by Shawn Carman
Greetings, cousin! I was greatly pleased to receive your letter and hear of your return to the Scorpion lands for the season. I cannot imagine that the Unicorn provinces are a pleasant assignment, particularly during the winter. It is my hope that you will be given a new assignment, one closer to home, and that we may have an opportunity to catch up. How are aunt and uncle? I hope that their health is improving.
I have found the Winter Court of the Empress most interesting! There are many here that require my attention, so I have been quite busy. Even still, the court sessions are never boring. You doubtless have heard of the recent proclamation that all clans must immediately cease conflict with one another. How long has it been since an Emperor had such courage, to order such a thing? My father assures me many in the past century have feared too much to have their orders ignored, but not so the Divine Empress! Such a strong command so early in her rule, and yet not a single word of dissent from those assembled in her court. It was a powerful statement.
I must correct myself, actually. Although the words of the Empress were not met with dissent, there was considerable concern over one of her secondary additions to the proclamation. To ensure that her edict remains unbroken, the Empress has tasked the Lion Clan with patrolling the borders of the Great Clans and preventing any large scale military movements between lands without prior approval from the throne. I know the Lion are the Right Hand and to have given this duty to any other would have been a grave insult, but I fear that the legendary zeal of the Lion will result in difficulty for the rest of the Empire.
Oh, and to complicate the matter further, the Empress likewise ordered the Mantis Clan to prevent the movement of troops without Imperial sanction via the sea, and gave them authority to oversee such matters at ports all along the coast. No other clan has the resources for such a task, but still. The Mantis? When has any Mantis done anything save exactly what the Mantis wish? I would be fearful for the future, but I cannot help but have faith in the Divine Empress. We shall see what unfolds.
But enough gossiping for now! Please write as soon as you are able. I am eager to hear of your brother’s new wife, and of course any information you might have about our extended family. I fear my duties keep me away from our home province for months or even years at a time, and I do not always have time to write.
|Bayushi Maemi, Seductress
School/Rank: Bayushi Courtier 2 / Shosuro Shinobi 1
Bayushi Maemi haunts the halls of influential courts like a silken specter. Countless hundreds have been captivated by her beauty, but honorable men recognize that she is not the sort of company that a virtuous samurai keeps. Fortunately for Maemi and the Scorpion Clan, every court is full of powerful men who can be considered virtuous only in the emptiest of flattery.
Maemi was the pride of both her parents as a child. Her father adored her for her beauty and her flawless ability to charm and manipulate others, just as he did in court. Her mother was repeatedly impressed with her speed and nimble fingers, and the skill with which she could wield a knife even when she was very young. The decision as to how the young woman should be trained was a matter of some contention between the two, but ultimately she was sent to study with the family’s courtiers.
Distinction was easy for Maemi to attain among her peers, but she did not excel as her parents had hoped. The elaborate deceptions and machinations that her sensei encouraged did not interest her; Maemi was interested in more short term, direct, and to her mind, more effective means of manipulation. After some consideration by her sensei, it was determined that Maemi could best serve the interests of the Scorpion by augmenting her training through other dojo in addition to her training as a courtier.
Needless to say, Maemi has excelled at her joint training and her subsequent assignments. She is something of a weapon of last resort for the head delegate of whatever court she has been assigned to. Targets that present no other suitable options, and upon whom the art of subtlety is wasted, become targets for Maemi’s unique talents. Most often, she simply seduces a target, gains the information that the clan requires, and that is the end of it. On rare occasions, she eliminates the target as well, an act that has absolutely not gravity for the young woman at all save for the degree of challenge it poses for her.
I hope this letter finds you in good health, if not in good spirits. I have finally returned to my quarters on Kyuden Hida, and while it has served me well for many years I feel empty upon my return. Your descriptions of your home in the Watchtower of the East make me certain you feel the same way. We are warriors, and war is our home. The ravening hordes of Shadowlands beasts rely on force over strategy, and victory over their attacks seems slight compared to a triumphant march into the heart of the Crane lands.
We were on the cusp of victory, but the bitter taste of defeat remains in my mouth. We must listen to the quartermasters and our superiors when they tell us when it is time to withdraw, yet I feel like one more push – just one more push – could have toppled the entire Crane defense. I cannot see the grand overview of the war, but on the front lines, it did not feel like a losing war. The Crane soldiers died beneath our charge and it only seemed like a matter of time before we would stand on their doorstep.
Despite all that has happened, I am cheered by the good fortune I encountered on this campaign. When I met you I saw you as a tyrannical task master (I believe that is a rather accurate description, Ubogin.). I clashed with you because I felt your methods were too harsh, but you held firm in your beliefs. I only recognized your honesty and fine spirit when we enjoyed an evening sake house, drinking, carousing and fighting. It took a week before I could walk without feeling the bruises you left on my side, but the effort proved worthy of the result. That night I gained a brother in arms, a sentiment you proved true over and over again through the course of the war.
