the Phoenix dismissed his young new accomplices head dutifully toward Genji’s chambers, and he headed off toward the docks to speak to the two Mantis Clansmen once again.

In the rooms of Yasuki Genji, the Trader was thrilled to hear that his associates would be able to run his errand for him. He happily described a statuette, exactly meeting the description the Mantis had given Tetsujin. Genji provided the Hiruma and the Shinjo with another coin purse, and instructed them to return to the docks and speak to Ogura’s brother, Yoritomo Ito regarding the sale of the item. He indicated that he was in the midst of preparations to leave the city, as his travel papers were due to expire, and arranged to meet them at the warehouse he was renting in the merchant district.

While Nokatsu and Lily were meeting with Genji, Shiba Tetsujin unexpectedly met with the objects of his own search, coming up the lane toward him, a couple blocks away from the inn. The two were walking quickly, weapons at the ready, and the normal crowds of the street were making haste to clear the way before them. Pretending not to have noticed, Tetsujin casually placed himself in their path, and excused himself as they nearly ran him over.

“Ah, Yoritomo Ito-san. Tsuruchi Koji-san. How fortuitous to meet you here. I was just on may way to speak with you.”

Habitually, Koji took a couple of steps back and to the side to ensure a clear shot, and Ito’s hands rested on the hilts of his kamas. “Stand aside Shiba-san. This outrage has gone on far long enough. It’s not enough that the Crab cur killed my brother, now he has stolen the statuette. I demand justice!”

“Please, my friends, consider you actions! We have no testimony to support these accusations. Think! If Genji-san truly has taken the statuette, than this is our chance to get justice for your brother. I will go, and search his things now. If he has the statuette we will have proof that he is guilty, and I have no doubt you will be granted what you seek. If he does not have it…you will only harm yourself with baseless incrimination. I urge you to go and report the theft of this item to the magistrate. I will go right now and speak to Genji-san.”

Slowly, Ito took a deep breath and exhaled. “I will do as you say, Phoenix. But I will have justice for my brother.” His hands eased away from his weapons, and the two proceeded in the direction of the magistrate’s office as directed.

Quickly, Tetsujin went back and met with Shinjo Lily and Hiruma Nokatsu, who confirmed that Genji had given them additional coin, and a description of the item to complete the purchase of the statuette from Ito. They briefly discussed the ramifications of why the trader might still be trying to buy something he was being accused of having stolen, but decided to pursue what leads they had while they still had the chance, and went to the warehouse where they had been directed to meet with the Yasuki.

It wasn’t long before Genji arrived, with a wagon full of the goods that Crab and Unicorn had acquired for him earlier, and two hulking Crab body guards.

“Ah, my friends! I had not hoped to see you again so soon! Were you able to acquire the item already?”

Tetsujin, bowed and interceded. “Please, forgive me the interruption, Yasuki Genji-san. I am Shiba Tetsujin-no-Sodona. It seems, that Yoritomo Ito-san no longer has the item you seek. Perhaps it was inadvertently included in the shipment you received yesterday?”

“I don’t see how, my men and I searched the shipment thoroughly, but I would certainly welcome you to look for yourself. I suppose it is possible that we missed something…”

After a thorough search of the contents of the wagon, and the warehouse, no sign of the Ivory Kingdoms idol was found.

“Thank you for your cooperation. Do you perhaps know anyone else, who may have had an interest in the item?”

“Ah, well yes. The Unicorn trader, Ide Chung was also interested. That is why I was having so much trouble getting my hands on it. Yoritomo Ogura-san insisted that the Unicorn kept bidding me up. I found it very unlikely. I have dealt with Chung-san before, and there is no way he would pay such a large sum. That is why I was confident Ogura would accept my offer when I sent these two yesterday. I felt when he saw the money in hand he would give up his ridiculous posturing.”

“Ide Chung. I see.” Tetsujin reviewed his memories and confirmed having seen the portly merchant meeting with Daidoji Mizue earlier in the week. “Do you know where I might find him?”

“Well, he has a warehouse just across the way there.” Yasuki Genji pointed. “But I fear it will do you no good. He left town early this morning. I believe he was headed for Scorpion lands in the hopes of selling some paper, and stone from the colonies.”

