After gathering a host of ships and samurai, The Great Warrior Pilgrimage began in the spring of 1173. With more than three hundred and fifty ships, and nearly fourteen thousand samurai, it was an expedition outside of the Empire’s borders like none that had ever been seen. The goal; to ensure that the gajin iron ships that had been on course for the Mantis Islands never landed in Rokugan. While Akodo Sozen had been the chief samurai behind marshaling support for the Pilgrimage, there was no doubt that it was Yoritomo Hanako that was the true driving force behind it. While nearly every Great Clan was willing to send their samurai, and the Pilgrimage had no shortage of volunteers, the Scorpion Clan decided that none of their number would venture beyond the borders of the Empire to battle the gajin.
Shoshuro Jimen, the Emerald Champion and the man responsible for the decree that the Mantis could tell no one about the ships on course for their islands had always been against taking the fight outside of the Empire’s borders. While not a Scorpion, his position gave his words the greatest of influence, and since Bayushi Paneki‘s given title had always been ’The Defender of the Empire’, it came as no surprise that he would agree with Jimen. At the court that was held to determine the direction of the Pilgrimage, Akodo Sozen would have strong words against both Paneki and Jimen, and while Bayushi Tosen rose to their defense, the gist of Sozen’s words hung heavily in the air; any true warrior would go on the Pilgrimage, and not a Scorpion was going. Instead, they would stay back and defend the Empire itself, in case the Pilgrimage failed.
So it was that three hundred and fifty ships set sail for the borders of Rokugan and beyond, sailing around towards the Ivory Kingdoms, where the four gajin iron ships had been seen making course to. The two weeks passed quickly, with many strategies being discussed and discarded, and those not of the Mantis clan (or the few ship-trained Crab) struggling to grow accustomed to shipboard life. Before too long however, they drew near a city very familiar to Kakita Tiru; Senpal, the very first city he had come to during his excursion to the Burning Sands. As the only samurai close to Akodo Sozen that could speak the language of the Sands, he was selected to scout the city, accompanied by Togashi Sakura, and a Hiruma scout. The rest of the fleet would wait until his return, or until the gajin flag that the iron ships had set above the city was cut down. If the latter, that would be the fleet’s signal to attack the single iron ship that was moored in the harbor.
The city was easy enough to enter, with only two guards at the gate the small scouting party chose to approach. They carried strange, heavy looking clubs, each with a cylinder segmented into six parts near the end closest to them; were these the weapons that could use the fabled, and much-hated gajin pepper? Closer in smoke rose from several fires that had yet to be completely extinguished and in many places whole buildings had been smashed to rubble. When Tiru told the guards that he had business with Al Haggar, he was let in with little fanfare. Al Haggar had been a man of great political and commercial influence in the city and the trade business, and one that had helped Tiru and Ariso during their journey through the Sands. Having slain one of the gajin in order to speak to him, Al Haggar told the three bushi that the penalty for slaying a guard was to have his family killed. That was enough to tilt the choice of whether to fight or regroup for Tiru; with a slash from The Sword of Kalima the flag fell from the palace, and the assembled Rokugani fleet moved to attack.
The plan of dealing with the gajin iron ship in the bay had been suggested by one of the accompanying shugenja, (placeholder) and both Akodo Sozen and Yoritomo Hanako agreed with it. A powerful water spell would be used to literally part the water around the ship, grounding it in the bay. Once the vessel toppled, the kami would be asked to release their grip, sending torrents of water back against the ship, leaving it submerged. With both Kitsu Sojiro and (placeholder) able to cast the spell, and Sojiro’s abilities as a user of void magic would allow him to bolster both of their casting abilities. It was this second skill that would prove the most telling; this far from Rokugan the kami were very few in number, and less willing to agree to the requests of the shugenja. Even a simple spell would be challenging, let alone the feat of magic they wished to perform!
