Legend of the Five Rings: Accursed Destiny

Session 5 - The Last Day of Lessons

More foes from the past
block the path to destiny.
Are they foes at all?

With only three weeks to cross a significant portion of the Emerald Empire, Tatsuya and his friends, Mamoru and Sagura, accepted the generous offer of Kiyomi to board her father’s boat and sail to the Kitsune Winter Court.

Accompanying them from the happy wedding were the Mongoose representative Yuzuki and her yojimbo for the upcoming Court, Sanjuro Aiyu. Already aboard were the Falcon Clan Champion, Toritaka Benkei and his daughter Hitomi, as well as the renowned captain of the vessel, husband to the Tortoise Daimyo, and self-proclaimed greatest sailor in Rokugan, Kasuga Tomo.

Tatsuya immediately sought out Lord Benkei and begged his aid for the young Mongoose’s quest. Since the Falcon had been fighting spirits since their inception, should they not have the most complete records on them? Could they know of a way to restore the Kitsune Yukiko’s spirit to her mortal shell? Benkei was unsure, but promised to aid the young samurai he had once guarded.

The Slain Child

Their pace abated by meddling Great Clan magistrates, a full week’s travel saw them bordering Scorpion lands. Hitomi spent her time watching over her charge, Kiyomi, with growing concern. Yuzuki, Tatsuya, and Mamoru trained with the old ronin Kakashi, while Sagura meditated with The Spirit of Honor, Kitsune Toshiro.

At last released from the final checkpoint, their path was blocked by a half-sunken junk. Mamoru dropped down to see if he could save any of the passengers, finding a murdered Crane courtier with her still-living babe. As soon as their ship slowed to a halt, however, men in brown robes discarded their breathing tubes and attacked. Many clambered up the side of Tomo’s ship, assaulting the passengers.

Sagura took up his naginata and fought those on the lower deck, Hitomi and her bisento clearing the upper deck to his right. The two fought as a matched pair, as though each knew the others’ movements before they were even begun. Soon, the dozen ronin who challenged them were either dead or driven from the ship.

...whoa...

Tatsuya and Yuzuki charged to held their friends, only to be jumped by a pair of ronin armed with strange daggers. After briefly tangling with Yuzuki, who dealt them several near-deadly wounds, they focused their attention on their true target: the son of Sanjuro.

The assassins ignored the wounds Tatsuya inflicted upon them, slowly cornering the young samurai. Just as they prepared to strike the final blow, Mamoru leapt over the railing and cast one of them overboard to a watery grave. Tatsuya ducked under a gutting strike and beheaded his final opponent: even then, the assassin’s headless body attempted to finish its task, only to be knocked aside by Mamoru.

The child they had saved, a week old at most, kept a deathly silence as they raced downriver. Hitomi held onto the baby boy as everyone else debated the identity of their attackers: most were ronin, battered and poor, but the two who had singled out Tatsuya were clearly a cut above. Their gear, though worn with use and age, was of foreign make: on each blade was engraved in gaijin script ‘Quolat’. One of the attackers wore a strange ring, styled after a Lotus: Kiyomi claimed it was the sign of the recently-reforged Kolat’s Assassins, and Mamoru confirmed her suspicion.

The closest friendly city was Kyuuden Kakita, home of the Kakita family and its Lord, Kakita Katashi. With no way to feed the starving infant short of a miracle, Tomo broke speed records and several laws to pass 35 leagues in a day. Safely arriving at Kyuuden Kakita, all of the passengers save Yuzuki departed to visit the beautiful lands of the Crane’s premier artisans and duelists. And of course, to find the poor, silent babe something to eat and someone to care for him.

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Sagura used his father’s long friendship with Katashi to gain them entry to the city and an audience with the Kakita daimyo: the infant was seen to, and everyone welcomed with exquisite hospitality. The ladies bathed, with Kiyomi taking particular joy in the available hotsprings, as did Mamoru and eventually Sagura. Before that, though, the young Phoenix went to the doorway of the Kakita Dueling Academy and offered challenge to passing students. He won a fair duel against a student his own age, and the two parted on respectful terms.

