The Field of Red Flowers

Takeda Chronicles: Of Spirits in Totomi

Illness and circumstance has kept me from recording the exploits of Lord Takeda Ryuji for some time, and it is only now – in the aftermath of battle – that I finally find the peace and quiet to continue the history of Clan Takeda’s rise from the ashes. I am Takeda Yamamoto, adopted into House Takeda as a young man; in old age, I witnessed its destruction. Now, I shall write of its return.

Akiyama Ren has collected various herbs from which a delectable tea can be brewed: Bitter, strong flavor, dark character, strengthening for the lungs, autumn fragrance. Wooden cup. Tea, indeed, plays an important role in the tale that will unfold upon these humble pages. Let me start with the explanation for my illness, and the curative thereof.

The reader will recall, that we were headed for the hot springs in Totomi Province. Dark clouds covered the sky, and as we set out, it began to rain. As an unfortunate result, this humble scholar was suddenly struck by the frailty of his age, and taken by an ill cold. Because of this, I was unable to provide my Lord Takeda Ryuji with advice, as we finally reached the hot springs only to find them abandoned. This humble scholar entered a feverish, uncomfortable sleep, and greatly inconvenienced his master. Lord Takeda Ryuji declared that his entourage must stay at the abandoned temple by the springs, and nurse the burdensome old man back to health.

Now, this temple is very old. The educated reader will know, that when a beloved tool or useful trinket reaches one hundred years of age, its spirit awakens, and it is given life of its own. This had happened to nearly every tool in the old temple, and absent their human masters, they had grown very lonely. For this reason, the rebellious spirits sought to keep Takeda Ryuji and his subjects, unwilling to let them go.

It was the hunter Kazuo who first discovered this, as a lantern lit itself to guide his way. As he is but a simple peasant, he was all but paralyzed with terror at this sight, and most rudely called upon Lady Akiyama, rousing her from rest in the soothing springs. Lady Akiyama pursued a ghostly broom into the temple, and came face to face with a kosode-no-te, a living kimono, which she wrestled into submission. Lord Takeda, meanwhile, became aware of a plot to spook the horses; this had been the work of a chochin-obake, a lantern spirit, who had sought to frighten the creatures with fire. Two of them had escaped, and the okami Satsuko went out into the night to pursue them, whilst Lord Takeda extinguished the flames with rainwater. The chochin-obake escaped unseen.

Suspecting what might lie behind these ghastly apparitions, Lord Takeda ordered his subjects away, and went alone into the hot springs. Unable to resist the opportunity to dote upon a visitor, the chochin-obake came before him, carrying a tray. Lord Takeda sternly spoke to the spirit, warning it not to commit any more mischievous acts, and furthermore vowed to restore this lost temple to its former glory. The spirits of the temple saw his righteousness, and all – from the greatest iron pot to the smallest chopstick – bowed in obedience before my Lord and master.

This humble scholar has few skills and virtues. He is, however, possessed of a nose that is sharper than average. The aromas from the tray informed him that tea was being served, upon which he promptly awoke. The spirits, for all their mischief, were good hosts; the tea was faint in flavor, rich in aroma, healthy for the lungs and cooling for the brain. After a few cups (which were exquisite porcelain), this humble scholar was ready to serve Lord Takeda as eagerly as the spirits themselves, and order was soon restored in the temple. Lord Takeda’s clothes and other items, which had been moved by the tsukomo-gami, were soon returned to him.

We left the temple the following morning. The night did not pass without complications, however. The okami Satsuko had been attacked in the night, whilst retrieving the horses – by what, she would not say. She bore obvious wounds. Lady Akiyama talked to her, but she did not divulge the identity of the attacker to Lord Takeda. This was likely for the best, as he was busy planning the assault on the Three Mountains villages and did not need further distractions. She would tell him some time later.

We were drawing near our goal, the three mountains in Totomi that had been attacked by the bandit Hoshi. It was resolved, that Lady Akiyama should go ahead as a scout, because smoke from a suspicious fire could be seen near a mountain road, and the hunter Kazuo feared there might be bandits lying in ambush. This fear, we would learn, was well founded.

