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.