*

When the three investigators returned to The Laughing Cat, there was a message waiting for Shiba Tetsujin. It read, “If you get to the point where you have no other solution, meet me at the Golden Carp.” The letter was written on nondescript paper, in practiced nondescript calligraphy. There was no explanation or name. An inquiry with the hostess, revealed that The Golden Carp was a noodle house, a few blocks north in the market district. As it was time for lunch anyway, the three decided to see if the Golden Carp had good food.

It seemed that the group was expected and the lovely young hostess showed them to a table near the back, blocked from view by the rest of the restaurant by shoji screens. A server brought them some tea and miso soup while their noodles were prepared.

From the next booth over, concealed behind a shoji screen, a gender-neutral voice intoned. “It seems your friends have found themselves in a difficult situation. It is possible I may know some credible witnesses that could bear testimony to the Crane’s innocence. All you need do is speak the words, ‘make it so’ and everything shall be arranged.”

The trio weighed heavily the price of their honor against the cost of possible failure and criminal charges, as they tried to complete the rest of their meal very careful not to say ‘make it so’ during any of their conversation. For the most part, they simply ate in silence.

After lunch, Shiba Tetsujin-no-Sodona, Hiruma Nokatsu, Shino Lily, and Daidoji Mizue walked the inner courtyard and garden of the inn together. Mizue had called in some favors, and been released from the magistrate’s office and was now under house arrest back in her room. She was now allowed to walk under Tetsujin’s supervision.

“Daidoji Mizue-san. We have reason to believe that the death of Yoritomo Ogura-san, may be related to a statuette, which it appears that you had wanted to purchase. Please, what, may I ask, was your interest in this item?”

At the mention of Yoritomo Ogura, the plump little Crane paused for a moment, and pretended to admire a flower, while hiding her distress. She responded, once she had suitable regained her composure. “The statuette? I can’t imagine that it would be important enough to kill Ogura-san for. I only wanted it for my lord, Daidoji Sokazawa-sama. You may recall from his estate in Nikesake, he has a taste for such exotic pieces of art.”

“And what of Yasuki Genji. Why might he have been interested in the item?”

“I don’t believe he was – other than to get it for me. He wanted to trade for a future favor. He sometimes comes into competition with Daidoji sponsored merchants, or needs to travel from Crane ports, or across Crane lands. A word from my lord at an opportune time could make a big difference in his dealings.”

“I see. What of Ide Chung? Why might he have had an interest in the item?”

“Chung-san? I can’t imagine that he would. He doesn’t deal in arts, and he could get a much better deal on gaijin artifacts from the colonies from his own suppliers.”

“Can you think of anyone else that might have wanted to purchase that item?”

“No. The price Ogura-san was asking was ludicrous. He could not find anyone who would rightfully pay it. That is why he had to remain in town as long as he did…perhaps I flattered myself to believe there might have been…other reasons, and that he was deliberately asking too much so that he might remain.”

“Forgive my intrusion. Thank you for your assistance.”

The night passed slowly and with little sleep for Shiba Tetsujin and Shinjo Lily. Nokatsu slept heavily as always. From time to time, Tetsujin overheard the soft crying of Mizue in the next room.

In the morning, they spent hours pouring over the details and discussing possible explanations and leads, but they could not escape the feeling that they were somehow missing an important piece. Finally, Shinjo Lily remembered that a Shugenja could ask the spirits a question, and that perhaps the spirits at the scene of the murder could provide some additional insight into what they were missing.

With the reluctant Crab and Phoenix in tow, the little battle maiden quickly stalked off to the magistrate’s office to ask Isawa Kenji to inquire of the earth spirits for them.

“As it so happens, I did ask the earth spirits what had transpired the first night. Retrieving a scroll from a nearby alcove, he read, ‘One human spilled the blood of another human with steel, then a heavy human arrived with two other humans. The four spilled more blood and two left in different directions.’ I will … remind … you, that according to law, the testimony of spirits does not hold weight. It can not be used to render judgement, but serves much like Kitsuki ‘evidence’ as possible direction to further inquiry.” Isawa Kenji made eye contact with Shiba Tetsujin only for a moment. “It does not determine the guilt or innocence of anyone without further testimony.”

Shiba Tetsujin-no-Sodona, found he had a sudden, and irresistible craving for Golden Carp noodles, made just so.

