The Field of Red Flowers

Takeda Chronicles: Of Harsh Lessons

A new page, a new inkwell. My brush continues to dance across the paper, singing the praise of Takeda Ryuji. I have prepared a fresh pot of tea, and the first cup is ready: Spring fragrance, yielding character, dark leaves, fine cup. Steaming pleasantly. The aroma of tea is healthy for the replenishment of ki, and indeed, the mysteries of breath, blood, and body will be relevant as I continue recording the exploits of my Lord and master.

The educated reader will know that all living things are suffused with a mystic force, and that scholars know it by different names, attempting to explain its nature. Some think of it as breath; others fragrance; others, the spiritual equivalent of blood. This humble scholar makes no claim to grasp its fleeting essence, for he knows only a little of the doctor’s arts. But it is the case that the Akatsuki study it extensively, and claim intimate understanding thereof. Thus, having accepted young Lady Ootori as her pupil, Lady Akiyama must now explain these secrets and awaken the potential at rest within the girl.

Young Lady Ootori, dutiful and eager, listened to her words. Lady Akiyama would soon put the lecture into practice, bidding her young student to control her ki and channel it into awareness. The lessons progressed quickly. In her brief time at Peach Blossom Mountain, I should say young Lady Ootori acquired at least a season’s worth of training.

As for Takeda Ryuji, he participated in schooling the youngest monks, who needed but the most basic training. Among these monks was a twelve-year old apprentice named Juro, a short, skinny boy with frail arms and legs. Lord Takeda saw that there was fire in his eyes, and taught him the Takeda way of fighting. It is this humble scholar’s understanding that he learned very quickly, flawlessly imitating a sweeping kick after just one lesson. This drew the attention of the senior monk Kenshin, who fervently disagreed about the correct approach to battle, and thought my Lord and master’s way too formless.

Lord Takeda spoke much with Kenshin over the days, and imparted wisdom upon him. Kenshin attempted to argue against this wisdom with his staff, but Lord Takeda used a pair of chop-sticks, a bowl, and a secret grappling technique that an old scholar taught him in his youth to win the argument. Kenshin would meditate upon his defeat for some time, but was enlightened to the virtue and talent of my Lord and master, and no longer disrespected him.

My Lord and master stayed on the mountain for many days, studying, praying, and teaching. During this time he met few outsiders, with the exception of one Captain Kurosawa from the House Asai camp. This Kurosawa fellow delivered news to the Abbot, and greatly respected the name of Takeda Ryuji. He said many of his men were eager to see the great warrior in action, and one particular man – Katsuro – had been boasting that he could defeat my Lord and master. Captain Kurosawa was eager to see the braggart proven wrong.

Now, while time passed in the Peach Blossom Mountain monastery, three things happened in the world outside it. This humble scholar will attempt to explain what transpired, as clearly as he can:

Umon, the drunkard, made his way toward the Peach Blossom Mountain with the Star of Strength hidden in its magical urn. He had the misfortune of running into some of House Asai’s men as these went searching for Nichiren, and somehow an altercation occurred. With his belly full of sake Umon fought valiantly, but the men called for reinforcements. Greatly outnumbered, Umon hurled the Star of Strength into the woods, fearing the Asai might otherwise capture it. He was then beaten unconscious and bound with thick, sturdy ropes. The men had not seen him throw the weapon, and thought the empty urn was worthless. Therefore, they left it lying where it was.

Because Umon had sought to keep the Star secret, he had fought with his fists and injured almost twenty men, but killed none. Therefore he was not executed, but bound in the Asai camp and whipped until the skin on his back split open and fresh blood poured from his body. Lord Takeda Ryuji, when he heard of this, thought in his heart that he should save his brother from humiliation – but was advised against it, for the Asai might attack the temple if provoked, and if they learned of Umon’s importance, his life would surely be forfeit. Therefore Lord Takeda found himself forced to wait for the Asai to bring him to the monastery at the end of his sentence.

That was the first event of relevance. The second was that Lady Akiyama left the monastery under the cover of darkness, intending to retrieve young Lady Ootori’s precious gown. The bald weasel Nichiren had casually sold it to a lowly comfort woman at the nearby seedy teahouse, and Lady Akiyama saw it unfitting that the young Lady Ootori should be apart from her belongings. She took Satsuko with her, and entered the establishment wearing the disguise of a comfort woman serving tea and sake. Satsuko waited outside.

But as the educated reader will know, the name of any spirit creature holds a small measure of power. Lady Akiyama unwisely let slip the name of her traveling companion, and when the visiting soldiers called out for Satsuko, she answered. Fortunately, she chose to enter in the form of a comely woman in a snow white kimono, and not as a snarling white wolf – but with her noble and beautiful bearing, the soldiers assumed her to be a Lady of high standing.

