Legend of the Five Rings: Accursed Destiny

Session 19 - Waiting for Death

Shiba Sagura knew he was in trouble. He knew that his entire world was about to turn on its head, one way or the other.

He did not mean to challenge the Spirit of Honor’s word, especially within his hearing.

He did not intend to sire a child with another man’s wife. To his mind, the child would be haunted by that stigma for the rest of its life… and so would the young Phoenix.

He never wished to ostracize himself by his words and drunken actions, to offend Kakita Kiyo, to infuriate Bayushi Mamoru.

These things occupied his thoughts as he awaited the dawn, and a duel to the death he did not believe he could win.

No one else slept that night, though for an entirely different reason. Toritaka Hitomi, Sanjuro Tatsuya, and Sanjuro Yuzuki were approached by an old ‘foe’: Ineko, the Song of Blood. She offered them her friendship and assistance in return for a simple boon…

Tatsuya and Yuzuki sent her away, debating whether turning over a copy of the Path of Man to the bloodspeaker could cause much trouble in the future… and if that trouble was worth the gain. While they debated, Kasuga Kiyomi, who had sneaked into Sanjuro Daichiko’s nursery to hold the baby, was also confronted by Ineko. When the same request was put to her, the Tortoise immediately chose to learn about her companions: how to cure the curses Tengoku, Jigoku, and all Creation had thrust upon them.

Ineko smiled.

Dawn approached, and Sagura’s meditations were interrupted by the arrival of his uncle, Isawa Keitaro, fresh from the defense of his brother’s keep. Keitaro bore a message in response to Sagura’s letter, orders from Yoshio. The message was sternly worded, telling the younger Phoenix to maintain the Honor of his Clan and their allies in the Miya, to forget his inner turmoil over a Dutiful act, and to preserve his life.

“A samurai’s life does not belong to him. It is given to his lord, to spend as he chooses in the pursuance of his own Duty. You have made your own choice, my son, and now you must live with it. Our family needs you.”

‘Must live’ rang in the young samurai’s mind, and his recently-regained vision cleared: he knew what he had to do.

When his companions assembled, and he faced the Spirit of Honor across a dueling circle, Sagura bowed, like a reed before a mighty wind, and recanted his offensive words. So Honor relented.

As his companions stepped forward to greet the relieved samurai, the Shadow Dragon sprung its trap. After all, how could it refuse such tempting, unaware, sleep-deprived targets, and a chance to capture or slay the Spirit of Honor as well? Shadows sprang to life, lesser avatars of the Dragon itself.

Hitomi, Yuzuki and Tatsuya stepped forward, proud and confident. Kiyomi ducked behind her bodyguard and cousin, and Sagura stepped forward to duel with his own opponent. The battle that followed flowed perfectly, the companions in harmony with each other once more, and with each blow another minion of the Shadow Dragon was sent howling back to the Nothingness.

The battle ended when Sagura paused to stare down at the arrow through his heart.

Time froze: within the arrow was bound a Beast, a creature embodying 107 lifetimes filled with mistakes and wickedness. Sagura’s past self, prepared to consume his soul and drag it to Gaki-do forever.

A samurai would have stood his ground. He would have fought the Beast to the death, conquering it or being devoured by it. But Sagura had gained wisdom over the past year: he found a path besides Bushido, one that held a more certain victory, if he could bear the price.

“You are a part of me.” He accepted the Beast into himself, to keep it penned with his will, to accept all of his mistakes, and to move past them.

Kiyomi watched all of this as though from afar, piercing the frozen moment, her own curse causing her to see how her dead friend would be judged. But the blazing letters above his head that signaled his final destination shifted constantly: Jigoku, Gaki-do, Maigo no Musha, Yomi, Tengoku… until at last the Fortune of Death himself stood before them for his deliberations.

The Tortoise bargained and reasoned and pleaded for the Phoenix’s life as he contained the Beast. And Emma-O, The Final Judge, at last relented. The Phoenix rose again.

