Sunday, March 24, 2013

Blade and Silk e02 : Blood and Honor

Blade and Silk
Episode Two
"Another Province"

Blood and Honor

In another part of Old Japan, another Province finds itself caught in the tragic web of the Jorogumo.  Earlier, we learned of how the Kinitchi Clan fared against the spiders.  This time, another Province deals with their sticky reach.

The Province of Kaneshiro ("Gold Castle") under the Daimyo Kuroshinzo, whose madness made him somewhat unpredictable became the focus of today's tragedy.   While Cunning, the Daimyo suffered from a lack of Samurai to watch over his lands, the Rice Farm, the Gambling Den, and a Dojo.   But as the Province known best for its Meibutsu: Rice, the place would discover how rice too becomes the focus of the opening act.

Kuroshinzo's Samurai:
The Daimyo's Hatamoto: Katsuo ("Victory") played by Erich.
Rank 2.  Highest Virtue: Cunning at 5.  Weakness: Wisdom
None of Us is As Great as All of Us
Best Sword Stays In the Scabbard
One Word Can Warm the Winter
The General owned a Good Katana, and was Irreproachable.

His Ashigaru were Toro and Kyo, whose loyalty could not be questioned.

The Daimyo's Oniwaban:  Okage ("Secret") played by Rocky.
Rank 2. Highest Virtues: Beauty and Cunning both at 4.  Weakness: Strength
None of Us is As Great as All of Us
Best Sword Stays In the Scabbard
If my Dog Knew My Plans
The Oniwaban owned a Poor Katana, and was blessed by a Personal Ancestor (I Have No Magic...)

The Daimyo's Takumi:  Yukino ("Courage") played by Mahar.
Rank 2. Highest Virtue: Beauty at 4. Weakness: Prowess
None of Us is As Great as All of Us
If my Dog Knew My Plans
One Word Can Warm the Winter
She owned a Poor Katana, and held the Daimyo's Favor.

Clan Heraldry: Rice Stalk of Gold

Truths about the Clan:
Province isolated from the rest.  
Friendly to Jesuit Missionaries.
Clan was merged by marriage of two former warring clans, Yamashiro ("Mountain Castle") and Kanekawa ("Gold River")

SEASON: SPRING  (Daimyo is KIND this Season)
The story opens with the Hatamoto standing in a rice field to judge a scenario where three people were four people were present.  The wife of a farmer was selling rice to an outsider, and her husband was accusing her of having an affair with another farmer.  The travelling merchant himself claimed to have no knowledge of the rice being that of the Daimyo's.   At first the Hatamoto was at a loss on how to approach the subject, but thankfully the Oniwaban was in the area.  Quickly, he recognized the people and noted that the wife was the former Onmyoji of the late Emperor himself!  The two samurai soon determined that Muzuo, the traveler, had come to purchase rice because a deficit existed at the closest other Province.    When the samurai inspected the rice, they discovered it tampered with, which the wife Akia admitted to have been the one who had done so.  "Herbs and metals, lord Samurai" she explained, "The rice is made to last longer, and treated to serve the needs of the customer."  Feeling the matter settled can now be settled, the Oniwaban walked off and left the Hatamoto to make his pronouncements.  The General demanded the rice to still be sold, with the proper cut given to the Daimyo.  Then calmly insisted the couple visit the Takumi to settle their social dispute.

The other Province, Ukita Province, is known to have a Kind Daimyo.  Most unusual is how she is a woman, who rose to power after a dispute with the former Daimyo.  She killed the Daimyo, an act of revenge it was said to be for her family who had been massacred by him.  And prior to this, it was believed she served as his Hatamoto.  The deficit in rice is due to spending more than the Province needs to.  For what, however, was unclear.

