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Hida Jitenno

Dark Winter in the North

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The gates of Kyuden Asako have closed three weeks before the official start of the Winter Court. Unseasonable blizzards have swept across the Phoenix Lands. Fortunately for our intrepid party, their invitations came and travel was timely arranged.

This is not the Winter Court. Hantei II is wintering at Kyuden Akodo, as are all the Clan Champions and Elemental Masters. Rumors fly throughout the town that Otomo's son will be attending, searching for a wife among the Asako. Several taisa from the War represent all the Clans, and a retired elderly Priestess of Bishamon is preparing the opening ceremonies.

Today, though, the festivities have not yet begun. After three days of nonstop snowfall, there has finally been some sun. The servants have cleared away an outdoor terrace, lit eight braziers around. Four shugenja students, likely old enough to take their gempukku in the spring, tend to the fires, moving the warm air about for a pleasant early-fall temperate.

Various under-dignitaries have assembled to talk. Even if the official Winter Court hasn't started, maneuvering has begun. Favors are being discussed behind fans, while veterans share quiet moments for comrades lost.

Into this scene, our PCs enter!

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Kamaitachi moves among the braziers, trying to start conversations with dignitaries, but finds her face paint makes the conversations stop the moment she draws near.
She is irritated. She is supposed to act as a courtier to push through a very important political project. How is she to succeed if she can't even strike up a talk with low-level courtiers?

She is about to pester the young shugenja, who would be status-bound to talk to her, a fully acclaimed shugenja, when she spots Jinyo, with whom she fought campaigns during the war.
She walks over to him and says: "It seems we are destined to meet in the most remote corners of the empire. Do you have plans to visit the center of the Shinomen forest in spring?"

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Jinyo pauses and looks up from his sake cup, the beginning of a smile on his face upon seeing his old war comrade.  He replies, "Evil need not be feared for there is no evil that can obscure the workings of Bishamon's vow.  And though the snows now descend upon us, it is said by those who remember that spring often comes early to the Shinomen."

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"Alas, we never seem to meet where the flowers are in bloom. But I guess you don't see embers in the sunlight.
What brings you here, of all places? I am told everyone of importance has gone someplace else...
Me myself, I hope to get the priestess's blessing for the effort to strike the iron while its hot and invade the territory of The Enemy, now that he is cast down. Two years have been squandered, but with luck and the Kami on our side, we may still pervail and spare the coming generations what you and me had to endure through times so dark."

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I too seek answers, the kind that one may only find in the darkness, or so it seems.  Winter is a time for seeking and meditating, storing ki for what is to come.  Besides, I hear the Elemental Masters are here.  I would seek counsel concerning this red jade I wear around my neck.

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Posted (edited)

"I fear you are mistaken, old friend. I was told the Elemental Masters are at Kyuden Akodo, for the Winter Court. Yet we are at Kyuden Asako. Although I can assure you that you are right at least two out of five, I hope you have not come to the wrong castle, the snows may make changing castles impossible anywhere outside of a chess board.

Red jade, you say? You know that jade are the tears of the goddess Amaterasu, but all jade I have seen is green.
Not that red is necessarily bad, especially for the Sun Goddess. But you are right to ask the masters about this, anything uncommon that relates to the Kami should make us take note.

Perhaps we can find the priestess of Bishamon. She might not be shugenja, but a priestess in a castle of the Phoenix is bound to have vast knowledge. At the very least, of where to look for more."

Edited by Harzerkatze

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Ahh; indeed I was misinformed as to the location of the Elemental Masters.  But perhaps the Priestess may offer insights.  I know that red jade is said to possess energy and life-force and enhances one's passions and creativity.  But I feel there's even more to this stone, as it seemed to protect me in the Shadowlands.  But since then I cannot tap its powers.  Somehow I feel it is connected to my father, but alas, his notes were burned in the fire that orphaned me and set me on this strange path. 

Forgive me, such heavy matters upon seeing an old friend.  Let us relax a bit.  I, for one, could use another cup of sake.  And your pleasure?

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At the mention of sake, a nondescript servant appears, eyes downcast, holding a well-crafted wooden box, steaming in the almost-warm air. The servant's robes are marked with the Isawa mon, indicating the family he serves. The bottle is marked with the kanji 'Kyou' - Apricot. He bows, presenting the bottle for approval or dismissal.

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Jinyo motions for the servant to leave the sake, nodding ever so slightly.  Admiring the the bottle he turns to Kamaitachi,   "So pleasant to find fruit in winter, particularly in liquid form.  I know Kyuden Asako is famed for many things, its library and gardens among them.  Certainly the former can wait for the morrow.  But I was wondering if you are familiar with the gardens?  It is said that rare birds sometimes roost in fruit trees, even in winter.  Perhaps a stroll may be in order after our sake."

