As the Lady’s golden fingers charmed the shimmering crimson light from the Shrine of the Ki-Rin, the party slowly woke from slumber. Grittily wiping the the encrusted leavings of the previous day from his eyes, the Wasp went off in search of the newfound source of many diversions, his friend the Crab. The Crab, in turn, finishing his morning ritual purification of both his person and his water supply, began in search of his friend the Phoenix, but was soon distracted by curiosities both large and small. The Crane of Steel made his way out into the festival grounds soon after his morning katas, again searching out his companions. The Phoenix void-caller, unarguably the most difficult of ALL the companions to find perversely decided NOT to seek out his freinds, rather he was beguiled by a display of dancing …
Soon enough, as befitted the manhunter, Tsuruchi Kyotan was the first to find his target. Kuni Kokuri was fascinated by a game of “Heaven’s-Pearl-Hidden-Among-The-Clouds”, never having experienced such a diversion among his own clan, which far more prone to simple gambling games such as dicing, or the slightly more popular “Which Goblin will be skewered by the ballista first” game. Amazingly, the Fox-masked Scorpion gamemaster seemed to work without any magical aid, yet still managed to elude the penetrating attention of both sharp-eyed men, who wisely chose NOT to wager anything themselves. After all, the bond-brothers had far more important tasks ahead of them that day. With a regretful backwards glance from Kokuri, who resolved to seek out the Scorpion at a later time and ferret out his secrets, the two moved onwards.
Jiro had not gone far when he was approached by the ever-lovely Yogo Amia, who sought to inform the Yogimbo that Kitsu Saia, the Lion handmaiden of Otomo Yoroshiku was in need of an ally who could help her to avert a great shame from befalling her clan. The Scorpion Shugneja then departed amicably, feeling her obligation to Jiro for his defense of her life under Kyuden Ikoma.
With three of the four well-met, they set forth seeking the last. Given Isawa Takimoto’s talents for inconspicuousness, they set forth with less hope than grim determination. Surprisingly, they managed to find him with little trouble, and soon set to determining the priorities for the day.
Takimoto and Kokuri journeyed to the tent of the Tournament judges to discharge thier obligation to the Ronin Shugenja Koan, ensuring his enrollment in the competition but also drawing the unfortunate attention of the master of Gizu Castle, Isako Kegetsu. The Daimyo allowed the entry of Koan, but made it very clear that should any injury befall another contestant of the tournament due to the Ronin’s participation, the two Shugenja who argued for him would be held responsible.
Meanwhile, Jiro and Kyotan approached the Lion handmaiden, Kitsu Saia, interrupting a conversation with the Crane suitor, Doji Katamara, in the process further damaging the standing of the once-foremost competitor for the Royal Bride’s hand. Though initially hesitant, upon the urgent recommendations of the persuasive Wasp Magistrate, the Kitsu Shugenja placed her trust in the Daidoji suitor, charging him with the task of ensuring the authenticity of the Historic Scroll which the Lion clan had donated to the competition. Heady with the possibilities of the Lion maiden as an ally to his wooing of her mistress, but unsure of HOW to go about the authentication of the scroll, the Yojimbo sought the aid of his two more scholarly companions.
Both Kokuri and Takimoto had performed admirably in the initial round of the competition, discharging the required show of mastery of the five elements with acceptable skill, but more importantly to their standing, exceptional panache. The showy theatricality of Kokuri’s demonstration, combined with the display of a completely original and powerful spell had secured his right to advance as well as a respectable and appreciative audience. Takimoto too had earned a pass to the next round and his aerial acrobatics had impressed all in attendance. Flush from their success, the two young clerics were reunited with their more militant companions and quickly joined in the quest to protect the Lions’ reputation.
Seeking the aid of one of the tournament judges, the renowned scholar and expert on historical art and artifacts, Kitsu Aysoko, proved initially disappointing when the Dragon admitted that he would be unable to confirm the authenticity of the scroll, but with a surprising revelation, relayed that the greatest Lion scholar of present times was nearby at a monastery organizing the historical treasures stored there. The scholar in question was of course the recent ally of the party and longtime friend of Kokuri, Ikoma Ujiaki.
The band of Samurai left quickly on foot to the monastery, but had not been traveling long when they encountered a young Ronin-Ko who reported that she and her caravan had been ambushed by Gaijin while bringing much needed supplies to the Nightengale’s Roost. The group quickly moved to aid the lady in distress, detecting no trace of deception. Luckily, the perceptive skills that had failed to see anything amiss in the warrior-woman’s report were NOT foiled by the ambush that lay in wait for them ! As the “corpses” lying in the field of snow suddenly leaped up at them and the Ronin-Ko brandished her blades, the party leaped into action as well.
Through the the graces of the impenetrable guard of Daidoji Jiro, the deadly arrows of Tsuruchi Kyotan, and the mighty spells of Kuni Kokuri and Isawa Takimoto, the mixed band of Rokugani and Gaijin bandits was swiftly dispatched. Following a hunch, Kokuri searched the bandits and found evidence to support his suspicion that the ambush had been arranged specifically for he and his brothers. The incriminating letter with the four companion’s descriptions and the purse with half the bounty in advance was turned over to the wasp Magistrate, with the remaining letters going to Takimoto for future revelations.
The group was back on track quickly, and received happily by Ikoma Ujiaki who verified the authenticity of the Lion scrolls and after a too brief reunion sent them back on thier way.
The triumph that was shared by Kyotan and Jiro when they presented Kitsu Saia with the legendary scholar’s testimonial was heady, and Jiro secured not only the favor of the handmaiden but a small insight into the favors of her mistress as well.
The Triumph was not echoed in the second round of the Shugeja tournament though, as both Takimoto and Kokuri came tantalizingly close to victory, but in the end were bested by two far senior and more puissant Shugenja. The two were disappointed not to advance, but realized that they had done incredibly well given the disparity of skill.
This setback, though unfortunate, will give the two far more time to devote to other pursuits, and it is was with this thought that Kokuri enacted the plan he had set in motion earlier that morning, bringing Yogo Amia into contact with his friend Tsuruchi Kyotan, who had been nursing a growing fascination with the Scorpion Siren. Drawig an intimate crowd with his oratorical skills, Kokuri then perched two apples, the symbol of love, an his shoulders, inviting the Wasp Archer to enthrall the object of his desires with his skill.
With a small spattering of juices upon the silk shoulders of his companion, Kyotan shot true both in the impressive display of martial prowess AND his amorous intent. The evening promised to be quite entertaining for the Magistrate indeed.
Kokuri enjoyed the small service he had performed, desperately attempting to postpone the anxieties that still surfaced whenever he thought of his own impending courtship, and moved on to the next task on his personal agenda. Squaring his shoulders, he sought out his Phoenix brother to entreat with him to provide musical accompaniment for the tale he had prepared to hopefully help Takimoto with his own courtship of the Emperor’s niece.