Beware the web of lies! One might as easily snare oneself as the enemy! As Lady Akiyama tried to explain why two beautiful women would travel alone at night, their association with Lord Takeda became known to the men. In return Lady Akiyama learned a great deal about the Asai. She found out that young master Asai had picked a favorite courtesan, new to the area, skilled in all the arts both great and small. This courtesan bore the name Haruka, and occupied most of his time – indeed, it seemed he had fallen in love with her. Lady Akiyama also learned that House Asai had three captains: Abe, the archer, Kurosawa, the cavalryman, and Sho, the infantry leader. Abe had already positioned men on the slopes of Peach Blossom Mountain, in the event that the monks should go back on their promise.

(The reader will recall, that the Enlightened Sage had picked a lucky day for Lady Asai to visit the monastery and retrieve the Blade of Destiny hidden there. Much as Captain Abe suspected, this was deceit!)

Lady Akiyama did retrieve young Lady Ootori’s gown from the comfort woman who had shamelessly claimed it. She was even kind enough to leave some money in return. My Lord and master would later confront her about why his name had been mentioned in a seedy tea-house, for which she deeply apologized.

The third thing that happened, was that a mass of refugees made their way toward Peach Blossom Mountain from the eastern Takeda lands. These are not relevant to the events that would soon transpire, and I therefore leave them from the records for now.

Tea has grown slightly too cold. I fear I have been to enveloped in my writing. Flavor is excellent. Fragrance already autumn.

As the day dawned for the Asai to claim their prize, Lord Takeda, Lady Akiyama, young Lady Ootori and the okami Satsuko had been staying at Peach Blossom Mountain for all of nine days. The leaders of House Asai rode up the slopes of the mountain, ready to receive the sacred Star of Strength. They brought Umon with them, bound with thick ropes, returning him to the monastery as a peace offering. By now they had found the bodies of Nichiren and the dead Asai men; they suspected Umon of the crime, but did not want to punish him further for fear it might displease the Abbot.

Umon, having been released from the ropes, told the Abbot he had spilled all his sake in the woods, near a certain abandoned shack. He then retreated to recover from his injuries and eat a decent meal.

Now, these were the visiting members of House Asai: There was the cunning Lady Asai, in a ceremonial gown. There was her younger brother, Asai Shinji, a spoiled brat in warrior’s hakama. There was their advisor Asai Noburu, the faithless rat. And beside these, there were Captains Abe and Kurosawa.

As the procession entered the temple proper, Lady Asai approached the great bronze Buddha and reached down to withdraw the Blade, supposedly hidden beneath it. Instead, she withdrew a dry branch.

Asai Noburu was outraged and insulted. He swore vengeance against Peach Blossom Mountain and that the Asai men would burn the monastery to the ground in search of the Blade! But Lady Asai merely left the temple without another word, mounted her horse, and rode off down the mountain, leaving young master Asai Shinji in charge. Asai Noburu pressured him to call for an attack, but my Lord and master spoke with them both, and bade him stay his hand for an hour. This Asai Shinji accepted, and together with the captains, the two men returned to their camp to ready the men.

Now! When Lady Asai withdrew that dry branch, she understood fully in what way she had been tricked. Remembering Umon’s great strength, his exile, and what he had said about his sake, the deception became clear to her. On the swiftest horse she rode for the abandoned shack in the woods! But no Earthly horse is as swift as an okami, and on Satsuko’s back Lord Takeda rode ahead. He reached the shack and found the urn, but walked past it in search of the Star of Strength itself.

So great was Umon’s strength, that when he threw the massive weapon it cracked a stone upon landing, and lodged itself there. Lord Takeda’s strength rivals that of the legendary Kintaro, but even he could not move the Star one inch from its resting place! He used his own invulnerable Blade of Destiny to hack away at the stone, but to no avail – the heavy Star of Strength would only move if seized by its chosen Sword-Saint!

Yet Umon had been able to carry the Star even before he had been chosen. Recalling this, Lord Takeda came to think of the magical urn, in which the Blade was kept. This urn was inscribed with a hundred and eight dragon-and-phoenix characters, and their magic permitted the monks to move the Star of Strength with ease. He hurried his steps back toward the shack, but too late! Just as he reached the urn, Lady Asai caught up.

This humble scholar must now clarify the identity of this talented onna-bugeisha. She held the honor of being the elder niece of Lord Asai, and had been trained in the art of the powerful Kiai Shout that only the Asai household can cultivate. Because of this, it was a rarity to hear her speak. Her loyalty and sense of honor was such that she would never disobey an order, even though she knew in her heart that the Star of Strength was not her destiny. Her uncle had commanded that she should not show her face in his presence without it, and so, her honor bound her to this futile task. Therefore, she drew her blade to slay Takeda Ryuji.

But Takeda Ryuji drew faster. With a single slash, he cut apart any hope she might have of obtaining the fabled Star.

My Lord and master destroyed the priceless urn, cutting it in two with his Blade of Destiny. It exploded in a shower of shards, and with it, any hope of moving the Star from this place was lost. Only Umon would be able to shift it. This Takeda Ryuji explained, and took Lady Asai to the mighty weapon. She tried seven or eight times to move it, even though she knew it was in vain.