When everyone was rested and refreshed, they joined Lord Katashi and his youngest daughter Kiyo for tea. He welcomed each guest in turn, and asked for news of their exploits. Tatsuya informed him of his quest , and Katashi offered whatever aid his grandson may require. Provisions were sent to the ship, and the company departed to continue their journey… save for Kiyo, Sagura, and Tatsuya.

The young Phoenix asked Lord Katashi’s permission to court his daughter: looking upon his suit with favor, the daimyo accepted the proposal and sent Kiyo as Sagura’s “yojimbo”, that the two might get to know one another better.

Katashi asked his grandson to stay behind, that he might introduce the most recent addition to their family: the daimyo’s only great-grandchild, three-week-old Kakita Taiki.

Back aboard Tomo’s vessel, a bored Yuzuki went fishing. Catching a minnow barely the size of her hook, she threw it back to use as bait. After several hours of waiting, her fishing pole gave a mighty tug and threatened to snap. She lashed it to the railing and pulled out a knife, leaping into the frothy water near her catch only to come face-to-face with a large shark.

I see you

She battled the mighty creature, tooth against knife, and ultimately claimed the victory. She hauled herself aboard the ship, and the Tortoise crew quickly reeled in her catch. While they stripped and cleaned the carcass, however, a careless knife-stroke opened the thing’s belly and spilled forth hundreds of coins, mostly koku and gaijin gold. Yuzuki ordered the gold sent home and the shark eaten.

The crew and passengers at last assembled, though nearly leaving Tatsuya behind, the vessel set sail once more. The next morning, they passed within sight of the Imperial City and were out into the open ocean. A vast thundering filled their ears, though the sky was empty of clouds.

At last, what they had taken for a mountain in the sea moved, revealing itself to be a vast, terrifying beast. It cast the object of its wrath, a four-masted gaijin frigate, through the air to land near them, and moved to attack its newest target…

He Comes

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Session 4 - A Lesson in Careful (Family) Planning

Sanjuro Yurika quickly decoded the courtly language used in the Mongoose-Crane treaty Sanjuro Yuzuki had negotiated, and came up with a startling truth: Yuzuki had provided the Mongoose with plenty of rice and grain, but at the cost of becoming a Crane vassal family.

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Bayushi Mamoru, Sanjuro Daichiko, and Sanjuro Tatsuya balked at the revelation, but the treaty was signed. With Sanjuro Hinata still at the Imperial Capital, no one could figure out a way to countermand the treaty without sparking a war between Mongoose and Crane. Even Kasuga Kiyomi felt stumped by the well-worded treaty, though she kept poring over the document for a way to save this newest Minor Clan.

Buruburu: The Hungry Ghost of Fear

Guests were shown to their rooms, and Daichiko took Shiba Sagura out into the gardens for a refreshing walk. The talked of little things and grand plans, away from almost every prying eye. Meanwhile, Tatsuya and Yuzuki went to the old ronin Kakashi for training. Tatsuya spotted that the ronin used some form of makeup to make him appear older, while Yuzuki was simply grateful to have some instruction on her foreign weapon.

Eventually, everyone went to bed. Everyone slept peacefully, save for Sagura and Toritaka Hitomi: these two were tormented by horrifying nightmares, unable to awaken or truly get restful sleep. This continued for several days, while everyone else tried to think of a way around the treaty’s conditions.

One possibility, that the Crane would renege on their end of the bargain, vanished when a large, heavily-guarded caravan piled high with foodstuffs crested the hill. Kakita Kiyo was extremely proud of herself for negotiating the treaty, and her father Kakita Katashi was pleased to bring one of his daughters back to the family, while also strengthening his clan and extending their reach.

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Festivities began between the jubilant Mongoose, who up until this time had been starving almost to death, and the smug Crane caravan guards. Doji, Daidoji, and Kakita were everywhere, wooing all the womenfolk and guarding the treaty from Mamoru’s attempts to ‘see’ it.

