I, Shosuro Jinko, had finally arrived in the village of Tochi. As a relatively young courtier of no great standing, it had fallen to me to represent the Clan at Seppun Ayuma’s party as well as at Doji Haruki’s ostentatious pre-party the week before.
Upon my arrival at the village, I was directed to Doji-sama’s estate, where I was to be his personal guest. Once i had gotten settled in my private room, I was introduced to his other guests.
I was first introducd to a Dragon who called himself Mirumoto Chojiro. I’ll never understand the Dragon obsession with forsaking worldly goods. Especially as it does not seem to apply to their daisho, as his was of exceptional quality and was obviously well used and well taken care of.
It seems that Doji-sama has yet to learn of the danger represented by the Spider clan, as the next individual introduced himself as Daigotsu Katsuchiyo. Unlike most Spider I have had the ill-fortune to meet, he was of slight build and yet still obviously a bushi.
Finally, a Crab standing uncomfortably off to the side of the gathering caught my eye. After introducing myself, he informed me that he was a scout, by the name of Hiruma Nariaki, sent to represent the Crav at the festivities. It was obvious to any semi-intelligent observer that he would rather be else where than at this Crane village. While he was definitely no fellow courtier, it still was reassuring to have such an ally close at hand.
The center of the gathering was not a person, but rather a finely wrought daisho. Doji-sama informed us that this daisho had been given to his family by one of Seppun Ayuma’s ancestors and it was his divine pleasure to return it to the Seppun at the festival.
After not nearly enough small talk, the guests all retired to their rooms for the night. After only a few hours of slumber a loud shriek awakened the entire household. Seeming to come from the area of the earlier gathering, I quickly dressed myself, took my wakizashi, and hurried to the area.
Upon entering, I saw that I was not the only guest with the same thought as the other three had already arrived. Near one of the outer walls of the estate stood what remained of the daisho stand, obviously empty and partially broken. Kneeling before it, wailing in a loud voice, was Doji-san.
Quickly turning away out of respect, I looked around the room. Interestingly enough, a window above the daisho stand was broken, seemly an escape route for the thief. The daisho stand itself, while made of dark wood, had several darker stains, likely blood, and what looked to be dark-colored hair caught in one of the cracks in the wood.
In a few short moments, Doji-sama composed himself, stood and ordered all of his staff from the room. Turning toward the four of us who were guests in his home, he implored us to help him figure out who had perpetrated this heinous crime and recover the stolen daisho. He was needed to lead the caravan to Toshi Ranbo and could not stay and oversee the investigation himself.
Quickly we all agreed to help out. Thanking us, he left us with travel papers allowing us access to anywhere in the Empire for the next two weeks.
Turning to the scene of the crime, Hiruma-san quickly jumped up to the broken window and investigated the method of retreat the criminal took. Mirumoto-san closely examined the daisho stand, remarking at how odd it was to find such dark hair, especially here in Crane lands. Hiruma-san stuck his head back in the window and informed us that he had found a path of bloody handprints that lead out of the estate to where the thief mounted a horse.
Daigotsu-san questioned, or shall I say intimidated, the estate’s gardener who had happened to be tending to one of the estate’s gardens at the time of the theft. He saw a small dark-haired woman quickly leaving the estate with a bundle on her back. She mounted a horse and left via the western road, toward Crab lands.
From the outside of the estate, a guard house near the western road and a tea house were both immediately visible. Taking the initiative, I walked over to the guard house and asked if the guards had seem anything in the last few hours. Obviously unaccustomed to dealing with courtiers of any skill, the two guards there attempted to deceive me. Easily seeing through their deception, I cut to the quick and discover that the third guard, Daidoji Ginso, who was supposed to be on duty left the post unexpectedly several hours earlier.
Daigotsu-san and I went to the tea house to see if the mystery woman had been there. The owner of the tea house immediately approached Daigotsu-san when we entered. He was able to determine that there was a merchant present that had several ponies that we might be ale to procur. While he attempted negotiations with the drunk merchant and his bodyguard, I further questioned Shimoko, the mistress and owner of the establishment.
While Daigotsu-san was unsurprisingly unable to procur us four horses for travel, I was far more successful in my search for information. The strange woman had spent some time here alone, drinking tea. She had no visible mon on her clothing, carried a daisho as if she knew how to use it, and dissuaded others from joining her with an intense silent stare. Unfortunately, no one managed to survive the stare and find any information out about this strange woman.
So, that left us with one option, to follow her route south into the lands of the Crab. As we set off down the Western road out of the village, it was obvious that Hiruma-san was finally once more in his element. There was almost visible relief on his features as we crossed into the densely wooded area that was the northernmost part of the Crab lands. His keen eye for tracking easily kept us on the trail.
Several hours into the forest, Hiruma-san motioned for us to stop and be silent. Growing nearer, we could hear the movements of several men. Out of the dense forest stepped 3 Crab bushi. One quickly stepped forward and demanded to know what we were doing there and if we had travel papers. Upon showing him our papers, his demeanor only slightly changed. Demanding to know what we were doing for a Crane in Crab lands, things escalated quickly and before anyone could intervene he and Mirumoto-san had engaged in a duel.
In a flash of steel, the duel was over. Mirumoto-san stood, unbloodied and as calm as always. The crab sergeant, visibly bloodied, took a moment to compose himself and oddly enough welcomed us to Crab lands. He mentioned that we were near a village and if we were to stop in there, we should let them know we were friends of Sancho. With that, his underlings helped him off and they disappeared noisily into the forest.
Hiruma-san quickly led us to the village, where we were able to determine that the thief had stopped and tied her horse on the outskirts of town and gone in for some period of time before returning and riding off further into Crab lands. Given the choice between investigating why she entered the town and potentially cutting down her lead, we chose to investigate the town.
As to not offend the governor of the village, Hiruma-san and I went to his estate to declare our presence and see if he had any information that could be of use to us. While not pleased that we were there and that we had not brought our entire party, he was able to provide us some information through one of his servants. The thief called herself Seppun Kazumi and had visited the village several weeks prior, inquiring about Daidoji Haruki and his recent rise to power.
At the local tea house, Daigotsu-san and Mirumoto-san received a warm welcome after declaring themselves friends of Sancho. The patrons thought the woman might have visited the blacksmith, as he is the most popular attraction the village has to offer. However, after a brief discussion with him, they learned he had not met her.
We finally made our way to the Inn and there met with more luck. It seems that Seppun Kazumi had been there not too long before, had rested for a few hours and even helped the village fend off a goblin attack. About an hour before we arrived, she left the way she had come in.
Having seemingly exhausted the information this village had to offer, we picked the trail back up outside town and followed it farther into the Crab lands. After entirely too much time walking, our travel was interrupted by several Ronin. Obvious bandits, several stepped in front of us and several behind. By the sound of the bowstring being drawn, there was at least one more off in the underbrush somewhere.