Possible Allies gained:
This adventure took place during the Festival of the Humble Turtle, a Lion event celebrating the recapture of the city of Kenson Gakka from the Scorpion and the happy massacre that took place there. Matsu Musashi received an invitation to compete in the tournament, and invited his friends along. Shosuro Hitaki was unable to attend, however, as his daimyo required his presence elsewhere.
A communal meal and court took place early in the morning. There they met Matsu Ryoma, the governor of the castle, who seemed friendly enough, as well as the somewhat reserved Akodo Ikare, the commander of the garrison, and a Dragonfly courtier who seemed perhaps a little too skilled to be attending such a provincial court. Finally, a Crane ambassador was present, quietly observing the gathering without seeming to engage too deeply.
The festival proper began with a procession of Lion soldiers, marching in ranks along the main thoroughfares before the crowds of heimin. They were dressed in the full regalia of war, complemented by all the finery of peacetime grace. This spectacle drew many to the festival, even some who had no interest in the other events. After making a full circuit, the soldiers ended their march at the parade grounds, where they took up watchful positions at the edge of its rough ground. Another group of soldiers—one for each century the Lion have held the castle—arrived with tall sashimono bearing the Lion mon. They placed the mon within a row of shafts cut into the earth at the far end of the parade grounds. This officially signaled the festival’s commencement, and Ryoma clapped once to signal that the festivities were to begin.
The tournament itself was decidedly martial in nature, with the contests based on the teachings of the Akodo War College. There was Yabusame, Inu o-mono, in which a piglet was released into a fenced field and a mounted samurai was tasked with subduing or killing it with as few arrows as possible, sumai wrestling, Oriru, sort of jousting but using one’s hands instead of a lance, Seikakusa, a test of accuracy with the sword, and finally a re-enactment of the original Battle of the Humble Turtle. The tournament was to take all morning, with champions receiving a ring of copper with dyed silks sewn around it. At the end of the re-enactment, the monks of Yarukki Jukko, a nearby monastery, joined the crowd carrying boxes from which hawks were meant to be released, symbolizing the triumph of the warrior spirit among the Lion. Instead, the monks opened the boxes and a flight of doves took off. This greatly upset the Lion samurai, Akodo Ikare in particular. Matsu Ryoma demands an explanation from Noshin, the local abbot, who apologizes profusely. The PCs got a sense that he was not entirely sure how this disturbance came about. Akodo Ikare ordered the monks to leave the castle and remain at their monastery.
For the rest of the day, the PCs noted strange incidents, like peasants disappearing around corridors, and sightings of monks where there should not have been any in the city. There was also a profound sense of being watched. The PCs were put on their guard. They noticed the Crane ambassador having lunch with Akodo Ikare’s wife, the two actually losing their on with their boisterous laughing. For his part, Akodo Ikare is seen loudly berating one of his men, to the point of screaming and nearly pushing him off the wall.
During the early afternoon, a throng of people gathered before the Temple to the Seven Fortunes. When the party investigated, they found several samurai standing about the double doors to the temple itself. Their stances were nervous and doubtful, turning away from the crowd whenever possible. All sorts of whispers moved through the crowd, describing a ‘demon’ hiding within the temple. The four samurai were a Crab, a Crane, and a pair of Lions. The Crab suggested to the party that they not investigate until a member of the Kuni witch-hunters arrived to investigate. Kuni Nashi insisted that he was Kuni enough for any demon, and led the group into the temple.
Inside, they found a zokujin, one of the copper goblins that the Lion enslaved and force to work in their copper mines. Calling itself Kakera, it informed the pcs that the local zokujin population was growing ill from the contamination of the bedrock in the area. She claimed that there was something wrong with the river. In fact, she felt that the spirit of the river was gone. She says that she was looking for the one that left the offerings currently on the temple’s altar, as he smelt like the river.
At about this time, Matsu Ryoma arrived and sternly demanded that the zokujin returned to its tunnels where it belonged. The PCs defended the creature, accepting responsibility for it while it remained on the surface. This seemed to assuage Ryoma’s anger, and he departed.
Soon after, word began to spread through the city that Akodo Ikare’s infant son had been kidnapped. Details are sketchy, but rumor maintains that the child was stolen from its crib within the General’s quarters of the castle. The festival slowed but did not stop, due mainly to the efforts of Matsu Ryoma to retain order and goodwill, especially in light of the city’s Crane visitors. By this time, small battle recreations were being staged throughout the city and the various merchants, craftsmen, and artisans were operating at full swing. The hetman’s mansions was the center of the largest crowd in the city, where a temporary two-sided kabuki stage had been set up and various Lion theatrical works were playing. The main streets of the city were clogged with people too immersed in celebration to be bothered, but the PCs were able to discover the following rumors:
*Akodo Ikare’s wife, Miko, is distraught, and unable to leave her chambers. Her endless crying can be heard from the front gates of the fortress.