Before we left, you told me of the hardy cliffs of the Twilight Mountains. I would like to test my mettle against them when duty permits. You are welcome to join me, if you believe yourself stronger than a Scorpion courtier.
|Kaiu Taru, Siege Master
School/Rank: Kaiu Engineer School (Path of Stone 3)
The Crab Clan is famed for its hulking warriors, but Kaiu Taru has always towered over his peers. In his youth Taru was often mistaken for a full grown warrior and he was first to reach puberty. The advantage went directly to his head. He would often bully and cruelly torment others. Peasant children would keep silent for Taru’s station made him beyond retribution, and samurai children refused to admit their failures to their parents. Taru was the neighborhood tyrant and the world was within his grasp. A raised hand and a sharp word brought him everything a boy could desire.
His parents and teachers expected Taru to request attendance in the Hida Bushi School. After all, his disposition and physique made him perfect for the role. Taru surprised everyone when he joined his family’s trade. He would become an engineer. His parents worried that their child was simply being obstinate. Despite (or perhaps in spite of) the whispers, Taru stood firm in his decision and attended the school. His chosen course became instantly clear within the first year of instruction; Taru held no aptitude for the forge and was interested in the formation and destruction of buildings. Taru was only interested in war. He enjoyed the idea of learning the stress points in a fortification and how to pressure it until it crumbles to ashes in front of the soon to be victorious Crab army.
During hostilities Taru is a clever man and he will wait as long as he needs to set the perfect ambush against his enemies. Off the battlefield, his temper flares quickly and he is more than willing to vent off his frustrations in a brawl or two. Taru has few friends and many enemies, but he does not care. He is a simple man with simple tastes. His penchant for destruction endears him to his superiors. Unfortunately, until he can manage his anger, he will only alienate more and more of his comrades.
Taru was stationed with the Third Army after his gempukku. Once war broke out against the Crane, he immediately asked for permission to join the Army of the East. His superiors transferred him to the front lines. Taru flourished in battle, and despite his nasty disposition his star has begun to rise.
I hope the Fortunes have found favor with you and your works since we last spoke, my lord. In accordance with your instructions, I arrived at Kaiu Shiro three days ago, and I have completed my investigation into the matter of your missing kinsman. It seems that the last contact anyone had with the man was a letter to Hida Ubogin. I have seen the letter, and it contains nothing of substance. I have attached it for your examination, if you so desire.
More importantly, my investigation has determined that there is no point at which the missing samurai, Kaiu Taru, could have entered the Shadowlands. The magistrates under my command have investigated his every movement over the past two years, and at no point did his location and schedule contain a lapse of time sufficient for him to have entered the Shadowlands for more than an hour or two at most. I am unlearned in such things, my lord, but I do not believe that is sufficient time for anything of substance to have happened, at least not with having at least eight months elapsed since the last opportunity. His disappearance, while exceptionally unusual, does not appear to be an instance of corruption within the Crab’s ranks, as you had feared. However, I cannot say with any assurance that something unusual is not in fact taking place.
Given Taru’s last correspondence, my men and I retraced his steps. We believe we know where he might have been when he disappeared. We discovered an inn in a small Crab village where we believe he may have stayed the night during his travels. In his quarters, I discovered a note that troubles me greatly. I include its contents here:
I met a man. He was not a man. We played a game. I was the victor.
His name was Muzaka, he said. The Fortune of Enigmas.
As a prize for my victory, he showed me something. Something terrible.
I stood on the Wall. I watched it burn.
I saw a vast horde of demons, greater than any that has ever walked the world.
I saw a demon of a type I have never seen before. I saw it storm the Wall.
I saw it plunge a blade into Lord Kuon’s heart. I watched the Jade Crab die.
I smelled blood on the air. The smoke stung my eyes. I was there.
I may be mad, but it was not a dream. I know that it was real.
The Fortune says only I can stop it. None other.
To tell another of the specifics will only increase its certainty.
Forgive me for abandoning my duties. I would never shame my family.
But I cannot let him die.
Only I can stop it.
I find the contents of this letter extremely disturbing, my lord. Either your kinsman has in fact seen something so horrible that he cast aside his duty, a decision I cannot fathom, or he is completely, irrevocably mad, and thus a terrible danger to your clan’s honor. I await your orders in this, my lord.
|Akodo Koun, Commander of the Jade Legion
School/Rank: Akodo Bushi 4
Although he lacks the fame and prestige associated with some of his kinsmen such as Ikoma Otemi or Akodo Shigetoshi, Akodo Koun is recognized within the Lion Clan as one of the finest commanders of his generation, and has quietly served the clan with great distinction for decades, all without ever making any attempt to garner glory or attention for himself.