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Session 18 - In the End, Our Choices Make Us

Deciding to press on immediately rather than stay and rest after their arduous battles, the exhausted party set out. Taking the Imperial Road toward Kyuden Miya ensured swift travel, and they made camp less than a day away from the home of the Imperial Herald. That night, Bayushi Mamoru returned to the party in his merchant disguise, pursued by minions of the Shadow Dragon. When Sanjuro Tatsuya and his companions proved more than capable of defending themselves, even half-asleep, the ninja withdrew.

The entire week he was gone, Mamoru killed agents and minions of the former Lying Darkness.  They took exception to that.

Sanjuro Yuzuki took watch as the others tried to bed down for a little more rest. Deprived of anything interesting to do, the former Spirit of Meido entertained herself by using her new nemuranai to fish. After almost an hour of patient waiting and a mighty heave, the Mongoose diplomat landed… the kami of the river itself.

Forsaking yet another night’s rest, the party hurried to Kyuden Miya, convincing the gate guards to let them in despite their suspicions of this ‘ronin band’. Early-risen townsfolk merrily gossiped over the birth of the Miya Daimyo’s heir, a boy: every time it was mentioned, Sagura’s mood became more dour. Tatsuya and Yuzuki shed their disguises, the Dragon’s hostage longing to see family after so long and Yuzuki eager to speak with her long-time friend. Only Kasuga Kiyomi took the time to count the months that had passed: seven since the marriage between Daichiko and the Imperial Herald, not the nine expected from a blessed marriage.

Miya Byakuya

That didn’t stop her from wanting to be the first to hold the tiny, adorable bundle.

Following the example set by the Mongoose, everyone save Mamoru removed their ronin attire and greeted the Daimyo and his wife as friends and family. The Scorpion wandered the town as a merchant, picking through rumor and gossip before presenting himself at the celebratory feast.

Only the Phoenix remained morose. That child was his, to his mind, and the dishonor of his actions weighed heavily upon his mind.

He sought an audience with his former lover, and Daichiko granted it after meeting with Yuzuki and Tatsuya. The Miya Lady and the Phoenix Heir discussed the child, her life, and their past relationship. Sagura claimed that they should reveal the child’s true heritage, lest this new life be tainted by dishonor. Daichiko held that in the eyes of the Empire, no matter what else, the child was Lord Miya’s: her son would not be haunted by her past.

Sagura turned to sake for comfort, and later his friends for advice. Due to the Phoenix’s profoundly ill-chosen and drunken words, his request for aid was rewarded by a sound drubbing from Mamoru, a sharp word from Kiyomi, more sake from Yuzuki, and quiet support from Tatsuya. On advice from the Spirit of Honor, Sagura sent a letter to his lord and father detailing his crime, asking for judgement.

Tactless words to Kiyo, Kiyomi, and Toshiro, a looming hangover, and the final repercussions of his choice seven months ago combined to hound the young blademaster’s thoughts as he gazed up at the stars that night.

Everyone rested, awaiting what the morning would bring.

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Session 16 - Into the Depths
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Session 15 - How Did It Get So Late, So Soon?

Tatsuya’s suspicions, Mamoru’s manipulations, Sagura’s trials, Hitomi’s impatience, Kiyomi’s plotting… the following day saw all of these come to a head.

First, Kiyomi received an Imperial missive, detailing how she would be married off soon in a punitive strike against her mother, Kasuga Kasumi. Kiyo received a similar letter, causing her internal fury at Sagura’s shameful actions to leak out. Something about the missive seemed off to Kiyomi, and she utilized a new technique to prove that the papers were but clever forgeries.

Sagura meditated in the garden on how to best approach Kiyo, once again verbally sparring with Mamoru’s elder sister in an attempt to clear his mind. After composing himself, he met Kiyo in private to give a heartfelt and profound apology, which she finally accepted, willing to act as though nothing untoward had happened.