Realizing that she had finally failed in her task and that the fool’s errand was over, Lady Asai once more drew her blade. Let it be known that she did not hesitate to do the honorable thing! But before she could go through with the act, my Lord and master stopped her. He stripped her of her sword, her gown, and her hair-pins; anything that might mark her as an onna-bugeisha of House Asai. Thereafter, he placed her on Satsuko, and rode back toward the mountain. (This humble scholar would certainly never shame Lady Asai by suggesting she willingly surrendered these things! Certainly Lord Takeda must have overpowered her, forcibly keeping her from honoring her uncle.)

Meanwhile, Lady Akiyama and the monk Kenshin had been readying the monastery for battle. As for the Enlightened Sage, he had gone up to the roof in search of a suitable cloud, upon which to imbue his transcendent Breath. For such was the mastery of the Abbot’s ki, that he could cause great winds to blow, or rain to fall, or snow to melt. He would later show this by breathing forth a heavy rainstorm.

Lord Takeda returned with his prisoner, and placed her in the hospice. Lady Akiyama appointed young Lady Ootori to watch over her, thinking it best her warden be a woman and having none other at hand. Then the two warriors climbed onto Satsuko’s back, and the swift okami carried them down the mountain. They approached the Asai encampment on foot.

Young master Asai invited them courteously into his tent. Therefore they put aside their weapons, and entered. But as they stepped inside the tent, it was as if Lady Akiyama’s blood had turned to ice and her bones had filled with lead! Her eyes locked with the courtesan Haruka, whom she recognized as one of the deadliest ninja ever to bear the Akatsuki name. Speechless, she could only stand there while my Lord and master addressed Asai Shinji.

Despite being an ill-mannered brat, Asai Shinji possessed wisdom beyond his years. He found it distasteful and dangerous to burn down the monastery. My Lord Takeda Ryuji informed him that this line of thinking was correct. But Asai Noburu, that faithless rat, inflamed his passions and tried to wake the fire of war within his heart. Therefore Takeda Ryuji found it necessary to tip his hand, and revealed that both Umon and Lady Akiyama were Chosen of Heaven, and more than a match for the Asai army with the warrior-monks at their side.

Asai Shinji, terrified of the prospect of fighting two Sword-Saints, stood up to that faithless rat and shouted him down. They would retreat to his uncle’s palace and inform him that the Blade was no longer held at Peach Blossom Mountain, but that some drunkard monk had gotten it. Thereafter, they would place a price on Umon’s head and thus obtain the precious Star given time.

Pleased with this answer, and knowing that Umon could defend himself against any enterprising ronin, Takeda Ryuji accepted Asai Shinji’s offer of peace. Let it be known that Asai Shinji bade my Lord and master to grant his sister a swift and honorable death, so that she would not have to live with the shame of failure. (This humble sage does not wish to speak ill of the dead, but will note that with his sister’s execution, Asai Shinji would free himself of any responsibility for the failure at Peach Blossom Mountain. As the reader will see, this convenient escape from being dishonored did not aid Asai Shinji for very long.)

As soon as Takeda Ryuji and his entourage left the Asai camp, Lady Akiyama turned to him and quickly explained that the courtesan Haruka was in fact Shiruzen Haruka, one of the deadliest assassins in Yashima. She had not dared mention it in young Lord Asai’s tent, for fear it would outrage him. In the teahouse, she had heard he loved and treasured her higher than any other possession.

Alarmed, Lord Takeda turned back toward the camp, but too late. A high-pitched scream marked the end of Asai Shinji’s life. It had evidently been in the Akatsuki’s interest that the Peach Blossom Monastery should be destroyed.

Asai Noburu, infuriated and left without a master, immediately ordered the men to attack. And so it was that the siege on Peach Blossom Mountain would turn into a battle.

But now, I fear, my ink is running dry. I have been neglecting my tea, and I think almost half a cup has gone cold in the pot. It is time for me to set aside my brush. Perhaps a stroll through the garden will liven up my limbs, before I sit down to pen the account of what transpired in the battle.

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Takeda Chronicles: Of the Peach Blossom Mountain

Some time has passed since my humble brush last touched the paper. Takeda Ryuji has returned, and it is my duty to record his exploits. This is a long tale, I fear, and one I will not finish in just one sitting. I have prepared a cup of tea and will enjoy it as I write: Spring fragrance, dry character, dark leaves, fine cup. Currently too hot to drink.

I have been staying with Lady Ootori, enjoying conversation, tea, and pleasant strolls through the environs. The people remain poor, but without the heavy taxes Lord Ootori imposed prosperity will no doubt be restored to the region. The giant Buddha statues have been abandoned in favor of a defensive wall, and this humble scholar has provided some advice on a new system of irrigation which should yield an increase in crops. If Heaven is kind, and sees fit to let Lady Ootori’s investments pay off, every farmer in the region will eat his fill of rice in but a season.

