Three years passed, and the Empire waited. The various persons of note were hardly lax, however. Bayushi Tosen was hard at work shoring up Rokugan’s defenses for the inevitable gajin return. By now, he was known as one of the most prominent generals in all the land, and certainly the most lauded. Bayushi Yoshimi had been busy expanding his tea house empire, becoming one of the richest men of any Clan. Secretly, it also became a spy network, answering only to him. Otomo Kage, planning in advance as was his way, began to develop the land on which the next Emerald Championship would be held, as the position was still held nominally by Hantei Ryozo, after Shosuro Jimen had been slain by Akodo Sozen. Sozen in the meantime had taken the family name of Toturi in order to avoid bringing shame to the Akodo after joining The Kingdom of Yoritomo as their Rikugunshokan. Kakita Tiru & Kakita Kara celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter. Tiru also, with the approval of Doji Domotai resurrected the disbanded Daidoji Harriers, now based from Lonely Lotus Garden, with some differed techniques.
After the conclusion of Winter Court 1177, Bayushi Tosen returned to the castle the Soshi had constructed for him in Lonely Pines, the lands given to him by the Lion when the Scorpion had still held an alliance with the honorable clan. Only a few days after his return guards brought news that he had visitors; Usagi Kenji, a Hare duelist that competed nearly ever year at the tournaments held in Fukuharashi, and Kitsu Sojiro, one of the powerful shugenja that had gone on The Great Warrior Pilgrimage 1173. After exchanging some reminiscing over the various duels they’d both fought in their careers, and how they might fare against one another, Tosen invited Kenji and his companion to dinner.
After the meal, Kenji presented the true reason for his visit; a scroll, signed by the Hare Clan Champion, inviting Tosen to a private banquet of honor in Hare lands. The Hare Clan Champion’s letter revealed that not all of the Minor Clans supported Tosen’s aggressive defensive measures along the coast. The banquet was not only to honor Tosen for his work, but also to give the Scorpion Rikugunshokan a chance to explain and prove that he was the best choice to follow, to win over support from the few holdouts that didn’t believe his actions were proper. Tosen accepted, deciding to bring other members from The Council of Thunders as well.
Later that night, however, as Tosen was deep in thought wandering the corridors of his castle, he saw at the end of a hall two arrows embedded in the wall. Quietly drawing his sword, he crept to the end of the corridor and carefully looked around the corner, only to find Bayushi Kitsunejo unconscious and wounded from what looked like both sword strikes and barehanded blows. After ensuring she would live, Tosen checked the nearby secret passages, and finding one improperly barred, he descended through it, emerging in one of the training rooms in a ‘hidden’ area of the castle. Ahead of him was a flickering light, which he followed, and finally cornered Usagi Kenji just as the Hare Clan was about to leave the room. Putting his blade on his sword, Tosen watched the other carefully, and when Kenji also rested his hand on the pommel of his blade, Tosen attacked.
First trying to simply batter the Hare to the ground, the Scorpion found him too agile, and so he drew his blade, only for Kenji to again evade the attack with remarkable agility, Kenji running up the nearest wall and flipping off of it to land behind Tosen. It was then that Kitsu Sojiro made his presence known, casting a powerful Water spell that struck Tosen, but the Scorpion resisted the kami’s full effects, the torrent of waves not enough to knock him from his feet. In retaliation, and marking the shugenja as the most obvious threat, he lashed out, nearly killing Sojiro in one blow. Shouting at Tosen that the Scorpion was a Kolat spy, Kenji missed him with a sword blow, but then lashed out and kicked him across the jaw! Desperately, Sojiro called upon the kami once more and this time rather than try and kill Tosen, he teleported him upwards three floors! Tosen immediately called for the guard, but Sojiro was a master of magic that let one move quickly, and Kenji was a Hare…Sojiro escaped easily, but as Tosen descended back into the lower levels of the castle, he found the Hare searching through the rooms at impossible speed; one last spell from Sojiro before the Lion shugenja had left the castle.
When Kenji noticed him, he demanded to know where the piece of the maho scroll that The Council of Thunders had split up was. Tosen hid his surprise well, but it was clear the secret of the Council had spread over the past three years. After telling Kenji why the Council did what it did regarding the scroll, and listening to the other’s accusations, he decided the only way to assuage the Hare’s concerns was to do as he asked. This, he handed the maho scroll to the other bushi. Kenji accepted it, and told him to meet with both he and Sojiro in the village where Hida Maki had taken leave to protect her own scroll. After asking Kenji how long it would take to obtain the others, Kenji only shrugged, and said that he’d already managed to get three of them, without telling Tosen who they had belonged to originally. He also asked for a letter of introduction to Kakita Tiru. Not only to gain Tiru’s trust, if necessary, but also to compare the handwriting to the maho scroll itself, ‘just in case’, in Kenji’s words. It wasn’t hard to guess than which scrolls he’d taken from the other council members; Kitsuke Maeko, Isawa Banasu, and Moto Michimo. Kenji revealed his suspicions were truer than Tosen knew; it was Maeko that had given him her scroll willingly, and trusted the Hare to discover the truth one way or another. Saying his goodbyes, Kenji met with Sojiro, who had recovered from Tosen’s devastating attack with help from the kami, and using the shugenja’s magic, they left for Lonely Lotus Garden.