In remarkably short order, Daidoji Mizue was released of all charges, as a certain Shosuro Kumiko, who had caught word of the Crane’s predicament came forward and testified that she had been present at the bathhouse when the Crane had had her conversation with Keiko, and confirmed Mizue’s account of that conversation. The ronin was promptly turned over to the torturers to be questioned until she confessed to murdering Yoritomo Ogura, and attempting to frame the Crane to protect herself.

The next morning, Shinjo Lily and Hiruma Nokatsu prepared to accompany Yasuki Genji on his journey to Nikesake. Tetsujin was likewise on his way to the northwest gate, to escort Mizue and Hojatsu back to the same city, having found it necessary to cut short their pilgrimage on account of a letter indicating that Mizue’s father was in poor health. A new poster, tacked to the side of a building caught Tetsujin’s eye. The garishly painted advertisement was a grand notification, that the beautiful and talented Yoko could now be seen exclusively at The Blooming Rose.

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The Untimely Death of Yoritomo Ogura
Murder of a Mantis Merchant

Having completed the Festival of Remembrance, Daidoji Mizue,Hiruma Nokatsu,Kakita Hojatsu, Shiba Tetsujin-no Sodona, and Shinjo Lily likewise completed their business in Toshi no Omoidoso. Unfortunately for them the city was not quite done with them.
Following their meeting with Otomo Miharu, Nokatsu and Lily gathered their things and headed for the gates – but before they could get there, they were stopped by a local magistrate, Isawa Kenji at the behest of a merchant. The merchant accused Nokatsu of breaking up his sake stand and injuring another customer while drunk the first night of the festival. To make matters worse, the pair’s travel papers were out of date, having expired at the end of the Festival. Nokatsu was arrested and sentenced to the stockade unless he could find a way to pay fines and remunerations of 17 koku. Shinjo Lily was escorted back to the magistrate’s office to have her papers renewed for one more day allowing her travel out of Phoenix territory.
On the way out of the magistrate’s office, the battle maiden was halted by Yasuki Genji, who volunteered to take care of their ‘little problem’. True to his word, Genji had Nokatsu released within the hour, asking only that the pair stay in town a couple days to help him load up his wares to support the alibi he had provided for them. He requested that they return to the inn where they had been staying until he sent word.
The pair hadn’t been back at the inn long, before a messenger came on Genji’s behalf, asking that the Crab and Unicorn aid his master, by going to a warehouse in the Merchant District to pick up a delivery from Yoritomo Ogura. Indebted to the Crab merchant, the two young samurai dutifully collected the koku to make the purchase and headed where they were directed.
At their destination, they were greeted by three Mantis Clan samurai, playing a game that appeared to involve throwing daggers at one another’s feet. When they offered the koku Genji had given them, the man who identified himself as Yoritomo Ogura laughed at them and told them that the amount was only half of the agreed upon price and refused to give them goods they had come to collect. Feeling that they were being made for fools, Nokatsu and Lily began to draw steel – at which point the Mantis agreed to accept the money ‘as a down payment’ and take up the balance with Genji.
Meanwhile, Mizue asked to take one last chance to take advantage of the city’s hospitality before continuing the pilgrimage. Hojatsu and Testsujin accompanied her on one last tour of the city markets, where she purchased a few trinkets and keepsakes, and then headed to a local bathhouse for a good scrub. During their outing, Tetsujin noticed that they were being shadowed by three Ronin: a tall, thin, heavily scarred man, a one-armed woman, and a squat, powerfully built man in a broad hat. The woman followed Mizue into the bathouse, while the other two waited outside.
That night, everyone was awakened by the out-raged screams of Daidoji Mizue, when she discovered Yoritomo Ogura with another woman. A clearly inebriated Ogura loudly declared that he did not know the other woman or how she had come to be in his bed. An audibly upset Mizue stormed out of the inn. She was followed to the outhouse by Shiba Tetsujin and Shinjo Lily, who kept watch over her while she composed herself. When they returned to their rooms, Kakita Hojatsu, Yoritomo Ogura, and the woman were all missing. Tetsujin and Lily went out to the street to see if they could determine what had become of them, to find Hojatsu returning.
The next morning, as the characters were preparing to leave, they were greeted by Isawa Kenji, who asked them to accompany him to his office for questioning. Once there, they were informed that Yoritomo Ogura had been found dead, and that Daidoji Mizue was being held for collusion in his death. Hojatsu, Tetsujin, Nokatsu, and Lily were each questioned, and ordered to remain at the inn until given further instructions.