Tatsuya, Sezuka, and Miyako tracked down Mamoru in his father’s hall and sought to confront him with their evidence. Before he could respond, however, news spread throughout the city: an army had appeared on the horizon: Imperial Legionnaires and Crane regulars, all under the banner of Kakita Katashi. Daimyo Takahiro immediately ordered that Kiyo, daughter of the Kakita Family Daimyo, be held prisoner to prevent any information on the city and its defenders from reaching the invading army.

As the other guests attempted to figure out what was going on, Sagura slipped out the city gates and, using a new kiho he had taught to himself, roughly navigated to the edge of the Crane army. There he bowed and declared himself, asking to speak with Katashi himself. When the old warhawk learned that his daughter was still inside of the city he was to besiege, he commanded Sagura to protect her, no matter the cost.

Inside the castle at the city’s center, a tense standoff began between the company and Takahiro’s guards: Tatsuya and Hitomi stood between them and Kiyo, hands on their weapons, while Kiyomi tried to reason with the surrounding soldiers. Even Mamoru questioned his father, asking why the Emperor would send a legion to attack a loyal subject. Sagura returned, out of breath, to reveal the answer: Takahiro sent a team of assassins after Emperor Toturi, and had been attacking his neighbors in utter secrecy for months, killing peasants and burning crops, blaming it on either side of the war.

Kiyomi took the opportunity to question the guards: was their loyalty ultimately to their treacherous lord, or to the Emperor? Enough of them were shaken that Sagura could press close to Takahiro, his sightless vision granting him insight into the nature of the daimyo before him. To all the hall he proclaimed in a loud voice, “This is not your lord! He is tainted by-” And the daimyo fled, through hidden passageways and secret tunnels.

Tatsuya and company attempted to pursue him, but set off too many traps and had to turn back. The thing that looked like Takahiro took this opportunity to double back, almost killing Yuzuki and Tatsuya before Hitomi managed to get a clean hit on him, driving him back.

The form it had taken leaking shadows, the creature’s shape shifted to the maw of an enormous dragon, and its dark breath swept throughout the castle.

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Session 14 - Mysteries and Masterminds

Guiding his companions from the temple to his family home, Bayushi Mamoru informed them that he had been called home suddenly to ensure the safety and security of Bayushi lands. Tatsuya glanced back toward the battlefield and quipped that he was doing, “an excellent job so far.”

They proceeded to the castle, preparing to meet the lord of these lands, Mamoru’s father Bayushi Takahiro. The Scorpion daimyo gave them all a place of honor at his table, in thanks for the rescue of his daughter Miyako, who had yet to leave Tatsuya’s side. With a glance to his son and to his daughter, the aging Scorpion invited the questing samurai band to stay under his hospitality until the Cherry Blossom Festival, which he promised would be a memorable event.

Kiyomi immediately joined in on affairs at the court, joined by Kiyo with Sagura’s permission. Hitomi and Yuzuki departed to practice in the dojo, while Sagura himself spent an enjoyable evening verbally sparring with Bayushi Kasumi.

That evening, Yuzuki decided to introduce her Phoenix companion to the wonders of sake. Still dealing with the loss of his eyes, Sagura agreed and was soon utterly plastered. Songs were sung, sake was never spilled, and the two drowned their sorrows before seeking their beds.

Toward morning, however, two notable events occurred: Tatsuya’s rest was disturbed by the sound of an assassin escaping his room, and Sagura rolled over to Kiyo’s bedroll in his drunken sleep. Of the two, the second was more close to being fatal, as the blind samurai seized a handful of soft and perky in an attempt to figure out what he was up against.

Something about the ‘assassination attempt’ bothered Tatsuya, though: a suspicion preyed on his mind, made him question the truthfulness of his friend and host. Everything seemed… too convenient. His life had been saved too many times, at the last second, for it not to be somehow orchestrated. Gathering together with Miyako and Ujina Suzuka, he shared his misgivings, leading them out the following day to investigate the site of the battle.