But these are not the records of a humble scholar’s observations! My Lord and master, Takeda Ryuji, has busied himself with justice and piety, and it falls to this old man to write of his adventures. As the reader will know, the bald weasel Nichiren had taken young Lady Ootori to the monastery on Peach Blossom Mountain, driven by unclean lusts toward her. Takeda Ryuji vowed to save her from the clutches of this dirty fiend, and so set off astride the okami Satsuko with Lady Akiyama clinging to his back.

They traveled through the afternoon and the night, despite their injuries and despite having fasted before the battle with Ootori Hachi. My Lord Takeda Ryuji was less injured and more accustomed to riding, but Lady Akiyama fared less well. By the time dawn broke, she was exhausted and collapsed. At this time the travelers had reached a brothel some distance away from the Peach Blossom Mountain.

Deeming it wise not to startle the patrons, and worried about Lady Akiyama’s health, Lord Takeda instructed Satsuko to make haste rather than stop and ask for directions. As he emerged from the forest, he noticed that an army had made camp near the mountain. This army flew the banner of House Asai. The educated reader will know that Lord Asai is devoted to the collection of Sword-Saints, and has a great and powerful army of which this was but a small portion.

Making note of the soldiers, Lord Takeda ordered Satsuko to climb the mountain, which she did with the swift and steady footing of a mountain spirit. They arrived before a gathering of soldiers, evidently stationed at the cloister; and Takeda Ryuji also noticed to his great surprise that the two stone statues standing watch over the place had been vandalized. Let it be known that before my Lord inquired about these things, he made sure to put Lady Akiyama in the hospice so that her bandages were replaced and she was given rest.

Now, my Lord petitioned to speak with the abbot, whom he had met once as a child. Learning that the Enlightened Sage was deep in meditation, he instead directed his questions to a senior brother called Kenshin, a warrior-monk skilled in many kinds of combat. Kenshin made clear what had transpired in the lands near Peach Blossom Mountain since my Lord last visited the area, and this humble scholar will describe the events to the best of his ability.

Tea still slightly too hot. Fragrance has shifted to summer.

Some months ago, a star had shone upon the monastery. Lord Asai’s astrologers understood this meant a Blade of Destiny had awoken in the area, and intending to lay claim to this precious gift from Heaven, Lord Asai dispatched his niece Asai Megumi. In her company was Asai Noburu, that faithless rat, whom this scholar has previously encountered on more than one occasion. Upon reaching Peach Blossom Mountain, they had inquired about the Blade with the Abbot, who at first denied that such a thing existed, but must eventually concede that one had indeed been hidden in the monastery in the distant past. Now it had awoken. However, the Abbot felt it wrong to interfere with the will of Heaven; if the blade should be wielded, it would find its own master. Therefore he refused to give it to Asai Megumi.

So it was that the men had made camp outside, effectively besieging the mountain, and a period of negotiation began. The Enlightened Sage was currently meditating on what had been Asai Megumi’s final offer after bribes and promises had failed: Deliver the Blade, or they would take it by force.

When Nichiren had reached the monastery, the monks had dispatched him immediately to speak with House Asai, seeing as he was famously well-versed in politics and might yet find a solution to the conflict. This meant he had not yet had time to violate young Lady Ootori. He had, however, forced her to dress up as a lowly comfort woman, and locked her in a cell at the monastery under the pretext that she was possessed by a demon, and insane. Thus her cries and protests had gone unheard.

Having learned this, Lord Takeda relaxed somewhat, knowing Lady Ootori was safe (if uncomfortable). He sparred with Kenshin and learned his character: Rigid, inflexible, and greatly favoring House Asai despite their reputation as tyrants. By his opinion, the blade should fall into Asai Megumi’s hands.

Meanwhile the monks tended to Lady Akiyama. They found her Akatsuki tools – her shuriken, kunai, and other tools of underhanded killing – and being horrified by them, stripped her of her weapons and gave them as a gift to the Asai soldiers. Only her Blade of Destiny stayed by her side, as the monks could not remove it. Around noon, Lady Akiyama awoke. She stepped out to greet Lord Takeda, and as the abbot had now finished his meditations, they went to speak with him in private.

The Enlightened Sage of Peach Blossom Mountain was old already when this humble scholar was a boy, and had chastised Lord Takeda as a child for climbing the stone gods outside the doorway. Now, these self-same stone gods had been vandalized by a drunken monk named Umon, and for his crimes he had been sent away to watch over the Cast Iron Buddha’s Garden, outside temple grounds. But the exile of Monk Umon had served dual purposes, for the sly old Abbot had sent with him the Blade of Destiny, letting it escape right under House Asai’s noses! Thus the Blade had been kept from Asai Megumi, but the Abbot still feared they might burn the monastery to the ground in search of it.

Presently Lord Takeda explained about Nichiren’s sinful and sinister nature. The Enlightened Sage believed him, knowing that Nichiren had always lusted after women. However, if Nichiren were exiled from the order he might side with House Asai and betray the monastery, thus weakening the cloister in the event of an attack. This worried the Abbot, and rightly so.

