Echoes of Osano-Wo

Over a month and a half have passed since the new Magistrates convened.  They have spent the time in pursuit of training or relaxing and enjoying their rewards.

It is heading towards mid-summer when three of the gathered Magistrates learn of the death of an Imperial Tax Collector.   The body was found in the distant lands of the Tortoise Clan, along Rokugan’s Southern Coast.  Concerned with this serious breach of the Emperor’s Law, they set off to investigate.

Arriving in Tortoise lands, the magistrates meet with the Daimyo of the small Clan, who explains that it was likely their aggressive neighbor, the younger brother of the Sparrow Daimyo, who has done this thing. The Dragon’s yojimbo is, strangely enough, blamed with murder of a Tortoise samurai. While he is proven innocent, his katana has mysteriously disappeared. The matter of the Tax Collector forces the Magistrates to press on.

Introduced to Tento Rengenjo, the young son of the Tortoise Daimyo who currently guards the mines from a small holding, the Magistrates find him to be an honorable, if naive lord. They are told that the Sparrow should be questioned, as the nearby lord, Suzume Kaishu, is an aggressive warmonger. The young Heroes note that there are only fifteen or so samurai in the holding; the rest of Rengenjo-sama’s forces are local heimin ashingaru. Some of the spearmen practice with boken. Kaishu-sama explains that he does not have enough samurai, thanks to the bandit and Sparrow attacks. In this way, he can quickly name new samurai who have some knowledge of the katana for bravery and service in battle. “After all,” he notes, “they are but boken, not katana.” The Emperor’s Law has not, technically, been broken.

The Magistrates head out quickly, determined to avoid being caught in the Tortoise Castle during an assault as well as to solve the weird case of the Tax Collector. On the advice of Rengenjo-sama, they head directly for the Sparrow Clan Palace, seeking audience with the Clan Daimyo rather than his hot-headed younger brother. They head north through the mid-summer mountain passes, detouring to the holy site of Suzu Sano Shinda (Bells of the Dead) to light some incense. There, they encounter a wandering monk. They are also waylaid and ambushed by twice their number of bandits. The black armored bandits are slain to the last, but Mirumoto Kunto takes two grievous spear wounds to his abdomen and shoulder. Unable to heal him properly, the Magistrates are forced to detour from their intended destination of Kyuden Suzume to the closer Shiro No Sansharro.

Arriving at the small, but extremely well built Shiro No Sansharro, the Magistrates are attended to with great and immediate attention. The shugenjas tend to Kunto; the Magistrates are attended to. Even when Shinjo Mariko goes on her morning ride, she is discretely attended by a several bushi, in the event of bandit attack.

There are only two things that agitate the young Magistrates. First, Kunto’s condition does not improve. Second, the Suzume Kaishu keeps them waiting…for three days. He is, his samurai explain, off inspecting on of the Sparrow’s two iron mines. The Magistrates are not pleased…

When finally greeted by Kaishu-sama, the Magistrates are curt and to the point. Through a thin veil of respect, they demand to know what has happened to the Tax Collector and the Emperor’s tribute. As the Tax Collector never appeared in Tortoise lands, they state, surely Kaishu was told of his disappearance and death, and can report the facts as well as what is being done to solve the case. Kaishu-sama claims ignorance, professes no knowledge, and quickly – under pressure from the young, but angered Magistrates – grants two of his samurai captains leave to commit seppuku for failing in their assigned tasks. Most strange to the Imperial Magistrates is the statement by the patrol captain that they left the Tax Collector on his own orders. “He bid us depart after a half days’ ride from Shiro No Sansharro, saying that he traveled better quietly and alone.” Very strange, note the Magistrates, especially as the same samurai never let Shinjo Mariko out of their sight for three days – despite her protests. Further, Mirumoto Kunto’s health seems to worsen. The Magistrates demand a litter be constructed, and an escort provided to bring them to Kyuden Suzume – immediately! Suzume Kaishu – seemingly shamed by the the ineptness of his samurai as well as the Heroes words – provides such.

Arriving at Kyuden Suzume, with Kunto quickly, silently fading, the Magistrates are met a mile before the gates by armored horsemen, who greet them quickly and sincerely. By the time the Heroes reach the gates of the spartan war palace, the household has been roused. Shugenja attend to the fallen yojimbo, and the Magistrates are brought to the Daimyo of Clan Sparrow, Suzume Chitoku at their earliest convenience. He, at least, has been made aware of the death of the Tax Collector by other Imperial messengers. His anger is obvious: the Sparrow’s tribute to the Son of Heaven is missing, and the Magistrates frankly and in private discussion with the lord, place a good deal of the blame on his younger brother. By the week’s end, Kunto has been returned to excellent health. The Magistrates are brought to Chitoku again, in a small pavilion outside the palace, where the Sparrow Daimyo again speaks plainly and honestly. He dispatches a boken by his fastest horseman, to be presented to his brother. He gifts the Emperor with twice the appropriate tribute to show the love the Sparrow has for his Lord and Master, and to partially compensate the Emperor, the Emerald Champion, and the Magistrates for the indignity. Additionally, having learned of theft of Kunto’s katana, he gifts the yojimbo with one of his own. He does not accept even one refusal, as is would be normally polite, dispensing of the ritual with a wave of his hand. And then, he pledges his entire Clan to the aid of the Magistrates in resolving this matter.

