After leaving the wedding, the PCs travel to the Kitsu Tombs, there to make nice with any potential Kitsune spirits at the temple there. Being they are guests, and even better non-Lion Clan, a certain Matsu Chokaku decides to meet with them in the temple they visit.
Matsu Chokaku appears to be a retired Lion officer of some girth and size, with a shocking great mane of golden colored hair. He is bluff, honorable seeming and complimentary as he sits in an alcove off of the main Temple garden. He is casually dressed in a simple cotton shift and some wood clogs.
He has an offer. Apparently a valuable scroll turned up missing after a member, or vassal of the Hare Clan took it. This person may even already be at Castle Usagi. Since the scroll was encrypted, time is of the essence. It must not be read. He describes the scroll (rice paper, crimson and gold marbled edges on an ebony spindle inside a black scroll case).‘Return it to us and you will have my personal gratitude – and that of the Lion clan. However, I cannot stress enough the need for subtlety and discretion. A clumsy or blatant disclosure will humiliate everyone concerned”(shya right, wait til you read what happens later)
The PCs gather some nice blank Lion Clan traveling docs-
“The papers the characters receive are signed, but blank – when he hands them over, Chokaku blandly says that the characters are honor-bound to fill the forms out accurately”
-and hustle across the Clan lands over to the Scorpion border, then four more days riding to the Usagi Clan border, which is a river. On the way the PCs find Scorpion inns and wayhouses to be of the finest quality. The staff and food is excellent and very well prepared. The prices are quite reasonable as well, and let’s not get started on road quality…
The PCs also cross paths with a female Scorpion at a Scorpion Road checkpoint who it just happens is an Emerald Magistrate. Shosuro Rei is a tall slender 30-something whiplike slash of a samurai-ko. She has a steady, clear gaze under a straight, fine brow and is quite spare in her speech and gestures. Her mask is almost a formality, being a slender strip of red gauze which accents her triangular face rather than hides it. She pauses over their travel documents (which the Crab labored to create), asks quite a few questions as the PCs squirm and then grins this little pickerel grin and shoos them through the checkpoint. WTH?
She has business elsewhere and beetles off.
The PCs reach the Lion Checkpoint at nightfall, cross the ford and find the humbler, simpler Hare Checkpoint on the far side abandoned. Hunh. Oh wait, here is a nice dead crushed Ashigaru just a few hundred yards up the road. Wait, what? Now some roaring is happening up the road and the Crab’s normally broody face starts becoming… animated. Yes, he is grinning just a teensy bit. This somehow doesn’t sit well with the others.
A short time later the worst is confirmed as an Oni, size medium, and some goblins, green in color, boil into sight, being furiously battled by a single samurai who jumps around like a flea on a hot skillet. Ok, now the Crab has a big goofy grin on his face and HE IS LAUGHING OUT LOUD. He starts whipping his hammer around like it is a bamboo cane and charges the Oni, closely followed by the other PCs. Well, except for the Tsuruchi, who unlimbers that tree of a yumi he totes around and he starts letting fly with those long, nasty-looking arrows he obsesses over.
The Oni looks about 12 feet high, smells like goat’s piss and has a log with some of the limbs missing for a club. I think the Crab’s dai tsuchi wrecked one of the Oni’s arms so it then pulled out a daikatana from what passed for clothes and fought some more with that. The Usagi samurai ran up the Oni’s club and finally managed to strike a mortal blow to the Oni before he too became incapacitated by his wounds (maybe he used up all of his Void). The Oni died shortly after, with his head being separated (per Hida SOP). The Oni seemed to be holding his own before the PCs arrived, and could very well have won, as he was pretty tough and occasionally shedding a goblin pod or two. Was he summoned here?
A quick Goblin hunt followed, well what was left of them since the Tsuruchi was killing one per round, so not many were left. The Ise Zumi broke one into pieces. The Tamori happily cast Jade Strike at one point. The Scorpion Checkpoint Wardens arrived around the same time as a motley group of Usagi ashigaru and peasants armed with wooden tools and lanterns did, each from opposite ends of the fight scene. The Scorpion Gunso was immediately challenged by the near dead Usagi, the Gunso backed down honorably and so they left the scene. Presumably hustle off to check their side of the river for more Goblins.