Lady Akiyama came upon a camp of four men and five women. Of these, only one was loyal to Hoshi; the others were peasants, forced into servitude. They had built a crude outpost to supervise the mountain road, and into this outpost the nimble Lady Akiyama moved, as silent as a shadow. There, she waited.

Presently, Lord Takeda and the rest of us reached the fallen cliff marking the beginning of the bandit Hoshi’s territory. Any traveller going beyond this point would surely be spotted by the men in the outpost, and they would light the large signal-fire, alerting the bandits to our presence. At this point, my Lord and master’s plan was put into action.

Lady Akiyama leaped out near the signal-fire, extinguishing the lantern that would be used to light it. Nakajima Abe fired two arrows toward the men in the outpost, but Lady Akiyama caught them with her bare hands, unwilling to waste the blood of Lord Takeda’s peasants. Lord Takeda himself broke into a heroic run, bursting into the camp and cutting down Hoshi’s loyal man – who had shamelessly tried to hide behind a woman.

The peasants, of course, surrendered. Despite this, Lord Takeda found himself forced to execute one other; a woman who had made whores of her sisters, currying favor with the honorless Hoshi. For this crime, she was put to the sword. In addition, the okami Satsuko demanded the blood of one man as tribute. Lord Takeda did not deny her this, for the man in question was an honorless dog. Surely Lord Takeda would not have let her devour any man or woman of value and good character!

This humble scholar arrived on the scene long after the others, carried by a horse up the hilly terrain. He interrogated the remaining peasants, ensuring their loyalty to House Takeda, and instructed them in the correct behavior henceforth – to stay hidden from Hoshi and his men, and to take good care of our possessions, some of which we would have to leave securely in their camp. For Lord Takeda had decreed that we must secretly approach through the forests, and in doing so, we would not be able to bring horses or servants. This was a wise choice, since we now knew that the roads were being watched. Lady Akiyama’s servant Kiyo whined like a crippled dog at this decision, and it fell to Lady Asai to properly teach her humility before she shut her mouth. I shall have to make sure she is properly educated, when there is time.

Presently night fell. It was now that the okami Satsuko came before Lord Takeda, and informed him of what had happened in the woods.

The educated reader will know, that the kami do not practice rites of marriage like we mortals do. Though they have no flesh, some of them feel the lusts thereof, and exercise them freely without need of Heaven’s blessings. It was the case that an okami named Kemono controlled these mountains. In the past, Satsuko had belonged to him, but fled to Mikawa Province to escape his cruel lusts. Now that she was back, he had once more done to her as he pleased. Since she resisted, he had wounded her until she chose to submit.

Hearing this enraged Lord Takeda. This humble scholar tried to explain to him, that the ways of the kami are not the ways of men. Certainly Lord Takeda knows this! Certainly my Lord and master is a wise man, and would not normally meddle in the affairs of the kami, were it merely a personal matter. But it was the case that this kami had made a deal with mortals, and had sworn loyalty to Hoshi. For this reason, Lord Takeda reasoned, the spirit must be dealt with, so as to deprive the enemy of an advantage. In thinking so, Lord Takeda was not acting rashly, or on impulse, but in fact following every teaching of the great Sonshi! Knowing this, the educated reader could not possibly criticize him for what next transpired.

Lord Takeda went into the woods, calling out the name of the beast. A white-haired man appeared before him, with bone-white claws and evil red eyes. Lord Takeda explained that he had committed crimes against both Heaven and Earth, and ordered him to submit.

Foolishly, Kemono did not comply. He bared his claws against Lord Takeda, vowing to kill him. My Lord and master put down his sword, and facing the beast bare-handed, brought him to his knees, whereupon he castrated him with the Blade of War. Humiliated, the beastly spirit fled. Lord Takeda let him live, that he might serve as a warning to those who think of straying from the path of righteousness.

The foul okami had not acted alone, however. While Lord Takeda was away, Kemono had sent a pack of wild dogs into the camp, to rip my Lord’s loyal subjects apart in their sleep. Lady Akiyama, however, kept watch. Honorably acting as Lord Takeda’s shield, she threw herself into the midst of the pack, so that she might die and the others live.

