Withering Empire

Battlelines
The Lion's Akodo army lays siege to Toshi Ranbo, supported by the 3rd Imperial Legion. The 1st and 2nd Imperial Legions, under the command of the Shogun stand ready to defend the Emperor.
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War
News of the Lion's Armies mobilizing reach Toshi Ranbo. As an attack on the capital seems imminent, the Crane and Imperials prepare the city for battle.
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Dissension
The Crane try to garner additional support for the rule of Toturi Jakuchu, but the Lion Ambassador stands in the way of hegemony
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Ascension
While still recuperating from the assault, the Crane are put on the spot when Toturi Jakuchu's coronation as Toturi VIII is announced at the Imperial Court
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Reprisals
With Doji Kunio's funerals underway, the Crane contigent uses the opportunity to try and make new allies, but a nighttime attack troubles their efforts.
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Justice
Having learned the truth about the Chancellor, the new Crane Ambassador and his hatamoto must hurry to have him removed before the Imperial Court resumes.
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Inquisition
The Crane contingent investigate the allegations made about the Imperial Chancellor.
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Answers
The late Crane Ambassador's hatamoto learn about the fate of Katogama Tsuyoshi and the Chancellor's dark secret.
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Repercussions
The Clans start their political machinations following the Empress' death. The Crane Clan Ambassador gets assassinated.

17th day of the Month of the Boar, 1248 

The death of the Empress, Toturi VII, has been confirmed. The Toturi line has no obvious heir. Fearing for the life of Toturi Jakuchu, the Crane ambassador to the Imperial Court Doji Kunio assigns his aide Daidoji Motoki, his hatamoto Daidoji Hitaro, the duelist Asahina Meiji and the warrior-scholar Yasuki Tokiko to proctect the late Empress' husband. Meanwhile he approaches the Phoenix, hoping to forge an alliance between the long-time allies, but Asako Suzumi proves mysteriously evasive and uncooperative.

Doji Kikuro, Daidoji Ise, Asahina Miyu and Yasuki Kugayama, having already secured an alliance with the Mantis Clan, discuss their strategy for approaching the enigmatic Dragon Clan representatives. Unavoidably, the conversation veers to the suspicious circumtances surrounding the Empress' death.

When the four samurai finally get to bed, they are woken around the Hour of Ryoshun by a flustered Embassy guard. A savage snow storm is burrowing the capital in its white arms, and cold seeps into the Crane compound. Asahina Miyu is taken up to her lord's chamber, Daidoji Ise in tow. The two samurai-ko find Doji Kunio dead in his bed, with no evidence of wounds. Further examination by Miyu shows that he has been poisoned using fugu fish venom. The cook who had prepared the ambassador's last meal, a man named Ikoro is gone from the Embassy. 4 bushis are dispatched by Kikuro to bring him back. One of them returns shortly after and leads Kikuro, Ise, Miyu and Kugayama to the cook's home. There they find Ikoro hanging from the ceiling, a piece of parchement with the words "Do not mess with us" stuck in his chest with a black dagger. However, the 4 hatamoto are not convinced by the obvious conclusion of an Obsidian Blade sponsored assassination. Asking the Kami for help, the group's shugenja managed to glean a portrait of the cook's, and most likely their lord's, assassins. The dark clad men the water Kami shows them certainly look like criminals, but the cool way with which they watched the cook suffocate to death hints that they may be more than common thugs. A thorough search of the house reveals some herbs that could be used for a sleeping potion hidden under the cook's mattress, shedding light on the reason why Doji Kunio did not call out in pain from the fugu fish poisoning. Two more beds are empty and after petitioning the Kami again for help, the Cranes learn that the cook's wife and daughter have been missing for a day. With little more to learn from the house, they return to the Embassy to prepare for the long day ahead. 

18th day of the Month of the Boar, 1248

Looking for guidance, Daidoji Ise and Yasuki Kugayama go to the Imperial palace to tell Daidoji Motoki of their lord's death. After having to strongly insist, a Seppun guardsman accepts to go wake Motoki. Ise relates the night's events to her husband. They return to the Embassy. They join Kikuro and Miyu, who were searching Kunio's office for clues to the motivations of his assassins. Motoki opens a hidden safe and pulls out a letter written by their lord before his death with instructions were he to die. In it, he instructs his hatamoto to keep Toturi Jakuchu on the throne at all costs and names Kikuro as his successor until the Clan Champion appoints a replacement. Given the winter storm plaguing the north of Rokugan, Kikuro prepares himself for the possibility of having to defend the Crane Clan's interest for the entire Winter Court.