The Oni’s emergency backup daikatana is merely that, but the saya is actually heirloom quality. Usagi heirloom quality! We must find the sword! Usagi faints before he can go into details. The peasants pick up the young Usagi and carry him to their village. He is Usagi Ozaki, the only son of the Usagi Daimyo! After some first, second and third aid everyone carts him up to Usagi Castle. Oh, and some peasants were detailed off to very carefully burn every single shred of Oni and goblin, just to be sure.
The next morning the PCs move onward to Usagi Castle, hard by the river on a slight rise. South and west is the Shinomen Forest. The castle commands the road and the nearby ford. Northwest are Lion lands (several hours away by horse). As castles go, it is the only one the Usagi have, so despite its modest size, it does cover a swath of enclosed ground to house the many functions it protects, as it is also a small town. The castle can muster 1000 samurai or so, plus militia force.
The Ise Zumi makes some mystical comments that even other Dragons cannot figure out, which means he is making shit up, probably. The PCs meet the Usagi Oda, Clan Daimyo, i.e. father to rescued samurai who we now find out is named Ozaki. Usagi-sama is this coiled little boiled-down looking, leathery guy with a big head and a pretty fierce set of eyebrows. Also present amongst others in the reception area of the keep is the Usagi General/Clan Champion who looks like a goddamned boulder with legs. Even the Crab notices him. Other notables present are daughter Usagi Tomoe who is a Kitsu trained shugenja (who has been helping in the family business of identifying Kolat members and killing them). She is recently back from a journey.
They all examine the newly cleaned saya taken from the Oni. This is the scabbard of the Hare clan ancestral sword – lost to us for many years. Five hundred years ago, this saya was worn by Usagi Gohei when he and only fifty samurai held this castle against two hundred Blood Speakers, led by the black sorcerer Iuchiban himself When his wife,Usagi Furiko, returned with reinforcements from the Lion Clan, she took the sword from her husbands corpse and struck down Iuchiban with it. Two hundred years ago, there was… an amorous entanglement between a certain Crab samurai-ko and Usagi Nidei. She entered the Shadowlands and had not returned, after arguing with his mother (the Daimyo) he took the sword that night and went after her, never returning. Now we have a clue!
At this point in the so far friendly discussion that Master of Diplomacy Mantis busts out the chestnut that the PCs are here to investigate a theft, and the thief was a Hare! He is just barely not killed because the PCs did save Ozaki and all but, damn. So, bath, food, music, conversations happen for the guests although the Hare Champion displays a large hairy eyeball to the PCs for a while.
Later that evening Tomoe is seen in the Keep’s modest herb garden, playing a samisen and singing to Lady Moon a romantic ode about longing and frustration. The Mirumoto just sorta doesn’t reeeally watch her. The next day (?) Tomoe does manage to cast a pretty good locate spell to discover (Yay!) the actual location of the Hare Clan Daikatana: some place called Hiruma Stronghouse #4, You Are Fucked Street, Shadowlands, 000666 (Boo!). When the gradually recovering Ozaki pledges to recover it from beyond the Wall himself, the Crab says why doesn’t he save himself the time and kill himself right then? General laughter all around, whoo boy, those wacky Crabs. The Ise Zumi makes some mystical comments up, maybe.
Some clues are unearthed as the PCs move around the keep and its environs. The Tamori enlists the aid of an earth spirit who confirms that the missing scroll they were looking for is actually here. The Mantis does not say I TOLD YOU because he already did anyway. I think the Mirumoto also cornered a castle servant named Suki who was somehow smitten by the Dragon bushi, she mentions that Tomoe & Ozaki recently returned from a marriage arrangement trip (for Tomoe) to Otosan Uchi, which failed to produce results. Seiki (a Hare bushi) screwed something up while they were there and he got busted to back Gate Guard Apprentice after they returned last month.
The Ise Zumi makes some mystical comments, why?
A travelling Monk enters the keep a short time later and breathlessly informs the guards that a Scorpion Army is approaching from the south. Hoh! We stopped there.
In a brief message later, a few options were recapped to the party:
A) go to the Crab lands, thence to the near Shadowlands to Hiruma Castle to locate a Daikatana belonging to the Hare Clan
B) procure a scroll from the Hare Clan Daimyo’s daughter, somehow
C) hang out with the nice Hare Clan and defend their castle against the Scorpion
D) leave (either just leave or go for help somewhere)
E) other (hello, PCs are crazy)