Here I must pause my story, and apologize to the reader. Before I can continue, it is relevant to reflect a little upon the state of young Lady Ootori, whom the erudite reader will recall had been Lady Akiyama’s student. A strange Akatsuki ritual had infused her with an alien power, which Lady Akiyama claims to be somehow based upon the natural ki of man. Seeing as this force is both vicious and explosive, this humble scholar doubts this claim can be correct – but I digress. Since the event, young Lady Ootori had been training at swordplay under Lady Akiyama’s tutelage. Lady Akiyama had at first been reluctant to teach her, but eventually agreed, teaching her the only swordsmanship she knew – that of a wandering ronin.

The educated reader will know, that where a samurai is courageous, a ronin is savage. Where a samurai is honorable, a ronin is ruthless. Where a samurai is courteous, a ronin is without scruples. Thus young Lady Ootori possessed both the power and the swordsmanship of a dangerous outlaw.

Seeing her teacher being torn apart by dogs, young Lady Ootori leaped into the fray, cutting left and right. Each cut opened a dog’s belly, spilling blood and guts. Before long they were defeated, and Lady Akiyama could be rescued, despite her grievous wounds.

Young Lady Ootori was shaken by the event. The educated reader will remember, that at the time of this event she had only seen fourteen springs, and was yet a frail young girl. The blood and guts of dogs, being filthy and unclean, shocked her delicate senses so to the point that she fell viciously ill. Yet, the Lady Akiyama had been rescued. Indeed, she even seems strengthened by the incident – though why, I cannot say.

Lord Takeda returned, seeing to his loyal subjects, and explaining what had become of Kemono. He bore vicious claw-marks on his chest, but Satsuko’s saliva had already begun to cure them. The okami soon saw to Lady Akiyama as well, cleaning her wounds and speeding her recovery. Because of this, we did not need to rest for very long.

I will take a pause in my chronicles here; both inkwell and teacup have run dry. I shall prepare another pot, and resume my records of how we won Three Mountains, and with it gained a foothold in Totomi Province – but first, I have tasks to attend to.

I must prepare a funeral for a member of House Takeda.

Takeda Chronicles: Of Rivers and Rain

Not all chronicles can be recorded in an airy, beautiful mansion. This time, my brush meets the paper under open sky. This humble scholar must in advance apologize for splotches on the paper, for the weather is bad, and there will be rain.

I am Takeda Yamamoto, and I make these records in the woods of Totomi Province. My party has stopped for a light meal; this humble scholar has foregone it, seeking instead to do his duties as chronicler whilst enjoying a bowl of tea – autumn fragrance, rich flavor, dark leaves, a wooden mug. My lord and master Takeda Ryuji has gathered a force of six samurai with himself as the seventh, aiming to re-take the northern Totomi Province from the ruthless bandit Hoshi. Doubtless my brush will sing of his triumph, if Heaven permits me to live that long.

On the first day of the fifth month of the third Year of Chaos, this being an auspicious day, our party of eleven left Mikawa Province. Besides us seven samurai, there were three servant girls and a huntsman named Kazuo, serving as our guide. The weather was warm and comfortable, and we had fresh supplies and healthy horses. This humble scholar prepared a special saddle for Lady Akiyama, in light of her recent injury and sickness, but she refused it, claiming to be well enough to ride. She does not dishonor her master. In all things, Lady Akiyama is now fully equipped – with a horse, a saddle, and a second sword.

Our ride was, for the most part, pleasant. We had to pass by the handiwork of Asai Noburu, that faithless rat, and for an hour feel the stink of burnt bodies. Other than that, there were no interruptions. Lady Akiyama approached her student, and began her training. She has decided not to let young Lady Ootori learn swordplay from my Lord and master; for what reason, I do not know. Perhaps she feels that a woman is best suited to teach a girl.