- The Crane Ambassador, Daidoji Handen, had a couple of his yojimbo steal Ikare’s child. “After all, they are never with him. How are we to know where they are or what they are doing?”
*Guards were stationed outside the General’s quarters when the baby was stolen. Their seppuku are expected to take place in the morning.
*The zokujin of the labyrinth were responsible for the theft of the child. They were going to use it to ransom their freedom.
*Akodo Ikare is beside himself with grief, consumed with a violent rage that threatens everyone around him. He stalks the castle halls with open fury, storming through the chambers in search of his son.
*"This is the vengeance of the Fortunes after the zokujin defiled their temple!"
*Many of Ikare’s soldiers are beginning to fear for his sanity.
*One of the castle guards was said to have seen Ikare sitting calmly within the garrison offices, his face expressionless, immediately after hearing the news of his son’s abduction.
*"This is kharma for the deaths of so many Scorpion six hundred years ago!"
Togashi Genji at this time began to strongly suspect Noshin’s involvement, particularly as his monks had been seen violating the ban on their presence within the city. However, he could not be located and confronted at this time.
The search for the infant was a source of considerable tension in the town, as Ikare became more and more desperate. The more desperate he became, the more belligerent he behaved, until it was clear that his own men were trying to avoid him. The PCs resolved to find the child, if possible, if only to stop Ikare’s descent into madness.
Fortunately, the search did not take long. The child was discovered hidden at the bottom of a well. Hiruma Ogami was able to scale down the well and retrieve it. He discovered an underground river that flowed through the town. The baby’s swaddling was coated with a white powder, though the PCs could not determine its origin. Ikare arrived shortly after, and was elated to find his child. His mood darkens when he recognizes the powder, and he storms off just as suddenly as he arrived. The PCs began to be more than a little suspicious of Ikare.
Ikare stormed up to the castle garrison, trailed by his men. When he arrived, he demanded his horse and gathered a posse of Lion to follow him. Daidoji Handen, the Crane Ambassador, arrived on the scene. Only then did Ikare announce that he was headed to Shinden Yaruki Jukko, the local temple. Handen immediately called for a horse to follow, and the sign of his concern was all the PCs needed to follow suit. It turns out, a group of monks from Crane lands is at the temple, studying with the monks there. It was at this time that the PCs noticed the strange mark on the back of Ikare’s neck.
When the posse arrived at the Temple, the general ordered his men to collect the monks. Ikare questioned the monks about the the abduction of his son, then ordered his men to execute them. Handen protested, but the Lion set to their grisly work. When the monks were dead, Handen vowed to bring Ikare to justice before turning and riding back to the town. Only then did the PCs see Ikare smile, hear the sound of horns, and see the Scorpion banners rising over the hills to the south.
The initial instinct of the PCs was to stay and wipe the smirk off of Ikare’s face, but the sheer number of Scorpion cresting the ridge to the south had them decide that it was nearer their Duty to warn the town of the impending battle than to sell their lives cheaply on the field of battle. So they legged it.
Matsu Ryoma took over defense of the city after Ikare’s apparent betrayal. He thanked the PCs for their assistance, but could not accept their participation, save that of Matsu Musashi and Kitsu Ai, in the battle to come. Fortunately, Hiruma Ogami recalled the river he had seen flowing beneath the town, and reasoned that the Scorpion might use that to infiltrate the town. The PCs went spelunking, saved Noshin from a clever trap into which he had fallen while investigating the suspicious circumstances plaguing the town, and confronted Bayushi Sozui, the evil mastermind behind the invasion.
While Sozui managed to escape, albeit wounded with an Otaku arrow, the PCs and the Lion were able to repel the Scorpion assault, though Akodo Ikare was never seen again.
On the face of it, this adventure ended in success. The Lion were victorious and the hated Scorpion were thwarted in their ambition for vengeance. The players were able to secure the gratitude of Matsu Ryoma, an important governor, as well as the abbot Noshin, who would be instrumental in one of their later adventures.
Unfortunately, hindsight shows that the Scorpion got almost all that they wanted from the engagement. The hope for detente between the Crane and the Lion died with the monks at Shinden Yaruki Jukko, and the easy victory the Lion had over the Scorpion only made them more confident that they would handily beat any force the Crane could muster. Clearly, dark times were ahead for the Empire.