The matter settled for the moment, Chitoku-sama then shows the Magistrates about the grounds of the fine palace and lush grasslands. In a small feast the following evening, the Daimyo relates a story of a young, seven year old Shinjo Mariko, who the Daimyo met while in Unicorn Lands visiting her father, the Master of the Four Winds, Daimyo of the Unicorn. The Sparrow lord, it seems, is an old friend of the horsemen, and is an able rider himself. Sadly, the feast comes to a bitter close when smoke is seen in the mountains. Within the hour, a rider brings confirmation: Shiro No Sansharro has fallen to the Tortoise!”

The Emerald Magistrates accompany the Sparrow forces as they march quickly into the mountains, determined to win back their holding. In arrival, they find that the young Tortoise, Tento Rengenjo, has led his Clan’s move. While he has proven able to take the castle from unorganized, possible incompetent samurai, Chitoku-sama pledges that the young Tento shall find keeping it an entirely more difficult proposition. The Magistrates insist on speaking with the Tortoise in an attempt to negotiate a peace, but refuse to intervene otherwise.

The Rengenjo refuses to relinquish the castle to the Sparrow. Chitoku-sama sets to the siege of the already assaulted castle and quickly cracks the defenses, taking back his holding within a day and a half. He shows remarkable restraint in keeping Rengenjo alive for return to his family.

A family which soon shows up with a large force of samurai, led by their daimyo, Tento Matoe. With some discussion, and the sincere urging of the Emerald Magistrates, the two Clans agree to a truce, with the Sparrow keeping their castle and the Tortoise keeping their new mine (seized along with the castle) – until such time as a more lasting peace can be agreed upon. The forces spend several days discussing the details, with an additional shadow cast over the proceedings by Rengenjo’s death by seppuku. The young samurai could not bear the shame of living having failed his family; Matoe is greatly saddened, but wisely chooses not to hold the Sparrow responsible.

All seems to be put nearly to right, when the departing Tortoise procession returns to Shiro No Sansharro demanding sanctuary and bearing a wounded Matoe-sama. A large force of bandits has assaulted the Tortoise and shot the daimyo; the wounding arrow sticks bloodily from Tento Matoe’s thigh. The Tortoise are admitted just proceeding a swarm of black armored, banerless “ashigaru”. A force of several thousand has converged on the remote castle and lays siege to it.

Chitoku-sama is infuriated, as are the Tortoise and the Magistrates. The actions of the “bandits” is clearly an upset of the Celestial Order, and the samurai lay plans to break the siege and punish the revolutionaries. Sadly, the bandits outnumber the samurai forces by well over four to one. No reinforcements can be expected as both minor Clans have committed their forces to the defense of their respective palaces. A probing cavalry charge is prepared and young Shinjo Mariko requests the right to lead the horseman. She successfully leads the charge, but is wounded by two traitors in the samurai’s ranks. Naginata in hand, she beheads both from horseback and presents them to Chitoku-sama per his request.

The enemy does not counter, not even much react. The strange ashigaru do not challenge those within Shiro No Sansharro, nor do they respond to the hurled taunts of the some of the samurai. A major battle is planned for the next day. The Magistrates insist on vital roles within the battle. The events of the day, they press, are clearly well within their tasks as Emerald Magistrates: this is revolution against the Son of Heaven!

The Magistrates ascend into the mountains, the hot sun above them and the seige at their backs. They travel slowly, heading for the nearest village, where Kuni Itsu’s yojimbo was cut down. They travel warily, knowing the enemy – or their leaders – could lurk around any bend in the tight mountain pass. The Unicorn hears nearby horses, which are never seen thanks to the high sides of the pass. Upon the peak, the Magistrates are able to look back and catch sight of the battles about Shiro No Sansharro.

Further on the peak, the heroes encounter the same monk they had met not so long ago at the Bells of the Dead. Grandfather, as Jito-san and Shuzento-san take to calling him, is preparing rice and offers lunch to the Magistrates.

Eating rice from broad tea leaves, the group discusses some of the events of late with the monk, who seems very interested in their perspective on the matter of the uprising. The Kitsuke catches sight of an odd green dragon tattoo winding its way up Grandfather’s arm, hidden in the many folds of his simple peasant robe.

Grandfather Greeneyes then engages the young heroes in more conversation, walking them to the ridge to overlook the distant battle for Iron Wing Castle. The monk, after some prompting, explains his perspective on the nature of the “Ant Clan” seen so far below. “When Shinsei proclaimed each ant a little Hantei, perhaps he meant that each ant is in fact his own Hantei, and deserves some repsect as such. Perhaps…”

The Magistrates seem to find little wisdom in the crazily-green-eyed monk, who sets off down the path. The Magistrates, having had enough of lunch and talk, gather and head again towards the village, and hopefully some answers.