The Enlightened Sage told the pair that Lady Ootori was locked in a sunless cell in the basement. Lady Akiyama, who has a soft spot for the girl, went to speak with her. Lord Takeda remained before the great bronze Buddha to piously pray for his parents’ souls. Let Heaven know he is a good and righteous son!

(If this humble scholar has once or twice reminded Lord Takeda of his filial duties, let it be known that it certainly was not necessary, for it would be unfitting to say Takeda Ryuji ever forgot such things.)

When each was done with his or her task, a plan took shape. The Enlightened Sage would let slip to Nichiren about the location of the Blade of Destiny. As he was a greedy and lustful fellow, he would immediately desire to find it and present it to House Asai in exchange for a reward. But since he was also selfish and vain, he would seek to share the reward with few others, and therefore travel with a small company through the wild woods, where he could be easily ambushed. Thus Lord Takeda could give him to the okami and sate her thirst for unclean blood; and also justly punish the bald rascal for his unrighteous behavior. It was decided that Lord Takeda should seek the assistance of Monk Umon, who was charged with guarding the Blade, and wait for Nichiren in the Cast Iron Buddha’s Garden.

Lady Akiyama, meanwhile, would guard Lady Ootori from Nichiren’s advances during the night, as he would have little reason to set out before the following day. So as to not startle him, she disguised herself as an old yamabushi and claimed she had been summoned to cure the poor comfort woman of her illness. The educated reader will know, that the yamabushi are esoteric wandering scholars whose knowledge of the spirit world greatly exceeds that of a common monk; therefore Nichiren had no excuse to go near the girl, and she stayed safe.

Tea has reached the perfect temperature. Fragrance now autumn. Delicious flavor, bitter, reminiscent of lost youth and yellowing leaves.

Lord Takeda rode on the back of Satsuko to the Cast Iron Buddha’s Garden. When he reached it, he found that Umon had been drinking again. The drunken brute nearly attacked my lord and master, but when he saw how fearless and virtuous Takeda Ryuji was, he was filled with admiration and threw himself to the ground in a gesture of humility that can be compared to a great tree falling or a mountain collapsing. Umon swore friendship and brotherhood, and they drank together and spoke of things great and small. Truly wine loosens the tongue! Umon confessed to my Lord that he had gotten curious about the Blade, and taken it out of the magical urn where it was kept. This Blade is called the Star of Strength, and it can only be lifted by those it finds worthy. In Umon’s hands, it had transformed into a massive tetsubo, and chosen him as its Sword-Saint! Umon, being a drunk fool, had not understood this, but Lord Takeda was kind enough to explain it.

The following morning, Lady Akiyama dressed up Lady Ootori as a young yamabushi, and made it down the mountain to the Cast Iron Buddha’s Garden in advance of Nichiren. The bald weasel, for his part, gathered three of Asai’s cavalrymen and told them of his plan; they would speak of it to no-one, and share the reward. As they reached the Cast Iron Buddha’s Garden, they fell into the trap.

Lady Akiyama knocked Nichiren off his horse, and out leapt Satsuko and ate his heart. Lady Ootori watched, and let it be recorded that she did not flinch as she saw her tormentor die. The three soldiers tried to fight, but Umon crushed one with his great strength, and Takeda Ryuji killed one with a club and the last man with a javelin.

Presently Satsuko swore loyalty to my Lord, and promised that she would hunt by his side. As proof of her loyalty, she licked his wounds. The educated reader will know, that the saliva of an okami has healing properties, and when she licks a wound, it will heal completely in a day or two.

It was only now that Umon realized the truth of Akiyama Ren’s sex. She had dressed in men’s garb, and thus Umon had presumed her to be a man, but now her clothes were torn and her nature became clear to him. (This humble scholar would certainly not suggest anything indecent was revealed! Rather, he means to say that Umon had been misled by Lady Akiyama’s garb, and now could see past it.) This greatly disgusted Umon, as he believed women could not make capable warriors and that the mere touch of a woman could rob a man of his virtue and his strength. But Lord Takeda sharply told him to respect her as a great general. Perhaps Umon would obey, but then Satsuko licked his wounds and reverted to her human form, and this revelation became too much for the monk to bear. He must hurry to a stream for ritual cleansing, having been licked by a creature of the female sex.

Presently Lady Ootori mounted one of the fallen men’s horses, and Satsuko transformed into a wolf once more. Lord Takeda bade Umon return to Peach Blossom Mountain once he had gathered his things, and then he and the women rode ahead, returning to the monastery.

One thing remains to note: Young Lady Ootori, apparently quite headstrong, had extracted an oath from Lady Akiyama that she should become her apprentice. Lord Takeda learned this now, and though he found it unwise, he could not force his general to go back on her word. What becomes of young Lady Ootori’s education… remains to be seen. She is certainly a spirited young woman.

Teacup almost empty. Winter fragrance. Bitter dregs.