After three days of travel, we reached a small village. This village has no name, and exists only for the upkeep of a wooden bridge, built in Takeda Shingen’s days. It was therefore with some surprise that this humble scholar learned that the bridge was no longer there; it was with even greater surprise that he learned it was no accident, but that it had been willfully destroyed – by a kappa. The educated reader will know, that the kappa is a wretched river-demon, fond of beautiful women, whose strength far exceeds its stunted appearance. Though intelligent and cunning, it has a hideous appearance and – all too often – a very evil nature. For fear of the malicious beast, the elder of the village had sent all the women away, and implored that my Lord and master do the same.

Takeda Ryuji, naturally, refused. He ordered the elder to set out rice and sake, and bade all his ten companions to make beds inside the guesthouse. Thereafter he decreed that two men should keep watch throughout the night.

Now, this humble scholar must pause, to make notes upon the heated ki of manhood. This hotness recedes in older men, but in the young it runs rampant. The presence of women often inflames this nature, and therefore, what happened next can be explained.

It so happened, that Nakajima Abe and Isei Ryoichi would keep their watch together. In the dead of night, Nakajima Abe heard a sound, and thinking it was the kappa, fired an arrow. From the dark came a taunting hiss. Nakajima Abe fired a second arrow, and the hissing creature whined; it had been struck. Nakajima Abe, seeking to prove himself a worthy warrior, sprang to his feet and rushed into the dark. It was his hope he had slain the kappa. Isei Ryoichi, not wishing to seem a coward, followed. The creature retreated slowly, and the two men followed.

Presently Akiyama Ren awoke. She alerted the camp to the watchmen’s absence, and followed their tracks. Knowing that more warriors were coming, the kappa struck! It had but feigned injury, and now it attacked Nakajima Abe, dragging him through the woods and striking him fiercely in the groin. Stunned and helpless, he would surely have been drowned by the beast – but now Akiyama Ren arrived, and scared it off.

Captain Abe was returned to the guesthouse, and this humble scholar made a cooling cover for his injuries. The rest of the night passed in sleepless fear, one samurai of seven already wounded by the beast. Fortunately it had not used its full strength, and its victim should recover without permanent damage – though he’ll suffer for some while, without a doubt.

When morning broke, Takeda Ryuji brought Akiyama Ren to the shore of the river. Here, he used his authority as heir to the Totomi Province to call out the demon, and confront it. The creature explained that it had sired a son in this village, and that it had broken the bridge to protect its son from bandits. Unfortunately, the man had already died of pneumonia, and now the demon was furious. It declared it would sire new sons by the village women – whether they wanted to or not.

Raindrops have begun to fall. Tea rapidly cooling. Flavor diluted. I must finish the bowl more quickly than I would like.

When Takeda Ryuji returned to the guesthouse, he bore a terrible bite mark on his shoulder. A lesser man would have lost his arm, but Takeda Ryuji merely complained about the stench of the kappa’s breath. The demon would trouble the village no longer. Takeda Ryuji’s wound was cleaned, and we crossed the river by raft.

We have made camp on the road. Ahead lies a hot spring, whose vapors are good for the lungs. A temple stands to guard over it, tended to by shrine-maidens whose skill at medicine is famous – they will treat my Lord and master without fault, and the infection in his shoulder will go down. We must ride hard, I fear, for the weather is worsening; to make camp in the wilderness is folly. If we but make haste, we can reach it before nightfall. Already the cold troubles me, and my tea has lost its heat.

I hope my next record will be made from someplace warm.

Takeda Chronicles: Of Ghosts and Children

These idle notes are the product of a forgetful old scholar. The educated reader should know that they concern the events in Mikawa Province during a few days in spring, and do not involve glorious conquest. Admittedly this document will touch upon the esoteric knowledges of Lady Akiyama, and will make notes on some events of interest – but it does not serve as historical record.