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Festival of Rememberance

Toshi no Omoidoso holds an annual festival, to commemorate the local folk hero, Matsu Hitomi. The event is coordinated by the Lion and the Phoenix. Representatives of all clans attend the festival to honor the hero.

The primary feature of the Festival is a re-enactment of the battle to take the city. Each year, a promising samurai-ko takes on the role of Hitomi, and leads the defenders against the forces of her lover, Akodo Godaigo. The roles of the commanders are traditionally chosen as the top male and female finishers in a tournament leading up to the event. Many Lion Clan samurai traditionally turnout for this honor, as well as hopeful samurai-ko from other clans, as tradition has it that a maiden that wins as Hitomi, is favored by Benten and will be blessed with a romantic life.

The tournament is intended to honor and replicate the life of Matsu Hitomi. As such, it is a celebration of Love and Honor. Competing samurai may earn points for a number of available competitions, overseen by expert judges from the Lion, Phoenix, and Imperial families. The festival directors this year are Kitsu Shanegon, and Agasha Shizuka. The pair is trying to find a balance between the military aspect of the day and the spiritual one.

Setting:
The city begins to swell with extra samurai from all over the empire, especially Lion Clan samurai. The wait at the city gates becomes longer and longer as more and more warriors and merchants huddle to get in. The inns begin to fill up and prices quickly rise for the few rooms available.
In order to stem a flood of samurai presenting themselves to the local lord’s estate, Agasha Tadamo has arranged a small tent near the city gates to briefly greet new arrivals and exchange pleasantries.

Not far from the local daimyo’s tent is a station set up for samurai to sign up for the tournament that will take place as part of the festival ceremony.
Each participant is expected to sign his name and lineage and accept a token to wear for the duration of the festival, designating them as a contestant.

The first day of the festival is a parade in the honor of Matsu Hitomi. A ceremonial statue is marched through town on a giant palanquin, trailed by dancers, drummers, musicians, and monks. A great crowd of supplicants goes to the shrine to pay homage.

Once respects have been shown, a great celebration ensues. Vendors sell sweets and sake at virtually every intersection and every plaza has drummers or musicians. There are plays featured in the play halls and the streets, re-telling the story of the great Lion Paragon, by Kabuki, by Noh, and with puppets. Most of the citizens drink heartily and wake up with a headache, and Hiruma Nokatsu was no exception, while Shiba Tetsujin-no Sodona and Shinjo Lily managed to gracefully decline over-indulging.

On the second day of the Festival the tournament was held with each contestant being given a list of the events and their locations, and left to their own devices to attend in whatever order they desire. Any event they did not want to participate in, they were able to merely skip, they simply received no points for that event. The more experienced samurai bet on the participants.
The events, were Poetry – both composition and presentation, Kenjutsu, Kyujutsu, History, Theology, Bushido Lore, and Battle strategy. Each contestant was awarded one point for a ‘satisfactory’ answer or skill demonstration, with potential bonus points at the judges’ discretion for exceptional displays of skill or knowledge. Testusjin and Lily did well, with Tetsujin placing second overall in the mens’ division with 29 points overall earning 2 koku in prize money, while Lily placed third in the women’s group with 27. Nokatsu’s training among the Crab left him ill prepared for virtually every event, but he managed to take 12 points overall. The winning competitors were Shiba Ishi for the females with 32 points, and Akodo Denbei for the males. The next day, a complex ceremony was performed by the Kitsu Sodan-Senzo – calling upon the ancestors to bless the victors as they took the roles they had earned as the honorary heads of the two armies that would take place in the mock battle reenacting the fateful day of Matsu Hitomi’s death.

As inexperienced samurai, Tetsujin, Lily, and Nokatsu were assigned roles among the front lines among the most heavily engaged troops. Shinjo Lily, fell in a heroic attempt to hold the gates of the fortress against impossible odds, while Shiba Tetsujin was defeated in personal combat by Daidoji Karasu atop the wall. Hiruma Nokatsu fared a little battle, crushing Daigotsu Yugore in a Test of Might at the gates when they first gave way before falling beneath a flood of invaders as they rushed into the breach.