During the reign of Akodo Ginawa as lord of the Akodo famiy, Koun was among his favored pupils, and was eventually appointed the rikugunshokan of the Akodo army when Ginawa decided that he was too old to command the army himself. He served for years, winning many minor skirmishes that failed to capture the attention of the Empire despite his brilliant leadership. When Ginawa retired and Akodo Shigetoshi assumed the position of family daimyo, Koun voluntarily ceded the position of commander back to his new lord without being asked, and was in turn offered the position of chief shireikan, which he accepted. His service continued with the same quiet determination and brilliance.
During the recent Jade Championship, Koun was on hand as the commander of the honor guard sent to protect the Lion contestants. There, he engaged in a discussion of many topics with several individuals he would likely never have encountered under different circumstances. Still, he found Moshi Minami and Kuni Umibe to be engaging individuals, and he enjoyed himself tremendously. Koun was extremely surprised to be offered the position of commander of the Jade Legion by the new Jade Champion, but he soon discovered that Kuni Daigo’s kinsman Umibe, and Minami as well, had recommended him for the position.
Koun is something of a philosopher. He pursues academic and artistic endeavors with the same enthusiasm that he studies history and warfare. He is in many ways the perfect specimen of the samurai ideal: honorable to a fault, exceptional in war, and learned in a wide variety of subjects.
It is my great pleasure to write this report to you, my lord, not only because I have been successful in the duty set before me, but because I am greatly honored to serve under a warrior and hero of your caliber. I hope that you have settled into your duties at Houritsu Mura for the winter, and I can only imagine that they must be quite different from your normal service with the First Storm. But you have little time to read rambling reports from distant cousins, I am sure.
I am pleased to report that after months of searching, I was able to located and bring to justice the ronin bandit calling himself the Son of the Moon. As you may be aware, this man was somewhat unusual in that he generally operated alone, striking lone or lightly defended travelers and taking all that they possessed, frequently killing them as well. In the eyes of some he was more assassin than bandit, but personally I find the distinction of very little importance.
The blasphemous bandit had crossed over the Dragon border to go to ground in the rural mountains. Perhaps intuiting that he was being pursued, or perhaps that is simply where he spent his winters, I could not say. Regardless, my two associates and I pursued him, confronted him and, when he refused to submit, we executed him in keeping with our mandate as magistrates. After the fact we discovered numerous valuable items in his possession that confirmed what we already knew about his identity.
Unfortunately, I cannot report that our incursion into the Dragon lands was without incident. We were intercepted shortly before crossing back over the border by a Kitsuki and a pair of Mirumoto. Their intent was to take us into their custody and press the issue against our clan in court. I assured them that we were well within our rights to execute our duty as magistrates, and that we would not submit to being held hostage as leverage against the Mantis. A confrontation ensued. One of my yoriki was injured, and two of the Dragon were killed, while the third escaped. I regret that their deaths were necessary but it was the Dragon who pressed the issue, not the Mantis.
I have returned to Dragon Gate City to seek the attention of a priest for my injured yoriki, and here we wait until you see fit to issue new orders to us.
|Moshi Chuuya, Mantis Clan Magistrate
School/Rank: Tsuruchi Magistrate 2
The creation of Houritsu Mura, the Village of Law, by the Mantis Clan was heralded by many as an act of unbridled ambition. Just as many, however, saw it as an opportunity for the clan to demonstrate once and for all their devotion to law and order. And some among the ranks of the Mantis, like Moshi Chuuya, saw it as an opportunity that could not easily be passed up.
Chuuya was always an ambitious sort, even during her days at the dojo. All agreed that she was a gifted student despite her inability to speak to the kami, an unpleasant oddity in her branch of the Moshi family. It was likewise agreed that she would one day become a very talented magistrate, but her overpowering desire to prove her worth and ascend through the ranks of the clan was deemed something of a liability. In any other clan, perhaps, this would have led to her being marginalized and put in an unimportant position to ensure that she did not become a threat to the clan. Among the Mantis, however, ambition is not always considered a sin, and her desire to accomplish great things was allowed to play itself out.
Thus far, the gambit has been largely successful. Chuuya has distinguished herself well among the magistrates stationed at Houritsu Mura, and has an affinity for working alongside the Tsuruchi, doubtless as a result of having spent her youth training in their lands. She has been deployed against particularly difficult targets such as the notorious bandit organization Tengoku’s Justice, many of which have sent her into the Dragon lands. Repeated incursions by the Mantis have soured the relationship between the two clans, and Chuuya is among those who have directly engaged the Dragon over the matter. Despite worsening relations, Chuuya shows no signs of remorse for her actions, and genuinely believes that she has acted only in the best interests of the Mantis and for the greater good of the Empire.
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