The festivities culminated in the reading of several Haiku, which Sagura and Kiyomi excelled at, and finally an iaijutsu display. The many Crane desired a duel between Kiyo and Tatsuya… but he quickly invited Hitomi into the ring, trying to avoid his aunt’s swift and furious blade. The Mongoose and the Falcon dueled, invoking a more formal and slow-moving style of fighting that was pleasing to the eye – for everyone but the Kakita duelists present.

When Hitomi stepped from the ring, however, a great wind came up and circled the dueling circle. Trapped within, Tatsuya looked on in shocked confusion as the Soul of Honor, Kitsune Toshiro, stepped from the gusting cyclone into the circle, taking up a dueling stance. Tatsuya prepared to duel, but knew he was utterly outmatched by the experienced Spirit. The two spoke: Tatsuya asking Toshiro’s forgiveness for his crime, and Toshiro taking the measure of his brother’s son. The Spirit of Honor declared that he would take Tatsuya’s measure through a single perfect strike, and they dueled.

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During the duel, his katana awakened, immersed in the young samurai’s sense of Duty and Honor. Seeing this, and finding Tatsuya’s measure admirable, the Spirit of Honor named his price for forgiving Tatsuya.

Meanwhile, Mamoru had managed to sneak past the Daidoji ‘Scouts’ guarding the troublesome treaty, and swapped it with a pre-created forgery, complete with an easy escape from the Mongoose’s end of the bargain. When Sanjuro Hinata returned the next day, she found Mamoru’s clause with ease, and Yuzuki was lauded as a great courtier, and a master of subtlety.

All was not happy, however, as Hinata had not returned home alone. Accompanying her was Miya Houki, Voice of the Emperor, and he was there to have a quiet marriage with Sanjuro Daichiko…

That night was filled with hijinks and potential dishonor, love and loss, comedy and tragedy. Sagura got what he wanted, without getting anything he wanted. Yuzuki found a new friend, but became beholden to another. Kiyomi learned of many things, and finally got into some mischief of her own. Hitomi at last found rest, the buruburu banished by Isawa Keitaro, but was unable to prevent her charge’s urge to make trouble. Tatsuya found the path to forgiveness, but only from his victim’s father: he realized that the child’s mother would be an entirely different story.

The wedding the following morning was subdued, but ritually perfect. Afterward, the party boarded Kasuga Tomo’s ship, preparing to leave for Fox Lands, and the possibilities that lay there…

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Session 3 - A Lesson in Strategic Repositioning

After one final, quiet evening, Mirumoto’s Court was declared to be at an end.

Sanjuro Tatsuya, at last knowing that he was the cause of the Mongoose Clan’s famine, went to Mirumoto Fumiko and asked for release from his bondage. She agreed, but set terms: he had one year to save the Mongoose Clan from the famine. If he succeeded, he would be freed, and the debt between the Dragon and the Mongoose would be forgiven. If he failed, though, he would be adopted into the Dragon Clan, and the Mongoose would go extinct.

Bayushi Mamoru and Sanjuro Yuzuki promised to accompany the young samurai on his journey. As they gathered to leave the next morning, Shiba Sagura, Toritaka Hitomi, and Kasuga Kiyomi, who were to take the same road as Tatsuya and company, agreed to travel together as far as Mongoose lands.

At the foot of Shiro Mirumoto, the travelers were halted by Mirumoto Yoshi and an army of Returned Spirits, accompanied by a Yuki-onna. Yoshi refused to allow them to pass until Fumiko surrendered the castle, and the party waited in the Returned war-camp while the two Mirumoto debated. When at last Yoshi returned, they were allowed to proceed, though his Yuki-onna kept them awhile longer to discuss them, and their Curses.

The path from Dragon lands to Mongoose territory was difficult: an historic blizzard, and hordes of Gaki blocked their path. After a terrifying battle with the O-toyou haunting a nearby battlefield, the party found themselves protected by an unseen force, as the o-toyo and worse prowled nearby. Arriving at Mongoose lands, Tatsuya and Kiyomi attempted to find their unseen protector, driving it away… just as the Gaki attacked.

Sagura took great wounds during a last-stand, giving the courtiers time to flee. Yuzuki, Hitomi, Mamoru, and Tatsuya ran back to save him, and they began a fighting retreat to the Mongoose border. They found a watchtower there, where Kiyomi again attempted to corner their mysterious protector.