Having been ruled ‘out’ by the judges, the trio were able to watch the resolution of the battle, as the overwhelming numbers of the attacking group repeated history once again, and Shiba Ishi, as Matsu Hitomi plunged from the tower (into the waiting arms of summoned air spirits that kept her from coming to harm).

Following the battle, most of the city erupted into revelry once more.

The three young samurai awakened to find that each had received a summons from Otomo Miharu – an Imperial matchmaker that had come to the ceremony specifically to find un-married samurai he could match in the most politically advantageous marriages possible. In due course, each donned his or her finest apparel, and marched up the hill to be presented to the Imperial. Miharu had tea with each, and engaged them in conversation – subtly probing the mind and temperament of each to see where they would best serve the Empire, before being dismissed without a clue of their fate.

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Escort Duty

Unable to complete his journey to the nearest way station before nightfall due to the delay caused by the side-trip to and from the hinin villageShiba Tetsujin-no Sodona spent an uncomfortable night camped out on the roadside with only a blanket to keep away the cold of the early spring night.

Tired and sore, he made for the way-station the next morning with all the haste he could muster without overly taxing his mount. He passed a pair of merchants headed the opposite direction, and was passed once by a herald galloping by on his way out of Kyuden Shiba. Eventually, the sharp eyed Phoenix bushi noted a trio of horses headed his direction flying the banner of a Clan Magistrate. Shiba Serizawa, accompanied by a yoriki and a doshin stopped and questioned Tetsujin on his activities. Tetsujin described his encounter with the ‘merchants’ and the apparently un-registered village and crops. The magistrate advised the Shiba guard that they were investigating reports of a peasant ‘harrassing’ travelers on the roadway int he area, and wanted to know if Tetsujin knew anything about this. When Tetsujin denied knowledge of any such activity, Serizawa commanded him to escort them to the village and show them the way.

Upon arrival at the village, the magistrate questioned the village head man, and had his yoriki turn out all of the citizens. Tetsujin saw no sign of Eiji among the villagers. The ‘merchants’ and their mounts were likewise nowhere to be seen. In spite of Tetsujin’s protestation, Shiba Serizawa declared the settlement guilty of growing unauthorized crops,and failure to report to the appropriate authorities. He ordered them to abandon the village and report to the lord at the nearest city for new assignments. The town, and the illegal crops were put to the torch, and Sodona Tetsujin was dismissed with a letter to account for his delay.

The rest of Tetsujin’s journey to Nikesake was relatively uneventful. The next outpost refreshed his mount, and he completed the trip with no further mishaps.Nikesake

Upon arrival at Nikesake, Tetsujin was struck by the stark contrast to the other Phoenix cities he had visited. In the aftermath of two successful assaults during the War of the Twins, the city’s defenses have been re-built with the help of Kaiu engineers from the Crab to prevent a third. A new moat now encircles the enlarged outer wall and towers loom over the small crowd of people waiting at the gates to have their papers reviewed for entry. The city itself is bustling with activity. In addition to Phoenix Clansmen, the city also shows a large number of Crane samurai as always, but it also has a more recent influx of Crab and Scorpion Clan samurai – results of sanctions imposed in the wake of Shiba Tsukimi’s loss to Bayushi Nitoshi in the duel that settled the war, which left the settlement terms in the hands of the victorious Scorpion.

Once in the city, Tetsujin took time to check in at the barracks and bathe and change into formal garb to present himself to the local lord. He was greeted by the lord’s wife, Shiba Ito and her daughter, who served tea and politely discussed his journey for a short time before dismissing themselves. Journeying back through the streets, Tetsujin noticed a group of Crane laughing over an outfit imported from the Colonies, and heard several Lion and Phoenix Clan having ‘going away’ parties for comrades dismissed to service in the former Ivory Kingdoms. One group of courtiers were discussing the political ramifications of the long-delayed engagement between the Unicorn and Dragon Clan Champions. Too late to make a presentation to his charge, Tetsujin retired to the inn for the evening.

The following day, Tetsujin made the trek to the Crane district, to the estate of Daidoji Sokazawa, where his charges, Daidoji Mizue and Kakita Hojatsu were staying pending the arrival of their escort. A servant informed him that the two Crane retainers were out on duty, but invited Tetsujin to take advantage of his lord’s hospitality until they returned. After about a half hour, another servant announced that Mizue and Hojatsu were ready to receive him. Mizue and Hojatsu greeted their new escort, and treated their ‘host’ to a tea ceremony and some snacks, engaging in polite small talk and getting to know one another. They agreed to make arrangements to depart the day after next, and Hojatsu invited Tetsujin to join him for a foray to a local geisha house this evening.