Lord Takeda arrived in Mikawa Province some time ahead of his army. He had matters to discuss with Lady Ootori about her daughter, and also matters to discuss with this old scholar, regarding the chronicles previously written and the sheltering of the refugees. Because Ootori Hachi had gathered stockpiles, we will be able to supply them – over summer. They can stay here no longer than that, and to ensure their safety and prosperity, my Lord and master has decided to reclaim Totomi province from the ruthless bandit Hoshi. His army will remain here in Mikawa, protecting the region against vengeance from the House of Ootori; a small task force of seven samurai will deal with the dog that’s laying claim to Takeda lands. This and more I discussed with my Lord and master. The seven samurai are, besides myself: Lord Takeda, Lady Akiyama, Lady Asai, Nakajima Abe, Isei Ryoichi, and young Lady Ootori. I will explain this curious last member, and how she came to be healed of crippling injury. First, however, I must explain the debts owed to her mother.

Lord Takeda told Lady Ootori of her daughter’s sworn allegiance to Akiyama Ren, and of her life-threatening injury. He apologized humbly and profusely to Lady Ootori and swore to relieve the poor woman’s suffering and grief. In fact, he spent several nights worshiping at her family altar, simply to bring her comfort. It is this humble scholar’s guess that she has forgiven him by now – though perhaps not Lady Akiyama. But more on this will follow.

While I learned about the events at Peach Blossom Mountain from my Lord and master, the caravan of soldiers and refugees was steadily approaching. This caravan was overseen by Lady Akiyama, who did a fine job guarding it in her master’s absence. There seems to have been some trouble with Isei Ryoichi, but this humble scholar would not venture to guess at its nature; it had to do with some minor squabble over Lady Akiyama’s property. At any rate, it is surely now forgiven.

(A note: I must still obtain a wakisashi for Lady Akiyama.)

Lady Akiyama, upon arriving, solemnly apologized to Lady Ootori for the ills that had befallen her daughter. She swore to do her best to bring young Lady Ootori back to full health, and wasted no time in preparing an Akatsuki ritual that should restore the strength in her legs. This scholar knows only a little of the medical arts, but will note that such a ritual is exceedingly difficult and dangerous. Its consequences were dire, and it would severely injure both Lady Ootori and Lady Akiyama. But more on this will follow.

Now I must discuss another matter. The first night Lord Takeda slept in the mansion, a horrid apparition manifested in Lady Ootori’s bedroom. This was the ghost of Ootori Hachi, her husband, bearing a grudge. Such a foul thing is not easily dealt with! The educated reader will know, that a grudge from the beyond is invisible, but horrendous to behold; intangible, but impossible to fight; inaudible, but screaming with despair. This apparition had frightened Lady Ootori nearly to death, and it was only the courage and strength of Lord Takeda that saved her. It is this humble scholar’s belief that his fervent worship kept the wicked ghost at bay, but Takeda Ryuji’s prayerful lips could not serve the Lady Ootori forever. Thus a solution was required.

Fortunately, amongst the refugees there had come a yamabushi by the name of Kanon. This woman is low born and lacking education, but wise and insightful in the world of spirits. Furthermore she possesses knowledge of wind and water, the eight trigrams, the five viscera, the eight noble truths and the way of the gods. This humble scholar questioned her extensively on these topics and found her worthy of assisting Lady Ootori; therefore, an exorcism was arranged.

Now, the educated reader will recall that Akiyama Ren had dealt the deathblow to Ootori Hachi. When the yamabushi summoned up the furious spirit, it broke free of its confinement and attacked my master’s general, who was meditating in a nearby chamber. If not for the Blade of Destiny protecting her, the Lady Akiyama would surely have been dragged to hell! But Heaven and Takeda Ryuji intervened, and through the combined use of the weapons of the gods, the evil apparition was destroyed. May it burn in eight hells for eight thousand years.

Unfortunately, the presence of the ghost had worsened young Lady Ootori’s condition. Lady Akiyama, therefore, hurriedly performed the ceremony that would heal her. Such rituals are not to be undertaken lightly, and it is this humble scholar’s understanding that Lady Akiyama performed a forbidden technique that directly manipulates the body’s very essence. This is harmful to the five vital organs, and therefore Lady Akiyama passed into a deep slumber from which she has not yet recovered. As for young Lady Ootori, her ability to move had been restored – but at a cost.