It is time for me to brew another pot, and therefore I shall let my brush rest.

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Takeda Chronicles: Of Oaths and Conquests

Once again, I find myself in the Ootori mansion. This time not as a guest, but as an aide, a scribe, and an assistant to its Lord. Or I suppose I should say its Lady, for my master Takeda Ryuji has seen fit to name a woman Samurai, and overseer of the province. A sound choice, I think, for she is well mannered, well spoken, and with a good head on her shoulders – but again, I fear, my thoughts run flighty. Let this be a record of the events that unfolded.

We had found ourselves in the household of Ootori Hachi, as his honored guests, in that he sought a Sword-Saint to destroy an okami. The educated reader will know this of the okami: That they are white wolves, that they speak with human tongues but think in alien ways, and that they can transform into strapping young men or beautiful women. They are also judges of human hearts, and will kill those they find sinful or unworthy. This, it seemed, had been the fate of one Monk Joryo, and since Ootori Hachi was quite fond of this fellow, he thirsted for vengeance.

Now. I woke in the morning and prepared my tea: Plain, with a summer fragrance, slightly too cold, well flavored. Beautiful cups. As I finished drinking, my young master informed me that during his excursion into the woods last night, he had come face to face with the very creature we had been summoned here to kill. I inquired if he had drawn his blade against it; he had not.

The okami had borne a woman’s shape, and introduced herself as Satsuko. Since she has no clan name to speak of, I do not know her title. Satsuko explained that Joryo had succumbed to impure lusts – that his heart had become that of an animal, and that he had claimed for himself some unmarried virgins. For this, the okami killed him. Young master Takeda saw wisdom and strength in this creature, and had there and then – in the dead of night – extracted from her an oath. She would serve him faithfully, if she were permitted to kill those with animal hearts. Specifically, she had asked about the monk who had taken Joryo’s place.

In my time staying at the Ootori mansion, I had observed such a one staying under Lord Ootori’s roof. He was a sinful bald rascal with unclean desires, lusting for the Lord’s young daughter as she blossomed into womanhood. Young lady Ootori dared not raise her hand against him, for it was the case that Ootori Hachi craved immortality and the blessings of Heaven. Therefore this monk – who boastfully called himself Nichiren – was his dearest and closest confidante. If she had accused him of sin, her father would have punished her most sternly.

The young master and I discussed these matters as we washed before breakfast. During his morning exercises, Lord Takeda had spoken with Lady Ootori, and she had – in the soft and humble fashion of a lady – explained that her husband was just as superstitious and selfish as he seemed. Thus, Lord Takeda explained, it was regrettable but necessary that the Lord should be dethroned. It was his intention to declare war over breakfast.

He deemed it wise that I should go fasting this morning, since an old man has no place in a war zone. Therefore I excused myself to the Lord’s servants, and took a stroll down into town. The weather was warm with a soft breeze. Flower petals whirled slightly in the air, and a peddler down by the river sold herbal remedies and spices which filled the air with delectable scents. I took a seat at his booth and asked him if he sold tea, which he did. It was quite poor. Too cold, too weak, badly spiced. Dirty cups.

After I had finished two cups, I still had heard neither horn nor gong sounding in the mansion.

Nichiren, it seemed, was as sly as he was sinful. When the house of Takeda declared war, he had gone in between Lord Takeda and Lord Ootori and mediated peace. He had left the hall in Lord Takeda’s company, and tried to persuade him – with honeyed words – that it would be an easy thing to make Ootori bend his knee before one chosen of Heaven. It is my belief that bald weasel knew nothing of my master’s celestial nature at this point; in his mind, he was merely crafting lies to dethrone Lord Ootori and claim his blossoming daughter.

Fortunately Takeda Ryuji is a man of great virtue. (If this old scholar had some slight influence on the boy’s upbringing, he would certainly not be so audacious as to ask praise for the simple and dull-witted lessons he provided over many years. If virtue and good sense was inspired in the boy as a result, it is surely mere coincidence.) Lord Takeda rejected the monk’s dirty offer, and frightened him so badly with the promise of the okami’s jaws, that the ugly bald rascal ran screaming to his master!

Presently Lord Takeda and Akiyama Ren sought out this old scholar where he sat at the vendor’s booth. They explained what had transpired, and decided to take shelter in the woods, until such a time as Akiyama Ren had recovered from her wounds. When she was fit to draw steel, she would use her arts to end Ootori Hachi. We would finally get an answer to who had taught young Akiyama since she left her grandfather’s care, a riddle I had been eager to solve since before we met. I got up from my seat, and we departed into the woods.

We were taken into the woods by the okami Satsuko. She wore her human form, in which she is tall, black-haired and yellow-eyed, with noble bearing and beautiful forms; deceptively regal and attractive, like a true flower of Yamato. A foolish young man could easily forget her bake-mono nature. I would later take Lord Takeda aside to remind him of this; I can only pray that he listened.

