Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Unifying Calligraphy : Blood and Honor

11/11/2013
Unifying Calligraphy
A One Shot for a Friend session

Blood and Honor

This was a requested game night session that some friends asked for to help accompany a friend of their's back into the gaming world. The friend had stopped gaming for a while due to personal reasons and his friends thought it would be nice to have him dive back in with a tagsessions game.  Of course, who am I to say no to that?

*

The Clan was called Toitsu (Unifying) and the province was known for its Calligraphy.  The clever Daimyo, who was known for his Prowess, had the following Samurai in his service:

Taiki (Large Radiance) was the Onmyoji, played by Jojo.
Taiki was blessed with visions and was known to be quite Charismatic.

Takeru (Warrior) was the Kaishaku, played by Matt.
Bearer of the Clan Blade, he was Born to the Blade and known to be as Swift as Lightning.

Shizuka (Quiet and calm) was the Oniwaban, played by Princess.
She was gifted with Insight and it was said that the Winds Whisper Things To Her.

Shori (Victory) was the Hatamoto, played by Nikos.
He was perceptive and loved the game of Go, being the Excellent Strategist he was.

Kujaku (Peacock) was the Takumi, played by Rocky.
He had the Daimyo's Favor and was respected by all for his Resourcefulnes.

The story begins one late evening, as the Samurai continue their duties.  Shizuka is looking out of the window when she senses something is wrong.  She clambers up to the roof of the Daimyo's palace to find a man dressed in dark robes of a Samurai there.  The man identifies himself as Fukuro and admits he his the Oniwaban of another Clan.  He warns her that the Masayoshi Clan will no longer stand by.  He warns her that the Toitsu Clan has no choice but to surrender.  After delivering his message, he leaves by leaping into the darkness of the night.

At the Training Dojo, Takeru battles against their foot soldiers and is happy to see that it takes all eighteen of them for one to finally strike close enough to tear part of his robe.  He leaves them with words of encouragement and finds a vistor at the Dojo's door.  The man, in his green and black robes, presents himself as Chochimochi, lawgiver of Edo and he has come to continue an investigation.  He asks the Kaishaku to be escorted to a place he can stay the night.   The Kaishaku identifies the green seal of the Emperor and brings him to a nearby geisha house to rest and relax.   He then hurries to see the Daimyo to inform him of the visitor.

At the Geisha house, Kujaku hears from the Okami about how the new okiya are still not ready.  The Daimyo had suddenly shifted in his tastes and the Okami was forced to find new young girls to train.  The Courtier learns that even the type of tea the Daimyo likes has changed now to one he prepares himself.   This change intrigues Kujaku, and he decides to visit the Daimyo to learn more.

Shori is in the presence of the Daimyo as they talk about how they acquired a western cannon.  Back then, travelling wise men had visited the province and were seeking to acquire the knowledge of their calligraphy.  They gave in exchange the formula for the gun power and the techniques to create a weapon that used it.  And how the cannon currently resides safe beneath the Daimyo's room, with a pulley system ready to haul it to key locations to protect the province.  At first, the discussion was about how the Fushuri Clan has its concerns. The Takumi was to go with the Kaishaku to settle the matter.  "The Kaishaku is an open sign of prestige.  We should have a hidden ear to accompany the envoy." Shori soon learns that the Daimyo wishes to talk about something of import.  However, he asks the Hatamoto to get some hot water.  Shori is a bit surprised that the Daimyo would prepare the tea himself! He turns down the offer three times before finally leaving to get the water.  Along the way, he bumps into Kujaku and Takeru.  While the three argue over who should bring the water over, Shizuka walks past them all and heads straight to the Daimyo to report what she had encountered.  But the Daimyo asks her to wait, has the others gather, and invites them all to step into his chambers and join him for tea.    Courtier recognizes the tea: It is from the Imperial Gardens. It is very rare. It cannot travel far. "I do hope your brother his well."