Still stalking along the path, some of the heroes begin to grumble and speculate. Strangely enough, a thin voice on the wind begins to mock them, growing stronger the more they call to it to show itself. Finally, Shinjo Mariko calls the hidden face a coward (and more)…

Prompting a response in the form of a cloud of smoke twisting away to reveal a tall, emaciated ancient man dressed only in a gray peasant robe. His eyes smoking a deep slate gray, he spreads his arms, kanji covered palms to the Magistrates. With cryptic words, he berates them, providing only riddles to the Magistrates questioning on the revolt. Specifically, he flatly states that the samurai – and those like them – are responsible for the state of affairs. “It is the bloodshed and horror that you….samurai…have heaped upon them over a thousand years in your pursuit of honor and glory that has caused this.” The Magistrates reaction to his statements varies from outright scorn and derision from the bushi to some thoughtful insight on the behalf of the shugenja. “It has been sown, and so it must be reaped.” The Gray Man refuses to battle, or brook any hostility, stopping the Magistrates cold with the ominous, everchanging kanji on his palms. He vanishes mysteriously, claiming that the time for confrontation is arriving soon. “I merely wish that you understand the forces at work, that your shame for your part be greater that you know….”

Arriving soon at the village, the heroes again find Grandfather Greeneyes tending a much larger pot of rice. The village around him is abandoned to the last soul. One body remains though…the armored corpse of a Sparrow cavalryman hangs by the neck from a bend tree limb. Upon examination, the Dragon Magistrate, Kitsuke Shuzento, finds him to be a week dead. The wooden boken at the corpses feet presents a horrible truth: Suzume Kaishu yet lives, and is likely a force behind the bandits. The Dragons swear the death of the honorless dog.

With many dharmic paths, the weary “generals” of the bandit army arrive on horseback, their dull armor covered in war and road dust. They number four bushi – Suzume Kaishu and another Sparrow traitor – with the missing Mirumto katana – in dulled Sparrow armor, a Tortoise traitor in repainted Tortoise armor, and the fourth: a helmed figure in the black, plain armor of the “Ant” bandits. They are joined by Grandfather Greeneyes, who’s stake is with that of the peasants, who have no justice from the Emperor who claims to rule them, and a reappeared Gray Man, who claims no interest other than the workings of the Way. None of the six confess to being the true leader of the revolt.

Despite Grandfather’s request to eat rice first, Kaishu and Shuzento-san begin to taunt one another, Shuzento’s barbs of honor returned by Kaishu’s jabs of age at the “young pup”. The unnamed Sparrow traitor and Mirumoto Kunto quickly square off as well, staring one another down, Kunto claiming his katana will return to him once he dispaches the treasonous cur. The sun beats down for slow minutes until the brash Crab, Kuni Itsu, kicks over the rice pot. Grandfather steps back, and all hell breaks loose…

Magistrate Isawa Ikahashi pins the black clad bandit with his eyes, a hand on his katana, and warns the bushi that if he is not attacked, he shall not attack…

Kunto and his foe draw, katanas flashing. The Sparrow traitor goes wide; Kunto’s blade strike true, and the man dies in a bloody instant…

Shuzento and Kaishu exchange blows, each severely wounding the other. They face off to finish their duel…

Jito and Itsu watch the Gray Man begin a spell. The Crab begins a counter, while Jito dashes in, tetsubo in hand…and crushes the Gray Man’s skull with an impossible, crashing shot. The blow kills the mysterious man, but a gout of hot ash and smoke from the skull blind and scald the young Phoenix…

Shinjo Mariko and the Tortoise traitor engage in a duel, neither managing a solid blow on the first. The brash Mariko gives a great “kai”, but falls victim to the bushi’s second attack…she staggers back in pain…

Kaishu nearly guts Shuzento, but is himself brought low by the yojimbo Kunto, who cuts his hamstrings from behind with one shot – an action which he later justifies with a single statement: “Honor is wasted on the rabid, honorless dog.” Shuzento provides the killing blow…

Shinjo Mariko is brought down by her foes redoubled attacks, dropping to the ground unconscious. The bandit is beset by Kunto, and quickly dispatched…

Grandfather Greeneyes weeps openly, but makes no move to help either until after the battle…

The carnage is over in seconds. As Grandfather Greeneyes assists the wounded Phoenix shugenja and the nearly dead Unicorn, Ikahashi answers the remaining bandit’s query of “Will you now bring me before your Emperor to face Imperial justice?”. He answers it by bidding the man to leave, take his followers, and find their stake in the world away from here. And to return to the Imperial Court as the Ant Clan to make their request of the Emperor.

The Magistrates, while ending the siege, never have exact answers to the strange workings of man and dharma which have been at work.

It will haunt them for some time, no doubt.

%d bloggers like this: