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.
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.
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.
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.
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…