This humble scholar must make the observation, that young Lady Ootori was transformed by the process. This can be observed by a number of traits; a sharpness of the eye, a change in stature, a maturing of the voice, and a firmness of the muscle. These traits mimic those of Lady Akiyama. What to make of this, I know not; but it is evident that Lady Akiyama has claimed Lady Ootori’s daughter both in spirit and in flesh. I shudder at the thought of owing such a debt. Even when Lady Akiyama has children of her own, could she repay it? What price can be placed on a child’s very blood? Though this humble scholar proudly bears the name of Takeda, he is still Yamamoto; this body and these bones belong to his parents. Of young Lady Ootori, I am not so certain. Yet the outcome was inevitable; Lady Akiyama had no choice. Perhaps, if Heaven is kind, Lady Ootori will be blessed with another child. I shall hope the dutiful prayers of my Lord and master bring with them the blessings of Heaven.

Lady Akiyama is now recovering, tended to by her handmaiden Kiyo, who still lacks education. It is a puzzle who shall teach her the necessary skills; but for now, she refuses to leave her mistresses’ side, and is as loyal as a dog or a horse. This is commendable, and I have seen to it that she is well rewarded.

As for the refugees and the soldiers, I am afraid I have neglected them in these poor and meager records. Let me assure the reader, that this humble scholar has done his best in fulfilling his duty to Lord Takeda, and to his people – the refugees have been given every comfort this land can afford, and while the situation is unsustainable in the long term, nobody will starve. The soldiers, under Captain Kurosawa, have been given clear instructions and are manning their stations. Those who are not on guard duty are aiding in the construction of walls, and the digging of ditches – supervised by the stupid oaf Kuma, who has a talent for shifting great amounts of earth. Every man is put to work, and the reign is harmonious.

Hopefully it will thus remain. I am Takeda Yamamoto, and I let my brush rest.

Takeda Chronicles: Of Loyalties Won and Lost

This shall be the last page of my documentation of the exploits of Takeda Ryuji on Peach Blossom Mountain. Whether this page makes it into official documentation… remains to be seen. I fear it is not as relevant as the other scrolls in recording the glory of my Lord and master. Perhaps, then, I shall permit myself to speculate a little further than what is commonly done in chronicles like these. The reader will forgive my idle brush for writing the empty and foolish thoughts of a humble old scholar. Whatever the case, a few more events – however minor – remain to record.

After his victory on Peach Blossom Mountain, Lord Takeda inspected his newly won troops, and the spoils that came with them. He sent out Lady Akiyama to scout the environment, spoke with his captains, and visited the injured and weary troops. This included young Lady Ootori, who was near death from the assassins’ blade; her condition was critical, but stable. Lord Takeda prayed for her, and for the souls of the deceased.

Lady Akiyama, for her part, obeyed Lord Takeda’s orders. With her apprentice left in the hands of the monks, she moved swiftly to assess the situation. In doing so, she learned that Asai Noburu – that faithless rat – had burned down the teahouse and killed the courtesans as part of his retreat, leaving their dead bodies strewn across the road. Let it be recorded that some Asai men resisted him; their bones and possessions were found in the ashes. Lady Akiyama would bring their money as alms to the temple, that the monks might pray for the souls of the righteous dead.

Not all the courtesans had perished in the attack, however – Lady Akiyama found one survivor, a lowly comfort woman going by the name of Kiyo. This woman had been whoring herself out in the Asai camp, and had thus escaped the massacre brought on by the faithless rat.

Kiyo has come with Lady Akiyama back to Mikawa, the province in which we now reside. Evidently my master’s great general saw some value in her, and has kept her a slave; for what purpose, I dare only speculate. Whatever the case, she belongs to House Akiyama, and this old scholar cannot object – for it is indeed right and good that the noble Lady Akiyama should not tend to her own upkeep. Kiyo can be educated in womanly matters, and become a worthy handmaiden in time. If Lady Akiyama acted incorrectly, it was only in this matter: She ignorantly brought the dirty courtesan to the temple, and let her stay in the hospital – greatly endangering her patient with the unclean woman’s touch! But the monks owed Lady Akiyama their lives, and therefore only the drunkard Umon dared object.