As they enjoy the tea, each Samurai share their reports and the Daimyo seems unsurprised.  He admits to them that the Clan had actually been in a tenuous relationship with the Masayoshi Clan since the last year and the Daimyo had hoped to settle things amicably.  However, things did not come to pass in their favor.  The Masayoshi Clan had declared war, and the Daimyo, it seems had been attempting all diplomatic approaches in secret all this time.    Aware that the time has come to step forward and do something about the situation, the Daimyo charges Shizuka to infiltrate the opposing Clan's province to learn what she can of their strength.  Then, Takeru and Shori were to take charge of preparations for the war itself.

Are we ready for war?  The Hatamoto reports:
"We have pre-surveyed locations where the cannon would be effect."
"Gears and pulleys, allow our great cannon to be moved."
"We have watch towers at strategic spots. The guards know how to signal others visually, if need be."
"We have done the best to teach the Samurai and the Ashigaru to use the cannon."
"Fortress is ready for supplies for a long siege."
"A Treaty has also been signed with the nearby Provinces: refugees may go here."
"We also have blacksmiths from the allied Clan."

Taiki, however, would be the first to feel the brush of violence.  High up the moutain, 800 steps from the province itself, was the temple.  As he was making offerings to the ancestors in the Shinto temple, a visitor who smells of burning hair was to warn him of the impending danger.  The man was bald and had an unhealthy tone to his skin.  The deformed monk was Morokoshi, and Taiki knew him from the before as a young man named Takeshi.  "I can only warn you that danger comes to the Clan.  Depart and leave while you can.  The Masayoshi cannot be stopped."  As Taiki thanked the monk for his warning, a second visitor would come to bring violence.  Arrogantly dressed in red and blue, with a coiled golden dragon adorning his chest, Hagane Hito would come forward to threaten Taiki with his drawn Katana.  The Onmyoji remains calm and makes a prediction that moment that the Toitsu Clan shall prevail in the end.  When Hagane Hito is told by Fukuro to withdraw, the Hatamoto cuts himself with his blade, "This blade shall taste Samurai blood," he snarls.

*

The samurai gather and consider the preparations for war.  Of the military strength of Masayoshi, they have learned the following facts:
"They are strategically weak."
"They do not understand the power of gunpowder."
"They have no horses."
"Toshiba Clan rumored to have gone against the Emperor."
"Secret cave network of tunnels to escape exist behind the Shinto Temple."

*

The Executioner visits the Omniyoji and learns of the recent attack.  Given the troubles, Taiki decides it would be best to tell the Executioner about the Clan Sword.  He tells him of the legend of the sword.  How it was said to proclaim, "I have no principles."
The Kaishaku replies, "I shall follow and embrace the walking away from tradition."

With a determined declaration, the Onmyoji proclaims, "We will prevail."

*

"You've uncovered where the tea comes from."

"For several months," the courtier muses.

"Then you know why she sends the tea to me.  I have a secret. None know. But the Masayoshi may have uncovered it.   How else would they gain the emperor's approval?"

The courtier nods to the Daimyo's words, but his eyes scrutinize the man more thoroughly.  There was something he was not admitting.  Through Cunning, the courtier noticed the following things: He concealed a small portrait of the family on his person, he and brother look very very alike, he has no sisters, and he has been dye-ing his hair.

The courtier slowly began to understand what was going on.

*

The Daimyo writes a letter, addressed to his mother, who lives somewhere nearby the waterfalls.  The spy master's network reports this to him.  The spymaster also learns that the Masayoshi are a bigger Province (Rank 2) and seek to eliminate the Daimyo.  They believe they have to stop him from usurping the Emperor's throne.

*

The Geishas gather more information on the Masayoshi, based on the rumors people have shared.   The Daimyo supposedly is mad, but currently ambitious.  The hatamoto, Hagane Hito, is said to be Invulnerable and had survived a few Katana strikes in the past.  Most intriguingly, the Masayoshi do not have an Onmyoji.  It was said that the Masayoshi fields suffered from pests the previous season, their armies have been showing signs of discontent.  Many of the common folk believe they are being punished by their ancestors. And there are rumors the Masayoshi do not have an Executioner nor Yojimbo.  They have no Clan Sword.