Unable to spend more time investigating their lord's passing, the four hatamoto begin preparations for their meeting with the Dragon Clan Ambassador, Kitsuki Ginko. They bring Yasuki Atsumori along, to help with the financial aspect. They are received at the Dragon Embassy and greeted by the five senior members of the Clan in Toshi Ranbo, Kitsuki Ginko, her advisor Togashi Doi, the head priest of their temple Tamori Shunko, the Ambassador's Yojimbo Mirumoto Ashihei and by Mirumoto Tokaji, Daidoji Hitaro's sworn enemy. Although the Dragons declare that they must reflect on the recent events before deciding who to support, they also hint towards terms that could make an alliance possible between them and the Crane. The summer drought in Dragon lands have left their food stores low and the Dragon are after a few political appointments, including the prestigious position of Imperial Chancellor. The Crane envoys leave the Dragon embassy and move on to receive Otomo Teruyo.

After exchanging pleasantries, the Otomo Courtier reveals to the Crane that the current Imperial Chancellor met with the Scorpion Ambassador shortly after the Empress' death was made official. Teruyo tells them that she heard that Otomo Teika seemed flustered after the meeting and suddenly changed his tune about the succession. He informed Teruyo that a special Court session would be held after Toturi VII's funeral so that each Clan could speak on this issue. Otomo Teruyo also tells them that the Lion are putting forth a canditate for the succession, the daughter of the Akodo Daimyo who is married to the son of the Soshi Daimyo, and that the Phoenix are also making a claim for the Throne, the Elemental Master of Fire being a descendant of both Isawa Sezaru and Kaneka, two sons of Toturi I. She believes the Imperial Chancellor will throw his and the Imperial families' support behind the Lion's candidate. Lastly, she reveals that Otomo Teika had a short liaison with the Tortoise Ambassador and that she might know what the Scorpion told him to change him mind. Otomo Teruyo leaves telling how much easier their lifes would be if they had a Chancellor who was closer to the Crane. As the Crane discuss these revelations, they receive a message from Yasuki Inejiro asking for a meeting. They agree to an early evening meet.

With little time to digest this information, Doji Kikuro moves on to his suddenly timely meeting with Kasuga Noriko. The Tortoise Ambassador offers the united Minor Clans' support to the Crane, but asks for a hefty price: the elevation of five of them to Great Clan status as a merged Monkey Clan, as well as consolidation of their territories. Doji Kikuro agrees to take the matter before Toturi Jakuchu, but hopes he won't need the Minor Clans' help, not wanting to indulge their ridiculously high ambitions. He asks about the relationship she had with Otomo Teika, but Kasuga Noriko refuses to answer his questions until their alliance is official. After that she promises, she'll be entirely his.

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Downfall
The investigation into Katogama Tsuyoshi's death takes the backseat when Toturi VII meets her fate.

17th day of the Month of the Boar, 1248

Following the violent death of Katogama Tsuyoshi, Daidoji Hitaro honors his vow and shaves his head as contrition for his suspicion of the deceased. The act remains symbolic however, as he doesn't ask for leave to become a monk. Asahina Miyu works all night to translate the document written in the Crane cipher that Katogama Tsuyoshi's assassins were trying to destroy. As the  Crane Ambassador's five hatamoto, Asahina Miyu, Daidoji Hitaro, Daidoji Ise, Doji Kikuro and Yasuki Kugayama discuss the previous night's events over their breakfast, they get interrupted by an Embassy guard who informs them an Emerald Magistrate requests an audience with them. They accept and receive the man. The Magistrate is Seppun Kiyomori, who was the first on the scene of Katogama Tsuyoshi's death. He informs them that he has been chosen to head the investigation. He asks them about a few spells that were cast during the Crane's fight with the members of the Obsidian Blade sent to silence the Crane Magistrate. The five hatamoto evade his questions by remaining vague. Seppun Kiyomori counters by asking them bluntly about the documents, one of the surviving criminals having revealed they were sent to destroy them. Daidoji Ise protects her colleagues' honor by obfuscating the truth with her well chosen words. The Emerald Magistrate however is not convinced, but finds himself unable to push the matter further without insulting his hosts and retires politely, inviting them to bring forth any further information they might recall at a later time.

The five Crane prepare themselves for an unveiling ceremony hosted by the Empress Toturi VII. A new wing of the Imperial Palace is being presented to the assembled Clan delegations. When the bulding is finally unveiled, Daidoji Hitaro, Daidoji Ise and Asahina Miyu get a strange sense of déjà vu. The Harrier and the Shugenja also notice a Scorpion Shugenja leaving the premises in a hurry. Hitaro decides to follow him. The Scorpion heads back to his Embassy, seeming clearly unnerved. As he stalks closer, Hitaro notices the Shugenja is the one for whom they had acquired a 7th century nemuranai painting of a Unicorn-styled palace afire. As the stealthy bushi returns to the ceremony, the pieces click into place. The new palace wing looks exactly like the one in the 600 year old painting. He shares his discovery with his colleagues. Unnerved by this coincidence, but unable to pursue this issue, they get ready for a hunt hosted by the Empress in a nearby forest.