There, they found easy entrance, a letter from the Hare Clan Champion and the letter from Bayushi Tosen ensuring that Kakita Tiru would see them. There, they explained their purpose, along with the fact that Tosen had willingly given his scroll to them. When Tiru asked why they had chosen him to be one of the last to seek out in the Empire, Kenji answered only that the Hare clan was small, and word traveled fast among them. Tiru could only shake his head; clearly Usagi Ariso still spoke of him. And often. Agreeing that the Hare would be the one to prove whether the maho scroll that could have aided in The Empress’s ascent was damning of her truth or not, he bade them stay the night, so they could set out the next day to meet with Hida Maki. During the night though, Tiru encountered Kakita Notsuran, who walked about in a scandalous lack of dress. When he confronted her, he realized she was sleepwalking, even as she settled into a fighting stance. Determining that she was headed to the guest chambers, he confronted Kenji, asking if he knew what was going on. He told him that Notsuran suffered from Kolat brainwashing, and that there was no known way to help her. Reluctantly, Tiru cut her down, seeing no other option and not wishing to leave a Kolat spy in his home, even an unknowing one.
Joined by Kakita Kara, Kenji, Tiru, and Sojiro used the kami’s magic to travel the roads of the Empire with incredible speed, arriving in the small village that Hida Maki made her home in just as Bayushi Tosen did. Tosen was accompanied by Bayushi Yoshimi, who had been staying in the castle. While not a member of The Council of Thunders, Kenji still suspected Yoshimi of being Kolat, and had asked Tosen to bring him along as well. Understanding the threat that the Kolat represented, especially if they had access to this kind of powerful maho magic, Maki also gave her scroll to Kenji, and a sample of her handwriting as well. It was quickly proven that no one that was part of The Council of Thunders on the mainland had anything to do with the scroll, but Toturi Sozen was no longer part of the Empire, and Yoritomo Kosho had ceased coming to the Council entirely… Kenji only grew more worried and nearly paranoid about the Kolat when a near-fatal poisoning was stopped only by the Water kami as called on by Sojiro, the group would set forth for The Kingdom of Yoritomo in a day’s time.
Receiving news of the group’s arrival, Toturi Sozen wisely chose to keep the fact that Kakita Tiru was among them to himself. Tiru had slain Yoritomo Hanako, Yoritomo Kosho‘s first betrothed, and the daughter of the King of the Yoritomo, Yoritomo Naizen. Kenji had asked Sozen for his scroll, but when Sozen then asked Kosho for his scroll, the former Lion refused. He had never held great trust for The Council of Thunders since The Kingdom of Yoritomo had come into being, and he had married Naizen’s other daughter, Yoritomo Haruko. Indeed, he had told Naizen all about the Council! Instead, he proposed that he and Sozen go together with the rest of the group to Other Castle Island, the place where the Kolat Temple had been discovered, along with the scrolls that comprised that powerful maho spell. With no other option, as they were guests in the now-foreign land, the representatives of the Empire agreed, but not before Tiru, accompanied by Tosen met with both Naizen and Kosho in the King’s Hall. There, he told them of Hanako’s last words, and while the tension between Kosho and Tiru was all but enough to start a skirmish, Naizen said the truth would be revealed and things settled on Other Castle Island.
They took several ships to the island as a precaution, a quarter of a Legion worth of Yoritomo bushi accompanying them there, and another quarter under the Wolf’s Legion banner, serving Toturi Sozen directly. With Usagi Kenji having obtained handwriting samples of both Yoritomo Kosho and Toturi Sozen to ensure that neither of them had penned the scrolls, The Council of Thunders had mostly been vindicated by this time, especially as they had all co-operated with Kenji, to a degree. Once they had landed and Kitsu Sojiro was able to find a clear standing pool of water, he cast the spell Reflections of Panaku, and told the group of how he saw Yoritomo Hanako writing with her left hand. Grimly, Yoritomo Naizen confirmed that Hanako had been right handed; she had been using her left to pen the ‘maho’ scroll and disguise that it had been her doing. Further, Kenji pointed out how the scroll took great pains to show what it did, something a true maho practitioner would not have bothered doing. She had also forged all the diaries the Council had found, ones that implicated Yoritomo Saito for all of Hanako’s wrong-doing. It was clear at that point once and for all that Hanako had always been the true Serpent of the East in all the ways that mattered.
Inside the actual Kolat temple, Kitsu Sojiro cast the spell once more, enabling him to see Yoritomo Hanako taking the true scroll that a maho priest had used and replacing it with her falsified one, after killing the priest with her kamas. It was agreed by all present that Hanako had been falsifying evidence to protect herself, with Yoritomo Naizen again grimly stating the truth; that she had been a liar to protect herself from an early age. Faced with this evidence, Toturi Sozen decided he had no choice but to return to the Emerald Empire, and offer his seppeku to The Empress. As the group left, Yoritomo Kosho graciously told Kakita Tiru that he would let him live this day, as the kenshinzen was surrounded by those friendly to Kosho. Grimly, Tiru bowed, and departed, ensuring that things between them would still need to be settled in the future…
Returning to the Empire with the truth, the group presented themselves in audience before The Empress. Usagi Kenji spoke of how The Council of Thunders had done everything in their power to help him once they had learned of his quest, and how it was now known beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Kolat had nothing to do with who now at on the throne; The Empress was truly the Maiden of Heaven, appointed to rule the Empire as her place in the Celestial Order. The true matter though was the fate of Toturi Sozen, once known as Akodo Sozen, titlted Akodo’s Hope by the Empress herself. While the various allies of Shosuro Jimen tried to condemn him, the Empress did not return his wakazashi to him when he offered her his life. Instead, she proclaimed the following:
“The Toturi dynasty served well as stewards of the Hantei line during our absence. They defended the Empire while the Hantei could not. Thus, they defended our legacy, and thus they shall defend it again. I sentence Toturi Sozen to be the daimyo of the Toturi Imperial Family, and that the Toturi shall die a thousand times before his sentence is fulfilled.”
So it was that the Toturi line was reborn, to serve the Hantei as its first line of defenders, in some ways like the infamous Lion Deathseekers.
Yet the gajin menace still loomed…