Day One – Dinner Feast
The crafty Ikoma received word that another contestant was vying for the Badger’s favor. A ronin named Ari was also a fierce wrestler and like the badger themselves, often overlooked by the major clans. Tso-Lou decided to take matters into his own hands and arranged a match in the morning between the ronin and himself, sanctioned by the Badger. That Lion sure does want himself some hairy armpit to smell!
A bit later, after polite socializing Tso-Lou also made his way to the table of the Emerald Magistrates. Doji Motomasa, the leader of group, who Tso-Lou had embarrassed at the start of the tournament, stood up and excused himself as the Lion sat to speak with Bayushi Oku. He convinced the bushi to aid Sodano Shiko that night as he patrolled. He also secretly slipped the letter written in the scorpion clan cipher into Oku’s kimono. Though he had befriended Sodano Shiko, the Bayushi was quite impressed this with Lion.
Amazingly, as the samurai entered the feast hall, Bayushi Hakuseki’s seat was filled! A hastily but well made likeness of her sat, slumped forward in her chair. Miyazaki, who of course had arranged this himself, looked at the dummy outranged and began beating it against the ground in disgust until Shimzu pointed out to him that he was making a scene. An insult was made to the Mantis but quickly retracted and Miyazaki made to leave the hall with the makeshift dummy under his arm, bowing to Hakuseki as he left.
On his return, Miyazaki found Jo at the ronin table, coveting not only his bowl of rice, but that of another. “Ahh… Jo. I see you are getting your fill of rice. That is good, it will give you energy for more laps around the tournament.”
Jo whined “But master, i’ve twisted my ankle, I don’t think I can run.”
“So then you will do pushups instead.”
Crestfallen but hopeful Jo responded “Master, perhaps I am not meant to be a bushi, but a shungenja. I believe the kami speak to me.”
This started a hilarious conversation where Miyazaki scared the hell out of his ronin and made him wish he had never called upon the names of the kami. Back to laps for him.
Al-Saleen approached the ronin table moments before Miyazaki returned and found both Jo and Akimoto there. The ex-Hida bushi sat content eating rice with crude buy serviceable bamboo chopsticks bearing the kanji of perseverance. Al-Saleen is not a subtle fellow “Akimoto, you have been a great supporter of my order. If you wish to serve the Sapphire Magistrates, you will do so better as a member of a major clan. I invite you to become a Dragon, a Mirumoto.”
The ronin did not fall down at her knees to thank Al-Saleen but she was grateful for the opportunity. She was preoccupied however, with not having to train in Dragon lands, or Al-Saleen suspects, not having to be too far from Yoritomo Miyazaki. He agreed to train her himself, which satisfied both parties. Akimoto will be his first student; we’ll see how well that works.
Al-Saleen introduced her to the Sapphire Magistrates as Mirumoto Akimoto and she was accepted with good graces. She positively blushed when Miyazaki welcomed her and Isawa Yoshi in particular respected her adherence to her own customs.
Later, after the main course had been served, Al-Saleen visited the Unicorn table to speak with Utaka Nikku. Just the image of her made the kami of fire burn in his heart. He knew that being in her presence was only foolishness, she was not his beloved Nayan, but he found that he could stop thinking about her, and soon, thought became action. He attempted to great Nikku but was intercepted by the Ide duelist who guarded her. Both Unicorn assumed that Al-Saleen was approaching them on behalf of his fellow magistrates regarding the challenges earlier that day. His interest however, was not in the events at this tournament at all, but in those who had arrived. He told the Ide that there was one he cared about greatly, but as he mentioned Utaka Nayan’s name the duelist looked at him with false puzzlement “Who?”
A sorrowful “hai” was his only response, acknowledging that Nayan had been lost to her clan.
He was however, permitted to speak with Nikku. She was still very startled from the days earlier events, and hardly in the mood to discuss affairs of the heart, however she did agree to share tea with Al-Saleen the next day. They would speak more then.
Yoshi’s dinner was brief. He ate a full meal to prepare himself for a long night of work. As he left the feast hall, he addressed the Fox daimyo politely. “Daimyo-sama, the gift I promised you, you shall find delivered in the morning.” He bowed and excused himself.
Outside, in the barren ground he began carving a history of the minor clans noting that the Fox was the first of them. He carved the ground with purpose so that each kanji could be read clearly, even in the moonlight.
Well past dinner, Yoshi toiled away.
Later that evening
One would think that wise samurai during a tournament would bed early to be prepared for the morning. I guess we’re not that wise.