Hojatsu agreed to join his new ‘charge’, and spent the evening watching artistic performances, and enjoying the company of a consort before returning to the barracks. The next day consisted of training at the dojo and completing ritual preparations for the pending pilgrimage.

Daidoji Mizue proved a slow traveling companion. Tradition required that the pilgrimage be completed on foot, so the two warriors had to hold back their normal pace for the diminutive, and slightly out of shape courtier. Fortunately, the weather held for the first two days, and the way stations were spaced with just such travelers in mind so they completed their travels each day – if only just getting in before sun down. Tetsujin learned that Mizue was a possessed of a sharp mind, and though she did not truly embrace the tenets of the tao that the two discussed to pass the time, she was able to carry on intelligent conversations and ask probing questions nonetheless. Hojatsu, for the most part, only interjected when he had a witty comment to provide. He would often travel a short distance ahead of the pair to ‘scout’ (Tetsujin suspected it was often more to get away from the conversation for a time) and wait from a vantage point, practicing his iaijutsu draw on windblown leaves until his slower charge could catch up.

The third day, the weather was not so cooperative, and the trio were quickly soaked to the skin and muddied nearly to the knee. Mizue had to try and hold her sodden parasol in one hand, and keep her kimono skirts out of the mud with the other. They were all relieved when they rounded the final bend in the climb to their destination: Toshi no Omoidasu. There was a small crowd huddled near the city walls, trying to gather under the battlements wherever possible to get out of the downpour. The soaked guards gave cursory glances at the papers of the numerous merchants and pilgrims passing through the gates, where the story of the city’s most storied citizen: Matsu Hitomi was inscribed on the walls.
Toshi no omoidoso

Within the walls the city lay nestled among the mountain foothills. The thousands of buildings could be seen rolled out in tiers, each district a little higher and a little more opulent, with the towering estates of the kuge nobility looming like palaces among the trees of the highest hills, looking out over the rest of the city.

Tetsujin, Mizue, and Hojatsu hurried through the relatively empty streets, dodging citizens rushing through the deluge only where absolutely necessary, until they came to the inn, The Laughing Cat, where Mizue had been instructed to seek lodging. They registered with the inn-keeper and were shown to there rooms, where they deposited their belongings, and then the Crane headed to a bat=house to clean up from their journey, while Tetsujin traveled to the local barracks.

Once cleaned up, together, the three samurai went to the estate of the local lord, Agasha Tadamo, and after about an hour, was ushered in to meet with his karo, Shiba Nakano along with a handful of other visiting samurai. The group engaged in idle chatter for a while, and presented their reasons for being in the city. Once the requisite visit had been completed, Phoenix and Crane all went back to the inn for the night.

The following day was spent touring the local shrines and temples, and spending time in prayer and meditation. The City of Remembrance was one of the largest trade centers in all of Phoenix lands, but its glory had faded a little in recent years. Hear and there, minor signs of neglect could be seen, and the general feel of the city was nowhere near as expectant as was the city of Nikesake. The Agasha family was given governance of the city from the Shiba when they joined the Phoenix. The Agasha were among the hardest hit with the destruction of their mountain city fortress at the hands of Scorpion saboteurs during the War of the Twins. In order to rebuild, taxes had been raised, but with the re-location of the Imperial capital away from Otosan Uchi – the city was no longer as near to the center of things as it had once been. Afterward, The Kakita invited Tetsujin to join him in ‘checking out’ the local sake houses, to which Tetsujin reluctantly agreed, while Daidoji Mizue rested from the long journey.

The second morning in Toshi no Omoidasu, Daidoji Mizue announced her intention to ‘attend to her affairs’ at the inn. Kakita Hojatsu assured Shiba Tetsujin that it would be dreadfully boring, and that the inn’s security would be more than enough to assure his charge’s safety. The duelist invited Tetsujin to join him in touring the city instead. Tetsujin dutifully, but politely declined, and spent the day watching Mizue meet with a string of merchants and go over documents and discuss things that Tetsujin did not fully understand – and since it appeared to do with commerce – had no desire to understand. Tetsujin declined another invitation to join Hojatsu in his carousing, and spent the evening in study and meditation.