As we arrived at a hollow in the wild spirit woods, Lord Takeda made a fire and addressed Akiyama Ren. He bade her explain why the Akatsuki were hunting her, and she explained. This old scholar will not record her past, as it could bring dishonor to my master; he will simply comment that Akiyama Ren’s honor has since been restored. May she meet future temptations, be they silver or steel, with the unchanging face of a living Buddha.

At this point, Lord Takeda went with the okami Satsuko to scout out the lands. Since Akiyama Ren had now sworn fealty to my Lord and master, I informed her of her duties in defending the Takeda name. No dirty peasant sits at my master’s right hand, and so I gave her a choice between two things: The first, to become a true onna-bugeisha, of virtuous thought, polite manners, correct words, correct actions, and appropriate dress, to defend my master’s honor as well as his flesh. The second, to become burakumin, a butcher and grave-digger, to dispose of my master’s enemies and eat the crumbs from his table, but behave in whatever manner she desires without judgment from my part.

She has made her choice. I now write Lady Akiyama. I shall have to gift her with a second sword, so that she is prepared to pay the price if she dishonors House Takeda.

We made camp, and rested. The subsequent day, battle was joined.

This old scholar did not partake in the fighting, so his understanding of the events is unsteady: In the morning, Lord Takeda and Lady Akiyama departed in the okami’s company to meet the advance troops. These were the very same thugs they had met in the Thrashing Carp Inn, and easily defeated. But these men were just a scouting party, whose mission was to find Takeda Ryuji and report his position.

Fearlessly, my Lord Takeda walked back to the mansion to face Ootori Hachi’s men. I have consulted the records, and will for the record state that on the side of House Ootori there were twelve armored horsemen with naginatas, fifty-eight men with spears, twelve archers, and furthermore some amount of peasants conscripted into service, beside Lord Ootori himself. On the side of House Takeda, there was Takeda Ryuji and his onna-bugeisha. Satsuko did not participate in this battle, presumably because she judged the soldiers undeserving of her wrath.

Lord Ootori dispatched his riders to trample Takeda Ryuji. Takeda Ryuji responded thus: With a bow he shot three men; with a spear, he unsaddled four; with a tetsubo he struck down one, and with a long chain, he killed three more. In the end, on the Ootori side, eight men were dead, three were injured, one was unharmed. On the Takeda side, one man was injured, having withstood the strike of two lances and an arrow.

As for Lady Akiyama, she moved silently behind the ranks of the soldiers, and placed her sword in Lord Ootori’s neck. This did not kill him instantly, but distracted him sufficiently that he could not direct his men. He struggled against Lady Akiyama for some time, weakened by poison and the wound, until Lord Takeda came within a bow-shot’s distance. Drawing his weapon, he placed a quivering arrow in the man’s chest, knocking him off the horse, whereupon Lady Akiyama ended his suffering.

Lord Takeda now spoke to the people. He named Lady Ootori the owner of the land, and declared that she was Samurai, and that she should serve under his rule. Lady Ootori, who was a well spoken and well mannered woman, accepted this honor. The young master then sent the okami to fetch this old scholar, that he might draw up the documents and perform the correct rituals.

Thus it was that this old scholar came to stay in the mansion once more. Lady Ootori is a benevolent hostess, who has provided me with tea – spring fragrance, sweet flavor, excellent temperature, lovely cup – and as my brush meets this paper, she is busy burning incense to bring luck upon our arrangement. The rituals are completed, but for one missing factor.

Lord Takeda himself has not been present to oversee them.

For it seems this had transpired: As we retreated into the woods, the bald weasel Nichiren persuaded Lord Ootori to take his daughter to safety. Lady Ootori’s daughter is now held captive by this sinful bald bastard, and therefore my Lord Takeda swore that he would help her. They rode east, following Nichiren, who has sought shelter on Peach Blossom Mountain.

May Heaven guide their steps, and may my brush record their triumph. For now, I will let it rest.

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Takeda Chronicles: Of Akiyama Ren

Once again, my brush to the paper.

I am Takeda Yamamoto, chronicler of Clan Takeda and, insofar as I know, its second-to-last member. I am penning this document at night, awoken by recent disturbances owing to Akiyama Ren, her associates, and her troubled past. But I am getting ahead of myself, and shall start from the beginning.

I have been traveling alongside Takeda Ryuji, last scion of House Takeda, since the destruction of our clan at the hands of several enemies. In his hour of darkness, the boy was blessed by Heaven and bestowed one of the Blades of Destiny – a bloodstained blade, befitting a bloodstained boy – and seeks now to wield War in the name of peace. He is become a Sword-Saint, and through some twist of Fate, I am to be his mentor. In body and in spirit he’s a quick learner; we will see about his mind.

For all his ambition, he is yet just one man. Even a living Buddha could not bring about peace in Yashima by his hand alone; so we went out some weeks ago in search of more hands. This is how we came to seek out Akiyama Ren.