Shimzu sparred with Al-Saleen using boken in the Toku arena. It was friendly bout in the service of the two bushi speaking to each other privately rather than a real match. Al-Saleen urged Shimzu to make a choice regarding the Sezume Daimyo’s daughter and to linger no longer. It appeared that Shimzu already had. He revealed to his partner a letter sealed to be delivered to the Sparrow Daimyo asking for his daughters hand in marriage. Al-Saleen was pleased.
After a bath, Shimzu summoned his retainer Asahina Ro to deliver the letter. Young Ro was obedient but informed Shimzu that after the tournament he would return to the Asahina temple to finish his training and complete his gempuku. Kakita thought on this and bowed to Ro “Hai, you have my support.”
At the appointed time Shimzu met with his potential bride to be for their scheduled midnight walk. The words “I have asked your father” nearly rolled off his lips, but instead he faced her (still covered in such a thick wrap of clothing it was hard to imagine that she could even move) and proclaimed his love “Sezume-sama, will you marry me?”
In an instant, the world turned upside down. Lights and music appeared from nowhere, enchanting the ordinary surroundings with a mythical touch. Sezume Junko pulled back her cowl and revealed the most beautiful face Shimzu had ever seen. She smiled “It would be my honor, Shimzu-cha”.
From nowhere, the monk appeared, but he was larger than before and still growing until he took the visage of a giant and revealed himself not as a Togashi monk, but as the fortune Benten! “This marriage is blessed, your children shall bear my favor.” It seems Shimzu will have his happily ever after.
Al-Saleen, however solemnly joined Ikoma Tso-Lou in the ranks of mortals who had assaulted major fortunes. Face-Palm.
Yoshi noticed none of the fireworks from Benten’s Blessing. Grand as it was, only Shimzu and Junko were audience to it. Instead, he finished carving the history of the Minor Clans in the ground, giving great honor to all of them, if only the words could be saved from the wind and the rain…
Most would call their work done and get some sleep before the tournament. Of course Yoshi was not most samurai, but a shugenja that studied at the feet of the Master of Earth. With the new prayer to the kami bestowed upon him, the young Isawa began a ritual that would take him through the night and into the next morning. However, if completed it would preserve his message and make the fields of Kitsune Mori prosper around it.
Toil, toil through the night.
The Mantis met with his would be wife Bayushi Hakuseki and duped her into believing that he was still her fool, and still charmed by her feminine wiles. Raising her up for the fall!
Shiko, alone, patrolled the horsemanship area, looking for signs of Kokugin. The ground was uneven, casting low shadows in the moonlight, but no bakemono hid behind them. Or at least none that he found. Instead he was visited by Bayushi Oku, who had decrypted the scorpion ciphered letter and gave it to him. The letter appeared as a diary entry, signed by “H”, in which the author cursed all those who had wronged them. The author promised blood vengeance against the snake, the blue bird, the bug, and the chicken.
While grateful for the letter, Shiko told Oku he must stay alert. When he explained that he was looking for Kokujin, and had seen him several times at the tournament already, Oku’s face, behind his mask, turned radiant white in the moonlight. “Ah… well one succeeds while many fail… I will leave you to your task.” Deftly, Oku darted away, just as fast as he could muttering “talked to Kokujin… crazy phoenix… I’m out of here.”
As it turned out, Shiko was still not alone. The Usagi (Hare) are paranoid beyond reason and thus patrol everywhere, all the time. They approached Shiko and told him that while there was no signs of Kokujin at the field, his ally Isawa Yoshi was staying up the entire night casting some spell. Should it be majo, the Usagi were prepared! Shiko insisted however that he be the one to watch over Yoshi and so, silently crept to the fields to watch his brother as he worked the ritual.
It appeared that the spade in his hand as covered in dirt, not blood, but you could never be certain. Shiko opted to watch him, but when it appeared that Yoshi was going to work through the night, Shiko became weary and did not know if he could stay awake that long. The Usagi had a solution for that problem as well however. Very, very, very strong black tea. After which all of Shiko’s conversations were held went from adagio to allegro. Well played.
Day Two – Breakfast
Sodano Shiko, still wired on black tea raced in to the breakfast hall, wolfed down a bowl of rice and delivered the deciphered letter to the magistrates who took much interest in the author’s hatred for apparently all of us, save Tso-Lou. As before his accelerated speech was hilarious. Ikoma Tso-Lou did is best effort to convey, without being too obvious, that the letter, though signed “H” was not from Bayushi Hakuseki.
Shimzu had delightful news. He announced his betrothal to Sezume Junko.
Miyazaki and the tortoise began negotiations of favorable trading between the Sapphire Magistrates and the Tortoise. Tsurichi Nadu was apparently in possession of a nemurani of theirs. A helm that garbed the wearer in whatever image the desired. Funny that. They even offered a generous 100 koku “finder’s fee” if Miyazaki could arrange the return of the helm.