The Daimyo admits to them that the Masayoshi have been attacking since the previous year.  Just that a lot of the attacks have been subtle.  It is then that they realize that the Masayoshi have embraced the symbology of the owl.

And owls never build their own nests.

"They have been among us all this time."

*

Summer arrives.  A new Season.  At the Shinto Temple to discuss the unfolding war.  The Onmyoji speaks to the rest of his prediction. "My readings remain the same.  We will prevail."

The Samurai gather at the home of the Spy Master for a meeting with the Daimyo.  They speak of the cannon being prepped for the fight.  Of a landslide, ready to be triggered, to block the mountain trail leading to the Province, to force any enemy army to a narrower path.  And of having enough supplies to hunker down and wait the war out for months to come.

But then the Masayoshi strike, and their manner of attack catches the others off-guard.  Rather than attacking with their disgruntled army, the enemy samurai instead stalk the streets of the Province.  The Masayoshi soldiers that had infiltrated the Toitsu Clan's army had found their way into the palace and had uncovered the cannon.  However, not truly knowing how to use it, they instead accidentally discharge it.  The cannon booms as it destroys part of the Daimyo's home.  And the people panic as the enemy Samurai walk the streets and slay anyone that comes too close or catches their attention.

"Clan Toitsu was to prevail," the Onmyoji reminds them, and the samurai rush outside.  Shori sees the Masayoshi Hatamoto at the street, but rather than confront the man, he diverts to the palace to deal with the cannon.  Part of the landslide was triggered by accident and great rocks roll from the mountainside onto the province, destroying homes, farms and killing people.  As Shori reaches the palace and finds the ruins of the Daimyo's room he realizes the enemy that hoped to steal the cannon had instead killed themselves.  He ushers the Ashigaru to gather and calls on the other warriors to follow his lead.  When he notices the other Samurai from other nearby provinces (perhaps provinces attacked by the Masayoshi months earlier), he demands they come to help and gets disgruntled when they refuse to obey his commands.  When he chances upon Morokoshi, the monk that came to warn Taiki, he instead has the monk killed despite the monk's show of surrender.  Shori cared nothing about dishonoring the Clan, given the anger in his heart.
Given the last minute-nature of the game, this art work served
as the key inspiration for the enemies in the story.

Takeru and Shizuka find themselves encountering Fukuro, who hurls owl-shaped daggers at the Samurai to stop them.  When Takeru tells Shizuka to go ahead and guide the Daimyo and the others to safety, he raises the Clan sword to challenge Takeru to a duel.  Honor-bound, Fukuro drops from his hiding place and agrees to the duel, which has Takeru telling the nearby soldiers to move aside and leave them to fight.  However, Fukuro reveals his empty hands as he proclaims, "I do not believe in swords."  Honor demands that Takeru fight in this battle of Strength instead of Prowess, and in his mind he realizes Strength is his Weakness.  "Then I shall keep my in its sheath," Takeru clutches the sword against his arm, so only the hilt stretches slightly from his closed fist.   "Let us end this."  The exchange is swift, and Fukuro gets cut by the blade when the sheath is accidentally flung from the blade.  With honor at stake, Takeru realizes he must end the fight quickly and slams the hilt against Fukuro to knock him out.  As a show of honor, he commends Fukuro's skill, but then demands that he surrender having lost in the duel.  Fukuro yields.

As Taiki, Shizuka and Kajuki escort the Daimyo down the road, the Hatamoto catches sight of them and closes in to kill the Daimyo.  Taiki insists the two leave and promises he will buy the others time.  The Hatamoto, Hagane Hito, was believed to be Invulnerable, but Taiki believed in what the ancestors whispered to him and embraced the faith that he would succeed.  The battle was cruel, with Hito slicing deep into Taiki's arms with his blade, but staying it enough to avoid amputating the onmyoji's arms.  Pride had Hito boast to everyone else how he was invulnerable and the general just could not help but waste time boasting about his superior Prowess.