As the Rokugani ships closed with the bay and the iron vessel, explosions rippled along its sides, and the wooden kobunes of the fleet seemed to explode as if by magic! Those with the keenest of vision could see heavy iron spheres shattering through wooden planks without effort, and even Sozen’s ship was struck down, with Hanako herself leaping in from her own ship to stop him from drowning, while Kitsu Kosho held course. Unable to flee the bay to broadside the fleet, though, by the time twenty kobunes and most of the samurai aboard them had fallen, (placeholder) completed his spell. The water parted, the kami pushing it aside, and the massive gajin iron vessel struck the ground of the bay with a crash! As the fleet, and those in the city watched, the spell ended, sending that very same water with bone-shattering force against the vessel. Bodies and cargo floated upwards, and not another shot was heard.
The first of the gajin ships had fallen.
Meanwhile, in the city, the scouting party moved to leave, only to find their path blocked by three gajin, each one of them carrying one of those strange, long clubs. While the samurai had heard the thunderous sound of the iron ship’s weapons, they had not faced them, nor had they faced the warriors they found themselves confronted with…but they had not traveled hundreds of miles to flee. Togashi Sakura charged, both blades drawn, the Hiruma scout quickly advancing from building to building, cover to cover, while Kakita Tiru drew his blade and formed his will, sending crescent cuts at the three enemies across the way, testing them with a single, simple cut each. Each one passed, and leveled their bizarre weapons, which then spat death and iron. Having marked Tiru and Sakura as the true threats, for the moment, each of them drew heavy fire, Tiru struck three times, Sakura only once, while the Hiruma evaded the few rounds sent his way with ease.
Despite his wounds, Tiru’s blade cut through the air again, felling one of the gajin, but just as Sakura reached his target, the gajin found his moment and sent a shot perfectly into the Dragon bushi’s chest, shattering armor and bone alike…yet Sakura’s devotion to bushido was too much for a simple near-mortal wound to erase. With a last surge of effort, his blades cut down across the guard, severing both of his arms, before collapsing in front of his defeated foe. With a strange premonition, the Hiruma ducked as he reached his own chosen enemy, only for another of Tiru’s strikes to narrowly miss him, striking the guard in front of him! It was child’s play for one of his skill to wrap his chain around the soldier’s throat and choke him into oblivion. Picking up the wounded Sakura, the scouting party left the devastated city. As they walked though, Tiru’s wounds stung, burned, reminding him for another encounter years ago…
When they had returned to the fleet, Kitsu Sojiro spoke of an ominous revelation; the iron ship seemed to have been attracting kansen, dark twisted mockeries of the kami. This only led to more determination to ensure the gajin wouldn’t land in the Empire. With the first blood struck, however, and after taking nearly a fifteenth of their fleet destroyed in a single battle, it was decided that the Pilgrimage would set course for Rokugan again. If the gajin iron ships followed, they would be dealt with…and follow they did. After a mere week lookouts reported two more of the iron vessels chasing the Pilgrimage fleet.
They were too fast to outrun, and when the naval battle was joined the Rokugan ships could only have made landfall on the wretched shores of the Shadowlands. Counting on the powers of the shugenja to once again win the battle, the fleet turned and attacked…only for the very first vessel struck to have both Sojiro and (placeholder) on it! Long minutes passed as the brave bushi sailed into the devastating barrages of gun and cannon fire. Bravely trying to draw fire, Togashi Sakura took up the fleet’s banner, surviving not one, but three sinkings of his ship, returning each time aboard another vessel. Hundreds of bushi perished in moments, either from direct hits, or drowning in the cold ocean, far from shore. Yet once again the water kami obeyed when finally called upon to aid the Pilgrimage, and another iron ship was swallowed, this time deep into the darkness, with not a single survivor surfacing. Finally, the fleet had closed to be too near for the enemy guns to attack, and grappling hooks were thrown over the railings. At last, those who had come on the fleet to kill the gajin invaders would have their chance to taste blood!
When the Pilgrimage returned to Rokugan one week later, there were only three boats left. Of all those that had sailed to do battle, less than two hundred had returned. Kitsu Sojiro led great prayers to ensure the souls of those that died outside of the Empire would find their way back into the karmic circle.
And all that, with one iron ship unaccounted for…