This old scholar has mentioned, that a stream of refugees was coming from the east. These Lady Akiyama observed on her way back up the mountain; Captain Kurosawa knew a little more of the matter, and heard that they were fleeing from a remote part of the Totomi province, which by Heavenly decree belongs to House Takeda. Hearing that these people had been loyal subjects of Takeda Shingen (may his soul live for ten thousand years in Heaven!), my Lord and master immediately sat up on Satsuko and rode out to meet his father’s people. Hearing their plight and seeing their suffering, he immediately commanded that all of House Asai’s supplies be shared with the starving migrants, and that no expense was to be spared in ensuring their comfort and their safety. The people all fell down and praised Takeda Ryuji, seeing clearly his virtue and magnificence, and each and every one felt joy at being reunited with their Lord.

Now, this is what had transpired in the eastern Totomi province since the fall of House Takeda: A great many bandits had arisen, tearing across the plains, raping and pillaging without concern for piety or virtue. These bandits had gathered in the northern plains, near the border to Shinano, under the banner of a ronin named Hoshi. Now, at this time Uesugi Kojiro was laying claim to Shinano, and seeing that the bandits were weak he attacked them, and drove them away.

The bandits escaped to the south, into the woods of Totomi province, and came upon a group of villages in the mountains. Here they began to kill the young men, claim the young women, and enslave or exile everyone who lived. It was refugees from this place that had come to Peach Blossom Mountain. The refugees numbered in the hundreds, and were gathered mainly from the largest village, that had received enough advance warning to flee before the bandits reached them. Therefore their ranks included strong young men and healthy women, although all – irrespective of age or sex – were starved and greatly weakened from the journey. A man named Kazuo had been chosen to lead them, a tall and broad-shouldered hunter who knew the paths through the mountains well.

But now Kazuo threw himself at Takeda Ryuji’s feet, and swore to serve him loyally. His people did likewise. Lord Takeda took the refugees back to the Asai camp, and inspected the stockpiles. The food would last them no more than three days. Lord Takeda therefore resolved to lay claim to an Asai supply caravan, which would not yet have received word of House Asai’s defeat.

Leaving Lady Asai in charge of the encampment, he gathered some good men and set out to reach the caravan. This caravan was guarded by a man named Isei Ryoichi, known as the Little Flying General. He had heard of Takeda Ryuji and knew him to be a good and just man, whose cause was virtue and whose sword Heaven guided. Because Isei Ryoichi could clearly see this, and because he was a good-natured and valiant man, Takeda Ryuji spared his life, thereby winning his loyalty, his men, and his caravan. The supplies were brought back to the camp, and every last man, woman and child could eat and drink to their hearts’ content. Praised be Lord Takeda, for his wisdom and compassion!

This humble scholar must now pause to discuss the matters of Lady Akiyama, at the Peach Blossom Mountain itself. In Lord Takeda’s absence, young Lady Ootori awoke. Tears streamed down her face, and she was overcome with the unconquerable fear of death that young people so often possess. The courtesan Kiyo tried to calm her with soothing songs, but they would not help; for young Lady Ootori had been paralyzed from the waist down, and saw only death or misery in her future.

Lady Akiyama, being a woman, was deeply moved by the crying child. She petitioned an old monk named Nanimo to help her young apprentice. Fortunately, this monk was so near enlightenment that uncleanliness did not bother him – even though the girl had been handled by a prostitute, he made no objections. Nanimo treated the poor child, and because he was so near enlightenment, some feeling was miraculously restored to her legs. Her heart was still heavy with sorrow, however, and she longed for her mother’s embrace. Therefore Lady Akiyama resolved to move her back to Mikawa province, to Lady Ootori, in whose mansion I now pen these pages.

These, I believe, are all the major events that took place at Peach Blossom Mountain. Lord Takeda gathered up his forces and returned after the celebrations had ended. Of other matters, I have not been told – but if the reader will permit me, this humble scholar must record a few issues that have been burdening his heart.