The next morning, Tetsujin once again refused to join Mizue’s yojimbo on his exploration of the city, and spent the day watching over the Daidoji’s business dealings. It was becoming clear that this ‘pilgrimage’ was essentially a palatable cover for some kind of commercial endeavor. Once again, Mizue met with several local merchants, and one Yasuki trader before announcing that she would be spending the rest of the afternoon preparing to observe a local geisha house that Hojatsu insists was worth investigation. Unable to refuse to accompany both of his charges. Tetsujin agreed to join them and retired to his chambers to prepare.

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Introduction: Shiba Tetsujin
Compassion

Since returning from his warrior pilgrimage, Shiba Tetsujin-no Sodona has spent most of his time as an honor guard at one of the shrines near Shiro Shiba, watching over the nobles of the Shiba family that come to worship. For the most part, it has been a good life for him. He spends his hours on duty, has ready access to the dojo to practice, and is able to spend what free time is available to him reading in the library.

Winter is waning, and the spring rains are running off of the roof of the shrine, as a young messenger comes to deliver instructions from Tetsujin’s Karo, Shiba Masamune-no Sodona. Masamune seems almost bored as he informs Tetsujin that he has been appointed to provide escort to a pair of Crane Clan samurai, making a pilgrimage to the various shrines and holy places in Phoenix lands. Tetsujin is to see to their safety, and act as a guide. He is to leave immediately for the city of Nikesake, where the Crane are waiting for him.

Tetsujin gathers supplies for the road, and is granted a mount to ensure timely arrival. He departs with all do haste for what is anticipated to be a week long journey across the bulk of the Shiba territories to the southern trade hub.

A few days into the ride, as Tetsujin is riding west along a winding section of road through the low hills of the river plain between Shiro Shiba and Twin Souls Temple, he hears the unlikely sound of a baby crying, coming from around the corner. Tetsujin slows his mount and readies his spear before rounding the corner.

A peasant jumps up at the horses approach, brandishing a makeshift spear, made of a length of bamboo with a rough knife lashed to the end. The man has a baby lashed to his back, and cries out in a voice filled with fear and desperation, “Give me your money!”

After a brief verbal standoff, with Tetsujin refusing to even acknowledge the peasant’s ‘threats’, Tetsujin learns that the man is Eiji, a farmer from a nearby village, who has borrowed heavily from money lenders to pay for medicine for his sick wife. Now his wife has passed on, and he is left caring for a baby by himself, and the money lenders have sent collectors to get the 2 koku he owes them. Eiji has no money, and knows that they will take his daughter, so he has taken to the road with little real plan except to keep his baby away from the collectors. His feeble attempt at banditry is clearly an act of desperation, under the assumption he will get the money he needs – or more likely die a quick and clean death for both him and his daughter at the end of a sharp samurai blade.

To Eiji’s great surprise, instead of killing him, Tetsujin puts the peasant on his horse and asks Eiji to guide him to his village, a few hours away.

Upon sight of the village, Tetsujin re-mounts, and readies his spear, forcing Eiji to lead the way.

Tetsujin found that the ‘village’ was a small collection of huts in the hills south of the roadway. From the looks of things the little place had not seen a tax collector in years. At the sight of the approaching samurai the villagers ran for the safety of their homes gathering children as they sought refuge. Sodona Tetsujin was greeted in the middle of the collection of hovels by an elderly man prostrating himself on the ground. The village elder confirmed that there are men visiting the village and staying in his home. At the samurai’s command, a boy was sent to call for the ‘merchants’ and three rough looking heimin strode out and stood on the porch, anxiously fingering tonfa and home-made clubs.

At Tetsujin’s request, the heimin confirmed that they have loaned Eiji money, with his daughter as collateral. The peasant has had the loan out for two years now and is well past due with interest having almost doubled the loan. The merchants are here to collect as agreed. A disgusted Tetsujin agreed that if Eiji had so little value for the life of his daughter that he was willing to pledge her for medicine that had no guarantee of even saving his wife than Tetsujin would not save her for him now. He commanded Eiji to hand his daughter over to the collectors and turned his horse back toward the road leaving the peasant weeping and rolling in the dirt.

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