Possible Allies made:
Hida Shiroi: (Crab PCs)
Daidoji Jinshi: (Crab PCs, Mirumoto Hiro)
In the course of an evening at a roadside teahouse outside of Ryoko Owari, the players were approached by Togashi Yokuni, the Champion of the Dragon. A known recluse, the Dragon’s appearance in Scorpion lands emphasized the importance of his request as much as his station or the aura of power that surrounded him. He informed the PCs that there was or soon would be a disturbance at Shiro Kuni, and that they were required to prevent disaster. He gave them his personal chop, and requested that they head to Kyuden Hida immediately.
Wisely, they complied.
After a somewhat uneventful journey featuring a poorly-scaled fight with some bandits [there may have been a learning curve for the gm], the players arrived at Kyuden Hida. Yokuni’s chop gave them access, but thy discovered that the intended recipient of their warning, Hida Kisada, was currently away and that his son was currently in charge. The players are invited to a feast in order to present their request to Yakamo, but, perhaps predictably, the feast breaks down into a brawl when one of the Hida House Guard makes a sexist remark. Yakamo puts an end to the fighting once it is clear to him that the PCs are bushi worthy of toleration, and the group gets down to business.
After some discussion, Yakamo gives permission for the PCs to travel to Shiro Kuni along with his cousin, Hida Shiroi. During the journey, Shiroi gives some perspective on what they will face. The PCs are confident, as they faced an oni in Ryoko Owari and survived without too much difficulty, but Shiroi seems pretty sure that they’re in for an awakening.
In due course, the PCs arrived at Shiro Hiruma and formally presented themselves as volunteers for service against the Shadowlands. They submitted themselves to a grueling round of questioning as to why they wished to do so as well as their level of skill and knowledge of the enemy. None of the PCs was found to be a subversive, and their skill was deemed satisfactory, at least as much as could be expected from koma.
It was then that they met Daidoji Jinshi, a more established member of the Iron Crane detachment of the Crane Army stationed on the Wall. Jinshi was interested in proving his skill in a duel with Mirumoto Hiro, a duel which Jinshi won, if only just. Hiro won Jinshi’s respect, and thus the PCs found a somewhat friendly face among the dour and suspicious Crab.
When the duel was concluded, Hida Shiroi sent word that their presence was requested at a meeting with Hiruma Makasu, who commanded the guard of the castle. Makasu turns out to be a man about four feet in height, with an intense stare and the total devotion of his staff. Shiroi, a cousin of the true line of Hida, uses honorifics to address him. Makasu ignores him, his coldness serving as a dismissal, and the PCs are left alone with Makasu. He asks each of them a single question, the only one of which I recall is “How will you defeat the Shadowlands,” to which Togashi Genji replied “I will bring the Tao to Fu Leng,” which was fairly awesome.
Makasu informed the PCs that he would personally be leading a patrol out into the Shadowlands the next day in order to ascertain why the Shadowlands had been so quiescent for the past month or so. He informed them that he suspected that the Shadowlands was marshaling for a significant assault. He invited the PCs along.
The first light of dawn had yet to break the sky when Makasu ordered the scouts to be lowered down the side of the Wall. The five samurai move quickly to the waiting boats and the troopers, then Makasu’s personal guard are lowered next. Makasu is the last to enter.
Rowing across the Last Stand river, the PCs were ordered to hide the boats in the tall reeds of the river’s edge. Led by the scouts, they moved toward the west. In the beginning the land was not that different from the green valleys on the other side of the Wall. However, with every step west the land withered and died. By the time they lost sight of the wall, the land was almost completely corrupted. At first even breathing in that region was difficult, but their lungs slowly became used to the filth and they began to regain their wind. Makasu demanded a swift pace which the Crab warriors fell into with ease, though his brusque attitude won him no friends among the PCs. By the end of the first day, the patrol was well out of sight of the Wall.
The second day of the patrol began much like the first. After a very brief meal, Makasu points to the west and instructs the scouts to fan out. Shadows seemed to crouch at the corners of their vision, but when they turned there was nothing there. Nerves began to fray under the constant tension, which was broken only when the group ventured into a narrow canyon. The PCs expected a trap, and were not disappointed. A pair of ogres blocked the ends of the canyon, while goblins undertook to roll stones down on the samurai. The fighting was intense, but the PCs managed to kill one of the ogres and the way was opened to retreat. However, Makasu refused to give the order until Shiroi stepped in and gave it for him. The PCs, by now having officially nicknamed Makasu “fathead” then cursed as Makasu led the retreat from the front, not participating in the rear-guard action in the slightest. Not even when the patrol was set upon by a Tsuburu no Oni—an demon of immense corpulence—did he turn to help. While the patrol did make it back to the Wall, it was not without significant loss, and the PCs had come to understand that Togashi Yokuni had wanted them to do something about Makasu, and that right soon.
The next day the castle was abuzz with talk of how awesome Makasu was when he slew that oni and single-handedly saved the patrol. There is a bunch of grumbling at his having stolen the glory of the PCs and in particular the scouts of the patrol who fought so hard during the long withdrawal. Shiroi tries to come up with excuses for his behavior, but finds it difficult. The PCs resolve to learn more about this commander. During the course of their inquiries, it comes to the PCs attention that one of the scouts on a previous patrol was found alive at the edge of the Black Finger River the night before, and was being debriefed as they spoke. Shosuro Hitaki and Hiruma Ogami decided to investigate, and, sneaking through the rafters of the castle, came upon Hiruma Makasu’s personal chambers, where the scout was being tortured for information by Makasu and a Kuni shugenja. Though they did not know it at the time, that Kuni was Kuni Yori himself.
Various other rumors came to light, all demonstrating that Makasu was at best unfit for command, and at worst actively subverting the defense of the castle. Shiroi departed to inform his uncle of the problems at Shiro Kuni, while the PCs stayed to try and mitigate the damage in the short term. Makasu, perhaps recognizing that the PCs were dangerous, sent them out to secure reconnaissance of the horde, following the same path as several previous missions. They did so, in do course discovering that the previous patrols had been slaughtered to a man, bushwhacking a goblin troop, discovering the horde’s marshaling area, slaying an ogre general and recovering a significant nemuranai of the Hiruma family (which Hiruma Ogami still bears), and returning to the castle.
A three-day siege ensued, during which Makasu attempted to open the gates to the horde. He managed to defeat Daidoji Tawanaga’s desperate attempt to stop him, but was killed by a thrown tanto from the hand of Shosuro Hitaki. The battle finally ended when Hida Kisada himself arrived and routed the horde. He conferred a battlefield promotion on both Hiruma Ogami and Kuni Nashi, and presented gifts to the other PCs.
The PCs returned to Dragon lands, but were not able to secure an audience with Togashi Yokuni. Instead, they were invited to tell their story to Mirumoto Sukune, who made sure that word of their deeds was disseminated in the Empire.