Ikomo Tso-Lou , before the official tournament began had arranged an impromtu match betwee himself and Ari the night before. The two wrestlers met and Ari told him what he really sought. He did not just want the Badger’s favor but their name. For him this wasn’t just a prize, but a chance to join a clan. Tso-Lou however, was deteremined, and did not surrender to compassion.
They had a great sumai match, each displaying excellent form and it took quite a while to best the other. Eventually Tso-Lou prevailed but the badger were so impressed by his diplay that they offered Ari entrace to their clan despite this. He was immediately removed from the tournament but achieved his desire. Presumably Tso-Lou did as well.
Day Two – Round One
Again, an event that nearly all the Sapphire Magistrates attended. All save Isawa Yoshi who was still praying to the earth kami for their blessing, and Sodano Shiko, who jittering, was still watching him.
The first match was between Ikomo Tso-Lou and Doji Motomasu. To opponents very eager to face each other. Tso-Lou feigned respect all the while sizing up his opponent. The duel was brief, Doji’s kimono stained by his own blood. Both contestants were respected for their form and observation of the Sparrow’s beliefs. 5 points to Tso-Lou. Banzai!
Next was another un-likely match. Yoritomo Miyazaki and Bayushi Hakuseki, his wife to be. As they watched each other, appraised the other’s stance, Miyzaki noticed something very disturbing. This was not the same Hakuseki he faced at the Topaz Championship. She was faster, more skilled, but less composed. This could not be the same woman and yet how could Miyazaki prove that? No other had faced her at the Topaz Championship and it would be his testimony against hers, which surely Hakuseki would find a way to turn to her advantage.
Reluctantly he continued the duel. One cut and his life’s blood sprayed across the hallowed grounds. The Scorpion dishonored herself and insulted the Sparrow in one blow by striking to kill rather than to show her skill. As he fell, Miyazaki uttered these last words “You are not Hakuseki”.
In an instant samurai were rushing to the field. Shimzu stood over his body to protect it, challenging Hakuseki to a duel as she has disregarded the rules of the tournament and used them and a means to kill Miyazaki. Jo, startled, ran over to tend his master, but could not make it there before Akimoto leaped upon the “Sapphire Champion”, holding Jo back with one hand as she tended to him. Joyfully she saw him regain consciousness for a moment and ask if the cut would scar. She smiled as she was sure that it would. Quickly the Fox shugenja began administering their healing arts and were able to save the young shugenja.
The duel would not be a simple one however. Hakuseki claimed rights to strike down Miyazaki for shaming her with his public profession of love when she was already a married woman and trying to make an adulterer out of her. As any Scorpion she twisted the truth so as to muddy the waters and make Shimzu back down. The Kakita would not give up so easily. He challenged her on that claim as well. They would have one duel to settle both matters. In honor of Miyazaki they would duel Mantis style, by drinking sake for an hour before they dueled.
As they became inebriated, Hakuseki played another of her cards. She revealed a small vial to Shimzu and Shimzu alone, indicating that she had poisoned his mother and without her antidote Shimzu’s mother, along with his ties to the Mantis would be gone. Was she lying? Just another trick? Or was this person, who none of us believed any longer was the woman Miyazaki intended to marry, telling the truth? It mattered not, Shimzu would not be deterred. Samurai do not choose their path based on their desires, but their duty. The duel would continue.
Kakita was first to strike but as he brought down the killing blow, the Scorpion’s tail was revealed. Hakuseki summoned all her discipline to strike him at the same moment. Both blades were sheathed in the blood of their foes. Kakita, crippled fell to one knee. Hakuseki lay still on the ground. Soon she would be judged in Medio.
Though the Sezume (Sparrow) daimyo sanctioned the duel between Kakita and Hakuseki, following the emperor’s wishes, they continued their Iajitsu match with the remaining contestants.
Before Shimzu left to duel Hakuseki he entrusted the safely of his betrothed to Al-Saleen. “We do not know what other dangers lurk in this forest, please, watch over my wife to be.” Al-Saleen bowed and told her he would not fail his brother. As he watched the duelists, however, maintaining his own focus became difficult. When Nikku stepped up to duel, his heart began to flutter again with thoughts of Utaka Nayan. This however, could not distract him from his duties as a protector, nor his performance in the competition. Al-Saleen found his seat of meditation, unconsciously falling into first stance, and remained vigilant over his ward.