On their way there, they are joined by the Empress' spouse, Toturi Jakuchu. They infrom him of Katogama Tsuyoshi's murder, stunning the young poet for whom he had been a close friend on the road to Toshi Ranbo. Daidoji Hitaro exchanges a few words with Otomo Teika to learn more on the new wing of the Palace. The begins and the first kill goes to a young Phoenix bushi. The Crane stay with Jakuchu, away from the hunters, preferring to spend time discussing the investigation into the Katogama's death. They are interrupted by the young Toturi VII. A boar is scared out of the woods by the beaters and the young Empress goes after it. Vowing to impress her spouse, she stands up on her saddle, draws her bow, aims in the Unicorn style and lets her arrow fly. All eyes follow the arrows flight as it strikes home in the back of the boar's head. The sound of a horse whinnying draws them back towards the Empress. She is on the ground, immobile. Seppun guardsmen rush towards her, her horse gone wild. She is soon surrounded and it becomes impossible to see her. Otomo Teika invites the Clan delegations to return to the palace while Toturi VII is being helped by her vassals. Doji Kunio rides over to his hatamoto, leaving Isawa Haruki, who he was talking to, behind. Daidoji Hitaro notices that Bayushi Yoringa and Ikoma Hayato seem to be glaring at his lord. The Crane Ambassador instructs his vassals to return to the Embassy and await his instructions. Kunio rides off at a gallop and his hatamoto soon follow him.

As Toturi Jakuchu is escorted back to the palace, the five Crane ride back to their Embassy. They meet Doji Kunio on the top floor of the Embassy. Despite the winter cold, all the doors leading to the balcony are opened so that they may see all over the entrance of the Imperial Palace and of the other Embassies. They are joined by Daidoji Motoki and Doji Umeko. Their lord tells them that he suspects that the Empress is more than simply hurt and that they need to plan their next move in case she is gone. As they discuss their strategy, Yasuki Tokiko comes rushing up the stairs and tells them to look at the entrance of the palace. The fifty Seppun guardsmen that make up Toturi VII's elite guard are escorting a litter bearing the Imperial mon to the Palace gates. As soon as it reaches the Palace, they kneel down in the snow, take out their wakizashi and perform the three cuts. Their path now certain, the Crane spring into action. Doji Kunio and Daidoji Motoki go to meet the Phoenix and try to garner their support to keep Toturi Jakuchu on the Throne, Doji Kikuro and his wife leave for the Mantis Embassy and Asahina Miyu and Daidoji Ise prepare themselves to meet with the Dragon. Meanwhile, Daidoji Hitaro and Yasuki Kugayama, suspecting foul play in the Empress' death, decide to go have a closer look at the place where she fell.

Doji Kikuro and Doji Umeko meet with Yoritomo Tsuneari. He receives them warmly, and they start by exchanging pleasantries and discussing the day's events. Kikuro deftly manoeuvers the conversation towards the current political situation, mentioning the long-lasting Crane-Mantis alliance currently in place. Tsuneari admits that it has been a profitable alliance and that the Mantis would like it to remain so, but adds that considering the inherent danger of backing the Crane's claim his Clan would need compensation. He asks for the tittle of Imperial Advisor for his clan, some minor political appointments as well as some economic concessions. After discussing his terms, the two Crane Courtiers agree to his proposal. The Mantis Ambassador tells them that official documents will be drafted and ready for their review within a day. Kikuro and Umeko politely retire.

When Daidoji Hitaro and Yasuki Kugayama get to the wood where the reign of Toturi VII came to an end, they find the area cordonned off by Emerald Magistrates. When they ask to have access, they are refused by a young Unicorn bushi who serves the Magistrates. They return to Toshi Ranbo and send a message to Toturi Jakuchu asking for his help. While waiting for his response, they poke around the Imperial Palace's stables, looking for the Empress' horse. They find it with three Magistrates examining it, one of which is Seppun Kiyomori. He tells them that he has been pulled from the Katogama Tsuyoshi investigation to work on this, clearly not happy about it. After a bit of coaxing, he allows them to examine the horse. The beast looks unhurt, although still a little agitated. Kugayama tries to learn more with the help of the Kami, but they are of little help. A messenger arrives with official documents from Toturi Jakuchu granting them temporary access to the location of the Empress' demise. The two Crane ride back to the woods and make a point of flaunting their documents to the Unicorn who had denied them access. They are shown to the place where she fell from her horse, hitting her head on a rock jutting out of the snow. Blood has frozen on its surface. Kugayama intones a prayer to the Earth Kami, asking him to tell him what happened to the Empress, but the annoyed Kami is unable to answer. The Shugenja then asks the Water Kami to show him the young Empress' death, but again the Kami seem unable to answer him. Meanwhile, Daidoji Hitaro finds tracks of a fox that lead to the place where the horse fell. The tracks then turn back into the forest to disappear into the underbrush. The two Crane return to the Embassy and share their findins with the other three hatamoto. Upon hearing of the Kami's response, Asahina Miyu concludes that a banish spell was used to remove the Kami who had seen Toturi VII's death from the area. Now more than ever, foul play seems certain.

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