She is the granddaughter of Akiyama Nobu, a scion of Clan Akiyama and therefore a blood-friend of ours; she is also an onna-bugeisha, a warrior woman, young, and unmarried. It is my understanding that she left Clan Akiyama for training under less savory masters, though of this I yet know very little. Whispers say the Akatsuki, whose footsteps are silence, may have gotten hold of her. All shall be known, in good time.

As it were, Akiyama Ren had been staying at a teahouse in the Ootori Side Province, named the Thrashing Carp Teahouse. Young Ryuji’s unfailing steps guided him to this place, where he saw fit to interrupt a kabuki play with his brash behavior – only to learn that Akiyama Ren had been protecting the place for some time. Villagers in trouble from wild dogs or bullies had sought out her aid, and she had answered. This is likely because she carries Akiyama Nobu’s sword, the Blade of the Guardian, which compels her to protect the weak. An admirable quality, though if it’s a quality the girl herself possesses, I cannot say. Nevertheless, young Ryuji entered the teahouse, and made attempts to persuade her.

The establishment served quite delicious tea. Ginseng, with a note of plum in the fragrance, but not in the flavor. A little too hot. Clean cups.

Akiyama Ren told my young master that she had devoted herself to slaying unworthy lords. He said that, should she see him as unworthy, she should strike him down at once. She did not. A good sign. She did not, however, agree to serve him. Fate, it seems, had means of showing his worthiness – or his need of a protector, as it were.

Ootori Hachi had dispatched five thugs, and these thugs were in search of young Lady Akiyama to seek her aid in killing a monster. These thugs were rude, disrespectful, ugly, brash, and ill mannered, with the exception of one young man named Kuma, who was simply stupid. These men caused trouble with the locals and also insulted Lord Takeda’s name. An altercation broke out.

My tea had been poorly sifted and tasted bitter toward the end. Also, the cup was chipped.

As the altercation ended, Akiyama Ren had used her Blade in defense of my master, and in doing so, scared off the thugs with its unearthly blue glow. Seeing as he was quite poor at defending himself, she agreed to protect his life, though perhaps not his honor. This makes her a poor ally. She is also poorly dressed, in the manner of an ugly peasant. And she drank her tea too quickly. Her lack of schooling would only become more apparent, but I digress.

We resolved to meet Ootori Hachi about this monster. I told the two youths what I know about him: That he is a superstitious and pious man, who prays dearly to Heaven. The state of his land would suggest he perhaps does so in excess, for his people were quite poor, and his monks quite rich.

As Ootori Hachi invited us to speak, it seems he mistook my master for Akiyama Ren. This is understandable, as my master was well dressed, well spoken, and well mannered. Akiyama Ren behaved as a spoiled child, and could not stay in her seat. Furthermore, of course, she is a woman. It seems Ootori Hachi was not aware of this.

My master agreed to help out in slaying this monster, and we subsequently went to bed. Akiyama Ren was taken to the women’s quarter, and lodged with the Lord’s daughter.

Now, it seems, I have been awoken by a disturbance. The young onna-bugeisha has been attacked by ninja, and poisoned. The skin on her back has been cut open by a sharp sword, and she is recovering in bed. Needless to say, as I heard this disturbance I awoke the young master, and as I understand it he slew the attackers. He then set out in search of a herb to cure the poison, a plant known as Buddha’s Tears. I believe he has recently returned.

There is one reflection I must make: Lady Akiyama was wearing the garb of a ninja herself. She must have had these clothes beneath her peasant shirt. This is disturbing. It seems the Akatsuki have claimed her, then, which makes her not only rude, but dishonored. I will speak with her, given the opportunity.

There is still some of Lord Ootori’s tea left, which I have reheated. Some ground ginger, not much. Plain fragrance. Decent flavor. Beautiful cup. I shall take the time to enjoy it now, and therefore lay down my brush.

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Welcome to your campaign!
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Wondering how to get started? Here are a few tips:

1. Invite your players

Invite them with either their email address or their Obsidian Portal username.

2. Edit your home page

Make a few changes to the home page and give people an idea of what your campaign is about. That will let people know you’re serious and not just playing with the system.

3. Choose a theme

If you want to set a specific mood for your campaign, we have several backgrounds to choose from. Accentuate it by creating a top banner image.

4. Create some NPCs

Characters form the core of every campaign, so take a few minutes to list out the major NPCs in your campaign.

A quick tip: The “+” icon in the top right of every section is how to add a new item, whether it’s a new character or adventure log post, or anything else.

5. Write your first Adventure Log post

The adventure log is where you list the sessions and adventures your party has been on, but for now, we suggest doing a very light “story so far” post. Just give a brief overview of what the party has done up to this point. After each future session, create a new post detailing that night’s adventures.

One final tip: Don’t stress about making your Obsidian Portal campaign look perfect. Instead, just make it work for you and your group. If everyone is having fun, then you’re using Obsidian Portal exactly as it was designed, even if your adventure log isn’t always up to date or your characters don’t all have portrait pictures.

That’s it! The rest is up to your and your players.

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