When his chop was drawn, Al-Saleen handed back the care of Sezume Jukno to Shimzu, who was recovering quickly thanks to the water kami’s blessing. Al-Saleen stepped into the dueling square with a new daisho at his side. Once again his sword had changed. Engraved into the hilt was the mon of the Dragon alongside that of the Oriel, a gift, if temporary from his father in law. His partner was a Kakita, but one who practiced a style he had never scene. Her stance was as delicate as a cherry blossom, poised as perfect as origami, yet utterly impractical in an real fight. Al-Saleens in comparison was relaxed and graceful, part of his breathing, part of his walk. As they appraised each other, Al-Saleen could tell he was the better duelist, and yet his opponent did not back down. Peacefully she continued to focus. At last when she could not, his blades, both katana and wakazashi were drawn in an instant and sheathed as quickly.
For those whose eyes were fast enough, two things were noticed. The first was that Al-Saleens blade touched the Katkita as light as a summer wind, dashing a wrap from her kimono, but nothing else. The second, which could have either been a joke, and insult or a sign of respect, his blades were not steel but wooden boken, training swords.
The Kakita Artisan bowed deeply, but was sad. “Now my kimono is not perfect.” Eventually she offered it as a gift to Al-Saleen, would add to it dragon colors to fill in the spaces where it needed to be expanded. The Sparrow were impressed. I think in many ways this peaceful display of skill without violence and mutual admiration was what they tried to teach. 5 points. Banzai!
The Daisho Returned
When Miyazaki’s eta returned they were ashamed and terrified. The brought back Hakuseki’s clothing but not her body, for the body had disappeared.
A scorpion in the strangest of masks, all white covering his or her face completely approached Sodano Shiko in spoke in a whisper that did not betray the speaker’s gender. “Please, come with me.” Shiko followed the strange scorpion into the woods where the mystery turned and provided him a Daisho. “I am Bayushi Nomen. Please forgive our clan for the wrong doing done to the Sapphire Magistrates. Please know we do not support these actions and will seek to make amends.” Having turned over Tsurichi Nadu’s daisho, the scorpion ran off, disappearing into the woods.
Later when Shiko competed in the Iajitsu duel he faced a Bayushi bushi who bowed out as a further apology to the Sparrow for Bayushi Hakuseki’s actions. 5 Points. Banzai!
Day Two – Round Two
Kakita Shimzu competed into the Toku’s Kenjitsu match. As he arrived he overheard the Toku arguing. “No, I’ve already stood in place for TWO sapphire magistrates. It is your turn!” Wearily, shaking in his stance a Monkey in heavy armor walked into the arena and awaited Shimzu’s strike. Perhaps the crane has mercy on the Toku, or was distracted by the humerous exchange. His blade fell short.
Isawa Yoshi completed his spell and the gift to the Fox.
Yoritom Miyazaki moved quickly to present the Fox with pictures of kelp, seaweed and other herbs of the ocean. He also gave them a vial of castor oil. Yum.
Mirumoto Al-Saleen competed in the Bat clan’s meditation contest. He held his concentration despite their distractions and did so admirably enough to gain the attention, if not the favor of last year’s winner. Kuni Kentone.
Sodano Shiko approached the hare and told them of his vigilance, his findings and his plan to support them in routing out the Kolat.
Ikoma Tso-Lou approached the Tsi are and commissioned a large number of tools. Anvils, hammers, lathes, chisels, planes and others. Then, will this grand assortment of tools present he began working on a doll… Yep a doll. Soon, Tsi Zutaka’s shadow loomed over him and in a voice deeper than the ocean asked “What. Are. You. Doing?”
Hardly missing a beat, Tso-Lou responded “I’m making a doll, could you step aside? You’re in my light.”
The giant of a man grabbed the anvil Tso-Lou was working on and tossed it away, ruining his work. “There is a bench over there where you can work.”
Despite the setback Tso-Lou did a remarkable job and was awarded most of the points he could have. 4 points. Banzai?
After the second round comleted Tsi Zutaka approached Mirumoto Al-Saleen. “You are an idiot and your friends are idiots as well. Give me back my daisho.” As I said, Al-Saleens new “sword” was temporary at best. Type your cut contents here.
We had a lot of great scenes, some very humorous, some very tense. Travis kept remarking that he was really happy most of the action was happening in the “events” but outside of them.
The scenes kept moving along at a fast pace. There was never a time when I was waiting for something to be over. We got to the juicy bits quickly and then cut the scene off.
What could have improved
We’ve all figured out how to “cheat” the scene economy and get all the important things we need to do during means or at night, specifically when it doesn’t cost us one of the eight scenes we are allotted. In once sense this makes perfect sense, compete during the day and schmooze at night, but the tournament is taking a long time because of it. One example that I really did enjoy was when Shimzu chose to duel Hakuseki rather than compete in the Sparrow Iajitsu contest. That was great, and example of the scene economy working.