The Era of the Heavenly Empress

The Serpent's Truth

Under the guise of a warrior pilgrimage, Akodo Sozen, Kitsu Sojiro, Kitsu Kosho, Bayushi Yoshimi(in the guise of Bayushi Tokushima, and Kakita Tiru journeyed into Orochi’s Teeth, the lair of the Serpent of the East. Before departing, Kosho made sure to inform his future wife, and daughter of the Mantis clan daimyo, Yoritomo Hanako. Crewed by ronin, and wearing ronin clothing themselves, they sailed through heavy fog, with Sojiro stating the water and air kami in the obscuring mist were ‘reluctant to move’. Once through, they saw no less than twelve ships, defending five islands, each of them bearing the mon of an Orochi, a powerful water spirit. It looked as if the Serpent had set up her small navy as its own (very illegal) minor clan! With a raised parly flag, the ronin ship sailed closer still, and was met by one of the twelve vessels which broke off from the general patrol lines that were being run between the islands, to sail alongside.

The captain of the vessel introduced himself as Orochi Cero. A shorter, but very stout man, his stature and manner spoke of gajin, especially when he spoke. Cero demanded to know why the ronin ship had arrived, and who were crewing it. Sozen introduced himself without his family name, to which Cero simply responded ‘I know of Sozen’. When he continued on that he wished to speak wit the Serpent, Cero wanted to know what gifts had been brought to her, and he also stated that they would be allowed to see her only if they brought no weapons with them. Responding that no samurai would give up their soul to see the leader of a ‘minor clan’, Sozen stated that he brought the gift of peace to the ‘Orochi’. Grudgingly, Cero allowed the ronin ship to sail further in, with his own vessel accompanying them.

As the crew of the ship looked about, many things made themselves apparent. Firstly, two of the islands seemed to be nothing more than rice paddies, suggesting that the minor clan was surprisingly self-sufficient, especially for being in the middle of the ocean at the border of the Empire! Further, the largest vessels docked at the islands were not Orochi, or Clan ships at all, but massive vessels that looked like floating castles! Tiru recognized them, having seen one before, far away in the Burning Sands; they were ships of the Ivory Kingdoms. Sure enough, when the group disembarked at the largest of the five islands, now wearing their proper Clan colors, there were gajin everywhere, sporting turbans, beards, and wicked looking scimitars. Street vendors sold delicacies that would be rare in even Crane lands, hawking rare gems and trinkets as well as exotic foods such as bacon. It was in the palace there, made of a strange mix of Rokugani and Ivory Kingdoms’ construction, that they would meet another servant of the Serpent.

Tall, almost statuesque, with pink hair tied up as well as allowed to fall past her shoulders and large round eyes, the gajin woman introduced herself with an unpronounceable word, which she quickly shortened to Cado. It had been a short wait in an antechamber, and she politely took everyone’s names, with Yoshimi introducing himself as his alter-ego Bayushi Tokushima once more, and with Kosho taking the name of his slain brother, Konyo. After a short while, a samurai-ko entered, wearing the Orochi mon as almost all others on the islands did, and introduced herself as Orochi Saito. Those present that were members of The Council of Thunders exchanged glances; Saito was the chosen name of the very same Mantis bushi that they had suspected of being the Serpent earlier! The documents discovered in the underground cult chambers had spoken of Yoritomo Saito, but the age and the description were almost identical. When asked by Sozen, she replied politely, but firmly, that Yoritomo Saito had died in the same fire that had claimed her family. She went on to explain that the Orochi had been skirmishing with several advancing vessels. When the group was skeptical, and understandably as no gajin with vessels like she described had been seen in Rokugan for nearly 800 years, she offered to introduce them to someone that could provide the proof they wanted.

They were escorted to a second, smaller palace, with far more evidence of Ivory Kingdoms construction than Rokugan, and when they met the master of the manse it was easy to see why. Parinder Singh met them with a broad smile and warm greetings, providing them with hospitality and gifts worth of any Great Clan family. As an ambassador from the Ivory Kingdoms, he was in Rokugan to ensure that the king of his home country, who was ailing of a rare and debilitating disease, received regular delivery of his medicine. That medicine could only be formed from a very rare lotus flower, found only in Rokugan. The gajin ships the Orochi ‘clan’ had been skirmishing with were from the very distant lands of Merenae, across the sea, and the Merenae were currently at war with the Ivory Kingdoms. Singh explained it would be easier to devastate the Mantis fleets and cause the king to die than it would be to land a powerful enough force to take the Ivory Kingdoms by force. Finally, he offered to lend one of the two castle-sized ships in the Teeth to the group, who could then see the invading ships for themselves; Sozen and all those present agreed.

The voyage took two weeks, even with the shugenja calling upon what few kami they could to propel the huge ship even faster. What they say was shocking; there were only four enemy vessels, but each one was many, many times the length of a kobune, and even then they only held 250 men each. But with that in mind, Orochi Saito had stated that when the Orochi had sent fifteen ships against them, they’d only managed to have 50 samurai board the four vessels, and that the gajin pepper they had could strike at nearly a mile distant. Grimly, the group turned around to sail back to the Teeth.

Once there, Sozen declared that the Lion would stand with any samurai that would battle the invading troops, and it was then that the true Serpent revealed herself; Yoritomo Hanako, Kosho’s future wife! She went on to explain thatShoshuro Jimen had forbidden the Mantis from speaking of the advancing ships to any Great Clan, nor of going beyond the Empire to battle them before they reached the Rokugani border. But a ‘clan’ of pirates, such as the Orochi, would not be beholden to any decree given by the Emerald Champion against the Mantis. Now that Sozen had declared his willingness to fight, others would follow, and they did; even the Crab lent their famous armored kobunes, their ‘turtle ships’ to the fight! Yet after gathering a substantial force of nearly 500 ships, information came that the gajin vessels had changed course to the Ivory Kingdoms.

Deciding that they were too great a threat not to be dealt with, it was decided that the fight would be taken to them, beyond the borders of Rokugan itself. With no proper clan willing to leave the Empire, it was Tiru that suggested the name of the solution; The Great Warrior Pilgrimage. A three hundred and fifty-strong ronin fleet. Sozen met with the Serpent and the other clan leaders, and it was decided. For the first time since the Ki-Rin Clan had left Rokugan millenia ago, brave and honorable samurai would cross the borders en mass. Not to learn more of the world as they had before, but to bring the wrath of the Great Clans down upon the same gajin that had once attacked the Imperial City itself.

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