Almost immediately, he uncovered disturbing information: the Scorpion force had been waiting for some time, watching his companions approach the temple. The ronin had possessed more koku than they should have seen in a lifetime. The monks at the temple agreed that they were treated well, even somewhat respectfully, despite the ronin occupation lasting a week. Miyako, overcome by anger, suggested that perhaps her father and brother had set this up in an attempt to win Sanjuro’s trust once and for all… and perhaps, to secure him a place in the family with her hand.

Their trip back to the city was interrupted by a final piece of evidence: a meeting with Doji Akae, who revealed himself to be the Kolat’s Master Coin. He explained that the Kolat had never threatened Tatsuya, that he had been lead to believe that by a third party… and that every attempt on his life had been managed by someone close to him.

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Session 13 - In the Service of Death

After the events of the Kitsune Winter Court, Tatsuya, Sagura, Hitomi, Kiyomi, and Sanjuro Yuzuki banded together once more to help the Dragon’s hostage save his birth Clan. They were joined by Kiyo, acting as Sagura’s yojimbo, and Ujina Suzuka, acting as their guide and a constant gentle temptation to Tatsuya.

To save the Mongoose Clan from Inari’s wrath, they set a course for Shinomen Mori, there to discover the Naga techniques for holding a soul within a pearl. Using this, they would return the soul of Kitsune Yukiko to her proper body, and earn the forgiveness of Kitsune Toshiro. The other half of the bargain Tatsuya made, that he must prove his True Love before obtaining Kitsune Yamako’s forgiveness, was unknown to any save the man himself, and a certain scheming Tortoise.

The Falcon ‘declared’ their first stop at the Shrine to the End, a temple to the Fortune of Death. Traveling along the great forest’s edge, the party was surprisingly unmolested save for by a hungry bear, which Hitomi chose to tame rather than combat.

Each samurai spent the journey speaking with the others, getting to know each other better and discussing what they knew about their curses.

Arriving at the border between Shinomen Mori and Scorpion lands, just across the river from the Shrine, Hitomi spotted a small force of ronin guarding the Shrine. Deciding to explore the situation before diving in, Kiyomi and Yuzuki discovered that the bandits were intent on plundering the temple and murdering the monks, as well as the Scorpion noble they had captured. Leaping into action, the questing samurai slaughtered the first group of ronin before a second, larger band sprang from hiding.

Tatsuya and Hitomi fought their way to the main building, where the noble was being held captive, while Yuzuki, the blind Sagura, Kiyomi, Kiyo, Ujina, and the bear held off the ronin. Upon entering, however, a trap was sprung specifically for Tatsuya, as two Kolat assassins stepped from the shadows to strike at the Dragon’s hostage and his Falcon companion. When the samurai demonstrated surprising skill, killing one of their assailants, the second attempted to leap out a window, only to be blocked by the canny Phoenix outside. With no other options, the anarchist chose to detonate the gaijin pepper packets wrapped around his chest.

The explosion masked the battle cry of an approaching Scorpion force, lead by Bayushi Mamoru, who made quick work of the ronin and aided the injured travelers. Even the bear.

Once everyone was healed, Hitomi led them to the great statue of Emma-o at the shrine’s center, and it was there that each of them had a vision.

Sagura ‘saw’ the Path of the Leaf come to rest on a large scroll upon which glowing words bespoke mankind’s final Destiny.

Kiyomi saw a large man with red skin guarding a gate, beyond which lurked the horrors of Jigoku.

Yuzuki saw her previous life as a Spirit of Meido, and the excitement that convinced her to become mortal.

Mamoru saw a play, performed by his past life for Hantei Genji, Second Emperor of Rokugan, for which he was first named the Fortune of Actors.

Tatsuya saw his childhood crime from Kitsune Yukiko’s perspective, and from that of her parents.

What Kiyo, Ujina, and the bear saw goes unrecorded, as none of them spoke about it.