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"I fear that since our encounter with the jinmenju at our stroll past Fallen Chrysanthemum Lake, gardens have lost their tranquility for me. I always feel like the faces are still watching me from the branches. Let us inquire as to the whereabouts of her Serene Highness. Perhaps we can get an audience, while everyone else huddles around these braziers."

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"My friend I must instruct you in the arts of meditation.  All experiences can be channeled into something positive and in the Void there is insight, should one only realize it.  Enlightenment can be the thunderbolt that awakens and cleanses the mind.

As for her Highness, I fear serenity may not be at the end of our journey for Lord Togashi grants me insights into what may come."

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"Ha! I remember what happened last time you tried to teach me meditation. My legs fell asleep so badly I could not get up when those goblins attacked us.
Was still eye-to-eye with them on my knees, though...

But what serenity-threatening insights are you talking about?
The war is over, and we are at the other end of the empire.
What is the worst that could happen, here?"

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"For now we are safe and we should take advantage of this.  There is much wisdom here and it is a good place to re-center one's ki.  But darkness shall once again be our path.  But we shall not be alone.  I saw a scorpion in my vision.  And we both know that can be a mixed blessing...."

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"I would translate a vision of a scorpion as 'Be careful where you step', not a hopeful sign that we will not be alone.
But I am only a shugenja who every day talks to the Kami themselves, what do I know."

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As if on cue, Isawa Itto, formerly Bayushi Itto would step into the area, his robes a resplendant crimson red and black, the Bayushi family mon on the front, indicating his allegiance. 

Seeing the two, he would execute a perfect bow, bending to the two in respect.

”Greetings. I did not expect anyone else to be here. Thus, I apologise for intruding.”

The male said politely.

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Kamaitachi looks stunned for a moment, then she laughs behind her fan.
"Lord Togashi's vision is very timely! A few heartbeats later, and I would have called it "hindsight".

But well met, Isawa-San! We already feared all the Phoenix had followed the sun and flown to the south.
I am Kamaitachi of the Kuni family, to the far south. I bring tidings and discoveries from the lands of The Enemy.
My good friend Togashi-San here has come from across the mountains, with an important question for the wisdom of the Isawa.

Now, if you could, as a favor for me, answer him with an incredible annoying riddle, it would be just repayment for the kind of advice he has given me over the years."

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"Fear not, friend Crab.  One simply needs to keep polishing one's mind and the Way shall become clear.  Shall our Scorpion friend partake of the sting of the Isawa with us?  I can attest to its refreshing qualities."

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Posted (edited)

Itto tilted his head ever so slightly.

”Ah, do I know you from somewhere perhaps...? I am afraid I do not recognise you, my apologies, Kuni-san.” 

He bowed to Kamaitachi, surprised she called him Isawa-san before he had even introduced his name.

He then bowed to Jinyo.

”It would be my pleasure, Togashi-san.”

He replied, settling down beside them in a seiza position, identifying the male’s surname from his robes and unique tattoos.

“Hmmm... I do have a riddle, if it interests you.”

He smiled.

”You are walking along a river and see a boat, filled with people, yet there isn’t a single person on the boat, why?” 

 

Edited by Von3679

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"Ha! That's easy. The boat is a performer's boat, so it is filled with hinin. And scores of non-persons add up to not a single person.

But if you like riddles, here is one from my childhood: This little boxer always swings a big left, but never hits, despite all his leg work. What is he?"

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Itto let out a chuckle.

”I’m afraid that’s not the answer Kuni-san. Would you like to take a try Togashi-san?” 

He asked, eyes twinkling in mischief.

”I have not heard that one before.”

He then let out a hum as he thought.

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“That is correct Togashi-san.”

Itto smiled and let out a bow. He then admired the sake flask gently, tracing the kanji on it.

”Kyou... how apt.” 

He then let out a soft chuckle, gesturing for a servant to come and pour the sake for them. 

“Shall we have a taste?”

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Posted (edited)

Kamaitachi raises her glass towards both and drinks.

"As our humble monk will no doubt remind you, the point of a riddle is not to know it, but to through its prism see the illusions of the world refracted ...something something... Enlightenment!
I may have dozed through some of that.

Now, before the suspense gets in the way of our drinking: The answer is a fiddler crab!
Although I guess it's easier to guess at the other end of the world, in the villages of my youth.

Anyway, Jinyo, show him your jade pendant. Itto-san, have you ever seem something like this?"

Edited by Harzerkatze

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