The next morning, after Yuzuki killed all of the surrounding Gaki with her bow, the party was invited into Mongoose lands, and taken to Kyuuden Toshiro, where they met Sanjuro Daichiko and her sister, Sanjuro Yurika

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Session 2 - A Lesson in Swordplay

Despite a day of dishonor and the breaking of tradition, the evening Court held much promise.

Kasuga Kiyomi spent the evening charming everyone, as well as discussing some rather disturbing possibilities with the Mantis Courtier. Shosuro Akemi was just as charming, if slightly more aggressive. Sanjuro Yuzuki spent much of her time discussing how to secure rice for the starving Mongoose Clan: her agreement with the Crane courtier inadvertently bound the Mongoose as a vassal family. Asako Tsubasa made several excellent deals, and wound up befriending Akemi despite the presence of Shiba Sagura looming over her shoulder.

Meanwhile Bayushi Mamoru and Sanjuro Tatsuya sought out clues to prove Tatsuya’s innocence in the theft of Tsi Daichi gifts. They sought out the one who stood to gain most with Tatsuya’s disgrace, Mirumoto Hideyoshi, but were unable to find him anywhere on the grounds. While Tatsuya discussed things with Mirumoto Fumiko, Mamoru coordinated with Akemi on their Scorpion-ly plans, ultimately roping Sagura into his and Tatsuya’s search.

When the Court finally let out, Fumiko invited Kiyomi for a private cup of tea. There, she informed the Tortoise that the dead Crab yojimbo’s armor had originally been meant for Toritaka Hitomi, and was being cleansed for her. The daimyo and the courtier verbally sparred until Kiyomi offered her assistance in returning the stolen weapons, which Fumiko gratefully accepted.

Tatsuya and Mamoru ran across Yuzuki out near the Shrines to the Fortunes: the Mongoose was worried that the Curse of Lady Moon would affect her that night, as the moon was almost full. Kiyomi and Hitomi breezed past them as the Scorpion complied with Yuzuki’s request and tied her up. Meanwhile, Sagura’s search for Hideyoshi yielded a secret passage within the Shrine to Benten. Hitomi discovered it, as well, and the two groups teamed up to search it.

The passage lead to a forgotten vault beneath Shiro Mirumoto, where Hideyoshi and two of his guards had hidden a cache of pillaged Ivory Kingdoms booty. Fumiko had given Hideyoshi permission to discuss trade with a lost caravan from the Ivory Kingdoms: he and his men slaughtered them all and stole their belongings, but told his mother that a deal had been brokered. Kiyomi convinced him not to attack, as she was only searching for the stolen Tsi weapons, which were not there. What she did find was an intricately-ciphered scroll with the Mantis Clan Seal on it.

As she tried to puzzle that out, the other samurai discovered that the only way out of the vault had been silently blocked by a mountain of rubble. While Hideyoshi and his men started digging them out, the others perused the stolen Ivory Kingdoms gear, pondering the story behind its arrival here. A few minutes of searching later, they heard a scream and turned to see Hideyoshi scrambling away from the pile of rubble, his two guards missing and his sword broken.

The mountain of earth and stone revealed itself to be a Lesser Terror of Earth, Toichi no Kansen. A strange gaijin appeared from thin air as it slowly advanced, and offered them a deal: one of them would be left alive, in exchange for the Mantis Seal. The party refused, and the Terror rushed forward with all the deadly speed of an avalanche.

Their weapons breaking on its tough, stony hide, the samurai could do nothing to prevent it from grabbing Tatsuya, Sagura, and Mamoru. Again the gaijin appeared, and made the same offer: Tatsuya and Sagura answered him with steel. The two were them dragged underground by the Terror, though Mamoru managed to escape its grasp.

Her bisento broken, Hitomi spotted something within the beast: the stolen Tsi weapons. Diving in through its eye, she hurled the bundle of weapons out to the others.

Taking up the weapons, the remaining samurai began carving up the kansen, Hitomi dealing the final blow with an obsidian bisento. The Lesser Terror dead, they immediately tried to rescue their buried companions, only for Hideyoshi to stop them. Driven to madness by fear of the Terror, the Dragon samurai blamed everything upon Tatsuya, telling them to leave him buried.

The others refused, so Hideyoshi stabbed his broken katana into Mamoru, who, with Yuzuki, managed to restrain and knock the madman unconscious. After minutes without air, Mamoru, Hitomi, and Yuzuki finally freed Tatsuya and Sagura from their tombs of earth. Taking Hideyoshi and the Mantis scroll to Fumiko, the party were healed and rested after giving her an explanation, and Tsi Daichi his weapons.

The next morning, Mirumoto Fumiko ruled her eldest son, Hideyoshi, dishonorable beyond what could be borne, masking the sentence behind mercy for his sustained madness. He was given the opportunity to commit seppuku, and in his final moment of clarity sent a glance filled with regret to his second, Sanjuro Tatsuya, before making the first cut.

The final duels of the Iaijutsu tournament were the last hope for Honor in the Court, and they proceeded fantastically. Shiba Sagura struck a bare instant before his Lion opponent, and advanced to the final round with his opponent’s enthusiastic blessing. Kakita Kiyo faced off with her nephew, Tatsuya, and struck at the same moment as he: her strike took several hairs from his head, while his drew the faintest line of blood from her shoulder.

The final duel, between Sagura and Tatsuya, was a breathtaking event. Sagura and Tatsuya both called upon the Void, centering themselves in perfect unison as a chill wind passed through the circle. Time seemed to stand still as the equally-matched duelists sensed for the perfect moment to strike. There was a flash of steel, the whisper of parting silk, and the duel was over.

For winning the Duel of Winter’s Breath, Sanjuro Tatsuya was presented with an Emerald Daisho.
For presenting a haiku whose beauty would be remembered for generations, Shiba Sagura was presented with a Jade Mempo.
For the amazing retelling of the Lesser Terror’s death, and for delivering the deathblow, Kasuga Kiyomi and Toritake Hitomi were gifted a gilded warfan and the obsidian bisento.
For their persistence and Honor in battle and in Court, Bayushi Mamoru and Sanjuro Yuzuki were each gifted a gaijin weapon: an Obsidian Blade and a Meteor Hammer, respectively.

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Session 1 - A Lesson in Courtesy

Mirumoto Fumiko sent out invitations to every other Major Clan, and several of the minor ones, to her court at Shiro Mirumoto. With the Dragon being the only Major Clan not involved in the Spirit War, the other Clans saw this as an opportunity to sway them to one side or another.

Fumiko was mindful of this, and eager to get her sons and adopted-son/hostage Sanjuro Tatsuya experience in Courtly ways. She specifically invited the youngest and most inexperienced courtiers, giving her children an edge while still allowing each Clan to pursue its own agendas.

The delegations arrived over the course of a day, each escorted by Tatsuya up the single winding path to the Dragon stronghold. As soon as the last guests, Tsi Daichi and Sanjuro Yuzuki, had arrived, the first formal dinner of the Court began.

Dinner, Night 1

The Scorpion courtier, Shosuro Akemi, flirted outrageously with everyone, particularly Tatsuya, and drugged her yojimbo, Bayushi Mamoru, purely out of habit. Mamoru, for his part, chatted with the Crane yojimbo and Tatsuya on little things, getting to know them both better.

The Mantis ambassador Moshi Akira stayed around the edges of the room with her yojimbo, Tsurichi Ai, and kept silent company with Sanjuro Yuzuki.

The Crab courtier, Yasuki Yori, attempted to make conversation with the Crane courtier, but was repulsed by the latter’s terrible manners at dinner. His yojimbo, Hiruma Tarou, kept a watchful eye on the courtier the entire time, rather than watching for any dangers to the man.

The Crane courtier, Asahina Minoru, displayed terrible manners throughout dinner, got drunk off of the little sake served there, and made several inappropriate suggestions to his yojimbo, Kakita Kiyo.

The Phoenix courtier, Asako Tsubasa, grew increasingly upset as her yojimbo, Shiba Sagura, continued to outshine her in Court functions. For his part, Sagura spent dinner getting to know the other yojimbo and, toward the end of the meal, preventing Kiyo from drawing a blade on her charge after numerous disgraceful suggestions.

The Unicorn courtier, Ide Hui, spoke to almost no one, seemingly bored with the entire affair. Her yojimbo, Utaku Chou, spoke of nothing but the upcoming Iaijutsu Tournament to take place the next day.

For his part, the Lion courtier, Ikoma Taichi, made easy, peaceful conversation with everyone nearby. His yojimbo, Matsu Vash, said nothing, choosing instead to sample the sweets and delicacies of the table.

The Tortoise courtier, Kasuga Kiyomi, kept up light conversation throughout the meal, managing to bring Tsurichi Ai and Sanjuro Yuzuki into a story about the Echoes of Rokugan. Her yojimbo, Toritaka Hitomi, watched dispassionately, noting only the strangely intent looks being sent her by Mirumoto Jirou.

Fumiko’s sons, Hideyoshi and Jirou, sat at the head table with their mother, while Tatsuya chose to eat at the lower tables and get to know the guests. Of especial interest to him were Kiyomi, who knew many stories of Tatsuya’s father, and Yuzuki, a member of his clan and daughter of the Echo of Courtesy.

The Tsi Forgemaster, Daichi, eschewed company: any who happened to sit nearby were ignored at best.

The Evening Hours, Night 1

Traditionally the time for discussion and planning, the making of alliances and the beginning of schemes, most of the delegations were too damn tired after a full day of travel to do much of anything.

Mamoru and Tatsuya attempted to get to know Tsi Daichi, and found that he chose to sleep by the forge, guarding a strange, lumpy bundle. Yuzuki spent the majority of her time staring off into the distance, though she exchanged a few words with Yasuki Yori and Tsurichi Ai on the subject of her mother.

The assembly had pretty much dispersed by the time Mirumoto Jirou had gathered the courage to approach Hitomi. As soon as she turned her eyes on his diminutive form, though, his carefully-prepared speech disappeared into the Void, and he did nothing more than blatantly proposition her. Kiyomi saved her from the social faux-pas of smiting him, and the Dragon disappeared off for the night.

The Morning Hours, Day 2

Shosuro Akemi ordered her yojimbo into her bedroll to be ravaged until the hour before dawn. While everyone else took the silence as a chance to rest, she stealthily crept to the kitchens and poisoned certain meals according to the seating arrangements. Among her intended victims were Mirumoto Jirou, Mirumoto Hideyoshi, Bayushi Mamoru, and Hiruma Tarou.

After a light meal, Mamoru and Tatsuya together visited the sleeping Tsi Daichi, bringing him food and drink and alerting him to the beginning of the Iaijutsu Tournament, which the old artisan was supposed to judge.

Almost every delegation was awake and alert for the first match of the day, Sanjuro Yuzuki vs Shiba Sagura. Itwas not a good start to the Tournament, however: Sagura, an experienced duelist, easily defeated Yuzuki before her sword cleared its scabbard. Both duelists comported themselves with Honor, though, and there was much applause as they left the dueling circle.

The second match, Mirumoto Jirou vs Toritaka Hitomi, ended with a kharmic strike: Jirou’s stroke missed, however, while Hitomi’s struck true, and drew perhaps more blood than was required. The two bowed, and Jirou stumbled off to the healers as the next dueling pair approached. Unnoticed by most, the Mantis courtier and her yojimbo finally showed up at this point.

Unknown to any save Shosuro Akemi, Hiruma Tarou had been poisoned at breakfast and was delirious. He stepped into the ring with a dai-tsuchi, wearing his heavy metal armor. Bayushi Mamoru kept to the heart of the event, and took an iaijutsu stance. The Crab struck first, swinging his heavy weapon on a perfect course with the Scorpion bushi’s head. Mamoru was the only one who saw a tiny needle fly through the air and into the Crab’s ear, causing the poisoned man to stumble and giving the Scorpion an opening. Mamoru drew blood, and the Crab left the ring in disgrace, storming off to another portion of the castle.