Hitomi stood before the judgement seat of Emma-O, Fortune of Death, Judge of the Underworld, Lord of Meido. They spoke of her life, her choice to help the soul of Shiba Sagura, and the Fortune returned her voice. A bargain was struck between the two of them, in which Hitomi agreed to serve the Judge in life and in death. What she gained from this, she has told not a soul.

After the vision passed, Mamoru revealed that the captured noble was his sister, Bayushi Miyako, and offered the party his father’s hospitality…

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Session 12 - A Samurai's Duty

The Kitsune Winter Court was over, its goal of uniting the Minor Clans in purpose and in resources achieved.

Sagura looked over the art which he had created, a yari and naginata of finest materials and expert craftsmanship, feeling that his time was well spent.

Tatsuya walked the gardens of Kyuden Kitsune in the company of Ujina Suzuka, enjoying a little happiness amid a sea of troubles.

Mamoru vanished without a word, though his room was left orderly and clean, absent of all of his gear.

Kiyomi sent off a message to her mother, detailing her many successes at the Court, and the suitors she now trailed wherever she went. Hitomi was satisfied with her own catch, and waited with waning patience for the day they could finally be married.

Yuzuki, unable to sit still long enough for her own coutship, took advantage of the brief time before the closing ceremony to go off by herself to fish. When a particularly large fish took her pole, she dove in after it and was dragged far downstream. She recovered her pole, and the titanic fish attached, but as she hauled herself onto the bank, she forgot all about both.

Before her stood the ruins of a village, ronin and lesser oni moving among the bodies of the murdered peasants. As she looked on in shock and horror, the blood that soaked the ground moved on its own, forming a portal of blood and flame at the town center. A massive oni stepped through, accompanied by a white-haired warrior and several other ‘mortals’.

Knowing that her duty was to report this immediately, Yuzuki activated her jade steed and raced to Kyuden Kitsune.

Kitsune Daisuke immediately called in all of his samurai and ordered the peasants into Kitsune Mori, where they would be safe. He noted that the [[Session 9 – Fourth Task: Of Duty and Dishonor | actions]] of his guests had probably saved a great many lives: no gaki in the forest meant the people within would live on.

Deciding to make a stand until help could arrive, Daisuke requested the assistance of his many guests. Shugenja and bushi put on their armor and sharpened their weapons or practiced their spells, while those Courtiers without military training led the way into the Forest. Only Kiyomi remained, charged by the Fox Lord with gathering ronin reinforcements.

The Fox army took its stand along a river. Sagura was charged with guarding the shugenja and archers at the rear. Hitomi acted as a one-person bulwark at the river’s edge, bisento firmly planted and heavy armor gleaming. Yuzuki led the tiny Fox cavalry in preparation for a flanking maneuver, and Tatsuya was incorporated into Daisuke’s personal guard, his father’s trusty blade at his side.

Kitsune rangers reported an army of thousands, mostly Tainted ronin, undead, and goblins, but also including at least one living siege engine and a dozen bloodspeakers. Both armies stared at each other across the river, which began to run red with blood spilled upstream. The bloodspeakers caused the river to peel back, and the zombies began moving across the muddy river-bottom, those who became mired serving as a bridge for later forces.

As Sagura’s archers began to fire, and Fox shugenja turned the Earth upon their foes, Hitomi unleashed the destructive spirit within her bisento and began separating zombies from their heads. Few actually reached the Fox lines, and the main Tainted army began to cross. Goblins sprung from hiding around the shugenja, only to be cut down by Sagura and Kiyo. Yuzuki charged into the enemy’s flank while Daisuke and Tatsuya spearheaded an assault on their front.

Appearing all but routed, the opposing general sacrificed his bloodspeakers to trap Daisuke, Yuzuki, Hitomi, and Tatsuya on the far side of the released river. A truly immense Oni rose out of the forest and attacked the four, while the white-haired general wordlessly challenged Sagura to a duel.