Elsewhere, the building of a new Geisha House was underway.  The Daimyo had permitted its construction after the Takumi hinted at her hopes of seeing one built.  Jealous of the attentions, the Seneschal of the Daimyo, Shintaro.  Dressed in his pink and violet claws, the Karo uses his slippery tongue to twist the building of the Geisha House in a manner he prefers.  Sadly, he fails to realize the Daimyo will hate how the Geisha House faces the wrong heading, and will be fully aware that it was his call that had it built in that manner.  The Takumi allows herself a silent victory.

The Daimyo calls for his samurai and there, informs them all of an undertaking he wishes them to perform.  With the Oniwaban visiting ahead of the rest, the Daimyo explains that the Takumi and the Hatamoto are to deliver the Clan Blade as a gift to the Daimyo of Ukita Province.    The blade is exquisite and the gathered samurai silently consider what they know of the blade:

It belonged to the Kanekawa Clan (a fact Okage recognized from his childhood since he was of that Clan prior to the unification).  It was crafted under the order of the Emperor himself.  It is said no man has ever lost while wielding the sword, although the blade has never been drawn.  The last one who carried it, legend says, died horribly.

And the last fact declared to be true but none of the Samurai were aware of was:  The sword no longer had a blade.

The Daimyo however reminds the samurai the visit has a two-fold reason:  To ascertain if the Daimyo of Ukita has gone mad.  The Daimyo, it is said, claims to believe in spirits, or ghosts, or spider creatures from the forest.  "Find out if there is truth, before I take any further actions.  Then offer the gift if her sensibilities are sound."

With the Oniwaban off to visit the Province, the Takumi and the Hatamoto decide to call upon an unexpected ally to watch over the Province in their absence:  The Jesuit priests that have settled within the Province with the Daimyo's permission. They have established a small chapel in the lands after Yukino established ties with them for an exchange of arts, culture and science.  The Jesuits were impressed with how their Daimyo handled things.  The Jesuits had their own guards, and with the help of Masuo, a young boy who had been among the Jesuits for quite some time as a translator, the samurai discovered the power of the foreigner's weapons:  Dragonsticks, they were called.  Padre Francis Thomas agrees to watch over the Daimyo in their absence, and promises them they will do all in their power to keep him safe.

In Ukita, the Oniwaban arrives at a noodle house and was about to enjoy something to eat when a bunch of bandits arrived and began throwing their weight around. With a carefully selected choice of words, Okage succeeds in dismissing the fools without drawing his own blade, and this act is witnessed by the Kaishaku of Ukita Province, Takahanta.  The Executioner steps inside and clips the Clan Sword close to his body, a visual declaration that he has not come for a fight, and after introductions (where he reveals a level of Cunning and Wisdom suited to a Spymaster) admits he has worries of the Daimyo's sanity.  The Spymaster however knows him more than he realizes.   Okage is aware that Takahanta is the Daimyo's brother, and that he watches over her as her Yojimbo as well.    He offers to introduce him to the Daimyo, an offer he readily accepts.

The meeting goes well, with the Daimyo Mitsune taking his arrival with much welcome.  She clearly has feelings for Kuroshinzo, and does truly believe in spider spirits which she claimed had abducted her when she was young.  She shares how the Province struggled to be freed from their yoke and it was only after the burning of the rice that the spiders became less demanding with their visits.  It was only with the treated rice from Kaneshiro that the spiders ceased their assault.  The Oniwaban begins to realize there is something that does not mesh with their mission.  Given the secretive sale of rice to this Province, an act he feels that would have been impossible without their Daimyo's blessing, it would be foolish to think the Daimyo did not believe in the spirit stories, when the herbs and metals mixed in the rice seemed to have helped weakened the excursions of the spiders. There was an angle they were not seeing.

The following morning, the Hatamoto and the Takumi made their preparations for the journey to Ukita Province.  With the Clan Sword wrapped carefully and tied behind the Courtier, the two traveled through the thick forest and hoped for a peaceful journey.  What they encounter was at first laughable, until it became clear the initial threat was merely a feint to disarm them.  The group of bandits were led by two young boys, Kaizoku (who used a length of chain with a hook) and Ichigo (who used a pair of short blades).  The group, numbering ten, demanded for the sword.  But when Ichigo realizes the two are samurai, he tries to talk Kaizoku out of challenging them.  The Takumi shares a long speech of how they can simply travel to Kaneshiro province and there, look for the Karo.  "If you are willing to work, I am certain the Province is willing to pay and feed you." The bandits seemed convinced and as they slowly made their way back the way the two samurai came, that was when the first few poison darts were launched!

The Hatamoto plants rushes to help the bandits who are brought down by the poison, while the Takumi parries the initial assault as twelve men armed with swords descend from the trees.  The Hatamoto grabs one of the bows of the bandits and begins launching an onslaught of pain upon the attackers, taking down two or three with each release of the string.  Their leader, a Samurai, is clipped by Katsuo's arrow and withdraws.  The Takumi maneuvers into a safer location and by the end of the conflict, two are kept alive for questioning.  They break easily and admit to having been sent by someone called Seikichi.  They came for the sword.   They set up camp to rest for the night and do what they can to treat the wounded bandits.

The following morning, the Oniwaban realizes the others have not arrived.  He studies the castle of Ukita province for any tactical advantages to note.  The floorboards creaky.  A lot of the walls are stone.  The  main hall with the throne can hide bowmen above to ambush those approaching.   And based on walking around, the dimensions indicate there are secret passages.  There are shinto symbols any many other wards around the castle.   He learns of the former Samurai that served at this Province, of the Hatamoto Hokusai, the Seneschal Yaguchi and the Spy Master Nezuri, who had all entered the woods to find the spiders but never returned.

The camp was attacked during the night.  The Hatamoto awakens to find one of the old samurai of Ukita Province holding his katana to his throat.  The old man identifies himself as Nezuri and calmly asks the General if he is willing to give up the Clan Blade for the woman.  But when Katsuo's honor demands he protect the blade, Yukino realizes she will have to find a way to free herself while the General safely delivers the blade.  

More truths about the Spiders are remembered as the Samurai all harken back to what they know of these spirits.  The treated rice held it at bay.  The treatment transformed it into something the spirits could not approach.  The spiders were trapped in the forests, not hiding in them!   Their targets were virgins.  But these were not just typical meals they devoured.  They needed to win the affection of the virgin.   Rejection would mean death.   They were territorial and extremely protective of their ground.  They would slay any other spider they see in their lands.

But again, the Daimyo knew of these as true.  And had been sending the rice.  He was wooing Daimyo Kitsune.

The Oniwaban remembered facts about the former onmyoji which he had overlooked.  She was in the Province in hiding. She believed there still was one of the royal blood of the Emperor.  Someone who can rule.  She hid the Emperor's Seal, and vowed only to reveal it when the bloodline resurfaced.

And that was who Daimyo Mitsune was.  She and her brother were children of the Emperor.  They were sent to Ukita to be raised in secret.  Which meant, their own Daimyo wanted to marry into the line.  He wanted to gain the seat of the Emperor.  And if he vanquished the spider, it would be the beginning of his legend.

But there was still one last detail that the spymaster could not put down.

Okage speaks Mitsune and her brother, Takahanta.  Given the nature of the gift, Mitsune was to turn down the present, but Okage suggested to wait until the gift was formally presented.   And as they consider their stance, they see a pillar of smoke rise from the forest.  A sign perhaps of where the spider lay.  "We simply happen to both fight the same foe in the woods.  This is not a formal alliance."  The two parties agree and head there.

Yukino awoke to find Nezuri taunting her about her predicament.  But while her Courage holds, tides shift away from her favor when one of the Hatamoto's Ashigaru is dragged into the scene, a prisoner himself.  Toro had earlier witnessed a betrayal, as their Daimyo attacked the Seneschal, and manifested a clearly inhuman form.  Toro ran to send word to his General, while Kyo charged to try and defeat the beast.  The Daimyo Kuroshinzo himself turned out to be a Spider as well.  And it had hoped to claim the Royal Blood of the Emperor.  To prove the seriousness of their threats, Nezuri kills the young warrior before the Samurai, and promises her death is not far behind.

While the former samurai considered their actions, Yukino finds help in the form of Kaizoku and Ichigo, who had snuck after her abductors.  While one headed up to try and pull her from the webs she was strung upon, Ichigo had the (not quite smart) idea to burn the sharp spikes below that were to impale Yukino had she broken free.  The smoke alerted the enemy to their attempted escape, but as fate would have it, informed the Oniwaban and the rest of where the spider lay.

The other Samurai arrive, with the battle in the woods being quite short once the katanas were drawn.  Okage and Katsuo eventually face off with the deadly Hokusai who had an Archer's Eye.  But while he aimed for Okage, the Spy Master noted all his deficiencies brought about by age and experience, from his wounds to his single eye and the clear touch of fear in his stance.  Even as the arrow was loosed, the spy master did not bother to dodge.  He knew the arrow had no chance of hitting him.

Katanas clashed, and Katsuo was the clear victor.  He senses the other Hatamoto's shame and realizes the Hatamoto wishes to at least die as a samurai even if he knew now how far from Honor he had fallen.  Katsuo grants it with a single stroke.

And finally, the spider.  Seikichi snarls as the Katsuo and Yukino arrive to prevent its escape.  The Daimyo Mitsune arrives as well, and she draws her blade to challenge the monster.  Seikichi bears her blad-sharp appendages and warns them that death is all that shall come for them.  No duels to come in this one.  The monster deserves no honor.  But as Mitsune moves to slay the monster, the monster's own strike closes in to fatally wound the bearer or the royal blood.  Katsuo angles his blade to parry the monster's blow.  He succeeds.  But as Seikichi planned, the angle forces his blade to touch Daimyo Mitsune's.  As the Spider died, is croaks out a death rattle of joy that the two samurai will have no choice BUT to duel against each other.  "Your traditions bind you far tighter than any web I could have spun.."

Mitsune bows and asks that the duel be settled in the future.  That for now, both parties have chanced upon each other "by chance."  And that they should best return to their own Provinces.   To fulfill the duty, Yukino mentions the present.  Mitsune formally rejects the gift.

And Okage throws Takahanta a veiled reminder that Royal Blood has its responsibilities.  And hints that he is aware that he is the brother of the Daimyo.  If there was anyone meant to regain the seat of the Emperor, it was not Mitsune.  It was him.


They return to Kaneshiro to discover that their Daimyo Kuroshinzo is dead.  As it turns out, Kyo did not fail in doing his duty.   Instead, as he moved into strike the monster that attacked the now dead Seneschal, his skill with the blade was far better than the Spider's prowess.  Kuroshinzo was dead and slain by the Ashigaru's skill.  The Clan was in trouble of being divided back into the two warring clans as factions began to call for justice, while others (perhaps having heard of rumors of the Daimyo being inhuman) called him a hero.  The Jesuits with their rifles positioned themselves as a neutral party to retain the Province's sense of order, at least until the three remaining Samurai determine what is to happen now and who is to take the seat of the Daimyo in Kaneshiro Province.

The tragedy continues.

Game Notes:
First, amazing game.  My favorite moment was when the Oniwaban uses all his wagers to inflict upon the archer reasons why he will miss, down to the last being, "It is hard to strike your opponent effectively with a bow when you only have one functioning eye."  Given I've never described the guy in detail save for this clothing and the bow as a choice of weapon, it felt very apt for the player to reflect how the opponent was old, used to using the bow even if his effectiveness was impaired by his Winter aspects of age.

The twist of Daimyo Mitsune having Royal Blood was another player initiated fact.  The three players were really getting the hang of using their wagers, it can get scary!

I was hoping to use these pieces for art to color up this blog entry, but I decided it would be better to just share the link to you guys as a possible inspiration for your own Blood and Honor sessions.  Enjoy the works of Junshan Ink.

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