There was a break before the next duel began, but eventually Utaku Chou and Sanjuro Tatsuya stepped into the ring together. The Unicorn, eager for a glorious victory, underestimated the speed of her Dragon-trained opponent and suffered a humiliating defeat. Tatsuya treated her honorably, though, and was a credit to his Clan… both of them.

The Afternoon, Day 2

After the noon-day meal, the Court gathered to watch the second round. Sagura stepped into the ring to demonstrate that he could still duel, a formality since he had no assigned opponent, when a tall, dark-clothed figure with abnormally pale skin, silver hair, and a crystal no-dachi kicked his way through crowd and buildings on his way to the ring. He stepped inside the dueling circle and glared at the suddenly-pale Tsi Daichi, then at the shaken Sagura. The figure paused and began to speak, but Sagura kept to the rules of a duel and sliced the figure across the knuckles, damaging the man but drawing no blood. The silver-haired figure looked down at its injury, grinned at Sagura, and vanished without a trace, leaving his priceless weapon behind.

The Falcon, Toritaka Hitomi, recognized the ‘man’ as a spirit, though none she had seen before. While everyone else was unwilling to touch the fallen blade, Hitomi stepped forward and placed it next to Tsi Daichi. Kasuga Kiyomi stepped forward with a song to lighten everyone’s hearts, and Shiba Sagura encouraged everyone to put the event behind them.

Things progressed quickly after that: Mamoru lost to Kakita Kiyo in a hard-fought duel filled with graceful dodging and precise strikes. Hitomi was sorely wounded by Matsu Vash in a skirmish after a kharmic strike. It was at this time that Tatsuya found Hiruma Tarou decapitated: he quickly ordered the body removed, though no one could find the head.

The final duel of the day, and the determining match for the semi-finalists, put Tatsuya up against Hideyoshi. His surrogate-brother’s years of experience were countered by his growing hatred of Tatsuya, and the two met on equal footing: Hideyoshi’s attack struck a single hair from Tatsuya’s head, while Tatsuya’s attack barely drew two lines of blood along Hideyoshi’s side. The duel concluded, Hideyoshi dishonorably struck his surrogate brother in the face, leaving the circle in disgrace.

Dinner, Night 2

While Tatsuya was ordered to take Hideyoshi’s seat at the table, since Hideyoshi was missing and still disgraced, everyone else sought seats among those who knew them best. Shiba Sagura volunteered to perform a few graceful kata with his naginata, a Phoenix tradition that Mirumoto Fumiko welcomed after a day of such strange omens. After that, Kasuga Kiyomi volunteered the story of Toshiro, Honor’s Echo, and his duel for the hand of Kitsune Yamako. Such a legendary duel and its far-reaching consequences amongst the Minor Clans drew people’s thoughts back to politics, and the mood of the Court returned to normal.

Tsi Daichi left the meal early, begging exhaustion. Tatsuya made sure a guard accompanied him back to his ‘chambers’ by the forge. With the various courtiers busily plotting and planning, it was several hours before the young Mongoose hostage could find his way to the forge. Before then, he and every courtier attended the Haiku Competition, hosted by Fumiko herself.

Just prior to the contest, Shosuro Akemi’s hunt for Sagura was foiled as he walked to the gardens with Yazuki. She set her sights on Kiyomi, instead, and it was only Hitomi’s timely intervention that saved the young Tortoise from Akemi’s ‘vile’ clutches. The highlights of the competition were Tatsuya’s poem:
Born of Mongoose blood/
A home amongst the Dragon/
Mongoose needs her pup/

Kiyomi’s poem:
(Insert here)

and Sagura’s poem:
Red and brown petals/
Forgotten in the moment/
The touch of Benten/

Fumiko was almost ready to announce a winner when her younger son stepped forward with his own love poem:
A peerless beauty/
Twin mountains of majesty/
The silent falcon

Sagura was declared the victor as Kiyomi again restrained Hitomi from smiting the presumptive Dragon.

When he was finally free, Tatsuya arrived at the forge to find the ronin Forgemaster unconscious, with his guard dead of poison. The strange bundle Daichi had so closely guarded was missing, and the only clue was a scrap of silk matching Tatsuya’s own torn robe…

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