Unable to overcome the massive creature’s tough natural armor and its rapid regeneration without crystal weaponry, Tatsuya sent up a silent prayer: a prayer that did not go unanswered. A single bolt of lightning sprang from a darkened sky to strike the Mongoose, and his crystal blades appeared at hand. Though all took hideous wounds, standing at the brink of death, they finally found the beast’s heart and killed it forever.

On the other side of the river, Sagura watched as the enemy general handily dispatched a half-dozen ashigaru in the space of a breath before launching through a series of attacks with his naginata, driving the Tainted man back to the river’s edge. Just as the flames embossed upon his blade’s edge caught a single beam of sunlight, prepared to strike the final blow, his opponent’s katana cut up across the young Phoenix’s face, stealing the light of day from him forever.

As a second Tainted army approached, the enemy general flicked his hand, banishing the bloody waters once more, and began to stalk across the bodies of his army toward the four wounded samurai. In that moment, when all hope had faded, Tatsuya flung himself at the maho-tsukai, interrupting his control over the river and causing them both to be swept downstream

Yuzuki rescued Tatsuya’s unconscious body from the river’s fury with her fishing skills, and the survivors made their way back to Kyuden Kitsune. There they were healed, and thanked by Daisuke and all others present for their sacrifice and their service.

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Sessions 10 and 11 - Court and Courtship

(Sessions 10 and 11 are all but lost to time due to GM mistakes and cupcakes. Summary here.)

After their adventures in the Forest and around it, the party returned to the Court, taking the time for a quick bath and an explanation of where they’d been. Yuzuki decided that she was far too traumatized/exhausted to properly represent the Mongoose at the Court, so Tatsuya went in her place.

Things immediately heated up as Ujina Suzuka brought forth the first order of business: purging the Kolat from the Mongoose peasantry. The Hare representative proposed a method much like separating chaff from wheat: cut them both down, and figure out which is which later. Tatsuya protested vehemently.

The argument escalated quickly: Suzuka claimed that Tatsuya was too ‘Major Clan’ to understand what must be done, and Tatsuya declared that Suzuka was too bloodthirsty and filled with hate to properly see what should be done. Eventually, with the rest of the Court watching in resignation, Tatsuya challenged the Hare to a duel, and she accepted.

Hitomi, having sparred with the Hare before, was sought out as a teacher in preparation for the evening duel, and Sagura volunteered to help the young Mongoose practice his iaijutsu. Kiyomi, still busily plotting behind the scenes, met with the Hare and discovered the true purpose behind the duel.

Yuzuki blew up at Tatsuya about causing such an event at the very beginning of the Court, but when he explained the threat and insult to their Clan, she forgave him and helped him to train.

By the time Tatsuya arrived at the dueling circle that evening, his iaijutsu skills were honed razor-sharp. He looked a little ill when Suzuka presented the weapons for the duel: twin knives, in the style of the Ujina family.

The duel was declared unto the death, or until one party admitted they were wrong and withdrew their comments in disgrace. After the first exchange of blows, Tatsuya knew he was heavily outmatched. It quickly became apparent that the Hare was toying with him for some reason, and this enraged the Dragon’s hostage.

Choosing to focus his rage, Tatsuya struck a low blow, targeting not the agile Hare, but her obi. Forced to hold her kimono shut or be utterly shamed, the Hare fought on with deadly intent until Tatsuya was completely at her mercy. And then she stopped. In a hushed conversation that no one outside the ring heard, she complemented him on doing whatever it took to gain an advantage in a losing battle. As the Mongoose looked on in confusion, she bowed and departed the ring to retrieve a new obi, leaving Tatsuya as the victor.

Before people could recover from their confusion, Hitomi forced her father to speak for her, welcoming the challenge from Kitsune Toshiaki to face her in a duel and possibly win her hand.

For the young Fox, everything became clear as crystal in that moment. Despite minimal training with a bisento, despite his disadvantages in reach and strength, despite facing an accomplished and heavily-armored foe… Toshiaki struck true, defeating his soon-to-be wife in a single blow.