Kujaku and Shizuka bring the Daimyo into the Geisha House, and as the Okami brings him away, a geisha in the house stands forward to challenge the Samurai.  The woman was muscular and deadly, and Shizuka stepped forward to do battle.   Armed with a whip, Shizuka seems to have an upper hand at first, but against two Samurai, she easily is forced to yield as well.  The Daimyo, now hidden in a disguise, escapes with the two samurai towards the Shinto Temple.  The group steps outside in time to see Hagante Hito losing to Taiki as the Onmyoji strikes a blow into the Hatamoto with the blessings of the ancestors surrounding him.

As the Daimyo steps into the Shinto Temple with the tow samurai, they find themselves facing a man with a similar face at the entrance to the tunnel.  The man, the leader who had lead the Masayoshi clan to strike, turns out to be the true Daimyo of the Toitsu Clan. The man resembled the face of the Emperor, and it soon becomes clear that the Emperor - in a fevered dream to leave his commitments and embrace a different life - had replaced the Daimyo of the Toitsu Clan.  No one believed the original Daimyo of what had happened and this fractured his already fragile psyche.  Driven mad, the original Daimyo now believed himself to be the TRUE Emperor, and "sensed" that the Toitsu Clan's Daimyo, who "resembled him", was planning to replace him on the throne and take over the empire!

The two samurai could not come closer, as both noticed that the mad one had acquired a gift from the foreigners as well: a lit cloth to ignite a fuse, and a pistol.    The words of the Omnyoji returned to their minds:  The Toitsu Clan shall prevail!  Who was the Toitsu Clan?  The original but now mad Daimyo?  Or the one they served?  To whom did this prediction apply to?

"We are the Toitsu Clan," the Courtier mumbled just enough for the other samurai and their Daimyo to hear, "No matter what has happened, we are the Toitsu clan.  We will prevail."

A pistol was as deadly as a Katana.  The two knew one wrong move and the pistol could kill them just as quickly as the blade would.  However, both spied that the pistol was spilling its powder all around, and the bullet had dropped from its chamber from all his swaying.  At the right moment, the two rushed forward to separate their Daimyo from the mad one, and shove the mad one to the ground.  The powder however was scattered enough that when the mad one dropped the lit cloth, it ignited and enveloped the mad one in flames!

As he burned and died, the two samurai turned to the real Emperor, their Daimyo, and dropped to the ground in supplication.  The Daimyo... the Emperor.. frowned as he understood his time as the Daimyo was done.  It was time to return to his true responsibilities.

*

As the Province worked to repair the damage wrought upon the place, the Samurai spoke with the Emperor.  In some ways, the group felt something was different:  He wasn't truly the Daimyo they were meant to serve, nor was he one who followed the traditional ways.  However, he was someone they had grown to care for and trust.    And now he was to leave.

"When I see you again in the future, I will permit you to stand within 100 paces of me.  To perhaps even join me for a meal.  As Emperor there are duties that rules that must be retained."  He bequeathed the Province to Taiki, who was to become the new Daimyo of the Toitsu Clan.

The group gave their sad farewells and the Emperor began to walk towards the carriage waiting for him.  Chochinmochi, the emperor's policeman, held the door open and waited for the Emperor to step inside.  But then Kujaku stepped forward and realized something.  Against protocol, he spoke up.

"You meant something else, my Emperor."

All turned to the Courtier.

"What you meant to say was, we are the Toitsu Clan. The Clan of Unification.  Now the Clan is to help move forward to unify the rest of the land."

The Emperor stared at him, and then look at the other Samurai.  They all nodded in silent agreement, as they understood now that the Toitsu Clan, once a simple Province, was now to become an Empire.  And one day, it will truly embrace its name and unify all under heaven.

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