Congratulations began among the Minor Clan representatives, and Court was pushed off until the following day. Suzuka returned and lured Tatsuya off into the garden, explaining her purpose behind the duel and generally getting to know him. The two left the garden much later, blushing.

Sagura and Kiyo commiserated over the lack of a ‘proper’ duel, and went out beneath the stars to appreciate their light and the beauty around them.

Mamoru, stymied in his every attempt the turn the duel in Tatsuya’s favor, shunned as a Major Clan interloper, and excluded from the events at Court, finally gave up and enjoyed himself, flirting and drinking the night away.

Over the course of the next months, Court ran fairly smoothly. A plan was formed to purge the Kolat from Minor Clan territories, aid was sent to the Badger Clan, dozens of deals and arrangements were made, and Yuzuki was pursued by the Badger Clan champion. Tatsuya and Yuzuki swapped the task of a courtier between each other, representing the Mongoose as an ever-changing and adapting force. Suzuka and Kiyomi plotted to deflect Scorpion attention from Hare lands. As a matter of fact, Kiyomi plotted with just about every representative over something, weaving and intricate web of favors, alliances, and friendships in preparation for some great act.

Suzuka was occasionally escorted around the garden in evening hours by Tatsuya, though the servants’ gossip confirmed that they had never done anything truly inappropriate.

During the Court’s final week, many important relationships took center stage. Mamoru finally tracked down Yuzuki and blackmailed her into telling him of everything that occurred at court. Suzuka declared that she would assist Tatsuya in passing through and around Scorpion lands on his quest. Hitomi of the Falcon staked her claim upon her Fox, all but securing an Alliance between those Clans.

And Kiyomi’s web was at last complete when she secured an agreement between all Minor Clans, and even those that were once Minor. A re-envisioning of the Three Man Alliance, sharing support and manpower as needed in these tumultuous times.

The final night of the Court was celebrated in an immense party, for what could go wrong at this most joyous of events?

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Session 9 - Duty and Dishonor

Kitsune Daisuke, Daimyo of the Fox, decided to take advantage of his guests’ “abilities” by charging them with clearing out the Gaki of Kitsune Mori. Bayushi Mamoru, Sanjuro Tatsuya, Sanjuro Yuzuki, Shiba Sagura, and Toritaka Hitomi agreed, accompanied by Kitsune Ayaka and four Kitsune Rangers.

The First Great Gaki-Hunt went amazing well at first, with Sagura and Mamoru taking the only major injuries, which were immediately healed by Ayaka. Dozens of gaki fell beneath their concerted efforts, and after a few hours the forest around them went quiet.

Ayaka was concerned about the sheer number of gaki: usually, her mother kept their numbers to manageable levels. She set aside her worry, stepping into Chikushudo with Yuzuki to ensure her arrival at Court on time. On the way back, however, the two young women noticed a feeling of dread and the scent of blood on the air: they stepped into the real world to see a pair of beautiful Crane women having a maho duel. The first, identified as Ineko, Song of Blood, spoke of a plan to ‘escape the bonds of Taint and mortality both’. The second maho-tsukai flung scarlet lightning at her, which was deflected and claimed several of the Kitsune Rangers, drawing the rest of the party to their location.

There was a brief but terrifying fight: the second maho-tsukai was revealed as an akutenshi, a dark ‘angel’ in the direct service of Fu Leng. The party proved equal to the task, however, as their skill and their Tsi weapons caused the tempting demoness to take flight. When it came to Ineko, however… the party balked. Injured, many of them almost to death, Sagura felt it was still their duty to deal with the powerful blood-mage. Tatsuya and Yuzuki, whose Clan specialized in slaying maho-tsukai, realized it was an impossible task without casualties, and outvoted the Phoenix. Ineko made pleasant conversation, and then fled before the Guardian of the Forest arrived.

They returned to Kyuden Kitsune, the brooding Phoenix continuing on to stay at an inn within the town. The others proceeded to enjoy a relaxing bath, debating about their actions, and the nature of Duty.

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