Perhaps I spoke in error when I said that Lady Akiyama Ren’s past does not matter. Undoubtedly it haunts her. A tension hangs between her and Takeda Ryuji, a tension owing, no doubt, to her past with Shiruzen Haruka. My beloved friend Akiyama Nobutomo had often observed that his granddaughter, despite her prowess in battle and despite her honest nature, was a lonely child in need of close friendship.

This humble scholar has only meager knowledge of the Akatsuki, but suspects that bonds of brotherhood must easily form in such circles… and bonds of sisterhood, no doubt, just as strongly. To mention, or even for a moment entertain the thought, that the virtuous Lady Akiyama should share such a bond with a worthless murderous slut, is beyond dishonoring her. This humble scholar would certainly never imply it, and the dog that suggests it deserves a stern whipping. Yet something about this honorless killer clearly troubles my Lady Akiyama, and it seems it has driven a wedge between her and Lord Takeda. I shall have to observe how it unfolds, quite carefully. My Lord and master is a virtuous man, admired and adored by all who follow him. Certainly he will find a way to overcome this obstacle.

I let the brush rest for now. Perhaps this document will be relevant to the chronicles; perhaps it will end up as kindling for a cup of tea. Time will tell. My Lord and master has returned from Peach Blossom Mountain, and plans to embark into Totomi province. If Heaven will permit me, I will dutifully record his victories.

Takeda Chronicles: Of the Battle of Peach Blossom Mountain

The following is a record of the Battle of Peach Blossom Mountain, which took place between House Takeda and House Asai at the Peach Blossom Monastery, on the nineteenth day of the fourth month of the second year since the dissolution of House Takeda. House Asai had long besieged this holy place, seeking to claim the Star of Strength which had been preserved there for many centuries; but it was not the will of Heaven that they should possess it. Takeda Ryuji tried to settle a peaceful solution, but the lethal intervention of the Akatsuki led to a bloody battle, with many dead.

I am Takeda Yamamoto. Let it be known that House Takeda emerged victorious thanks to the prowess of my Lord and master, Takeda Ryuji, and his trusted aide and right-hand woman, Lady Akiyama. This humble scholar will now try to make clear the events that transpired on Peach Blossom Mountain.

The preparations for the battle went thus:

The Enlightened Sage of Peach Blossom Mountain ascended to the highest peak of the monastery, where he used his transcendent Breath to bring forth a rainstorm, slowing the advance of the Asai soldiers. Under the constant barrage of heavy raindrops, Takeda Ryuji assembled the warrior-monks, which numbered thirty-two, and gave them instructions. He also gathered his two generals, Satsuko and Lady Akiyama, and told them to kill the spies that were hidden on the slopes of the mountain. Furthermore, he made sure that Lady Asai and young Lady Ootori were safe inside the hospital, overseen by Umon, who was still recovering from his injuries.

Having done these things, Takeda Ryuji awaited the enemy outside the gate.

I have consulted Captain Kurosawa, who participated in the battle on the Asai side, and learned that the following army was brought to bear against Takeda Ryuji and his thirty-two monks:

Firstly there were five hundred ashigaru soldiers, armed with spears, clad in light-foot armor, and wearing wide-brimmed hats. These were led by Captain Sho, a spearman. Furthermore sixty archers, split into two units, clad in heavy jackets and with wide-brimmed hats. These were led by Captain Abe, the spymaster. Furthermore thirty-five elite heavy cavalrymen, on fine horses, armed with bronze-tipped lances and heavy clubs. These were led by Captain Kurosawa himself, a fine horseman and experienced warrior. Besides these soldiers, there was a skilled champion going by the name of Katsuro, as well as three ninja of the Akatsuki who had infiltrated the ranks of the Asai. All of these were led by Asai Noburu, advisor to the late Asai Shinji. Doubtless his heart burned with hatred for Takeda Ryuji!

As Asai Noburu approached the gate, he saw Takeda Ryuji standing outside it, and commanded his army to attack. These were his tactics:

The infantry marched in the pattern known as the Pounding Fist of Heaven, named for the booming of the soldiers’ boots, straight ahead up the sloping road. The archers nimbly climbed the rocks to the side, attacking in the pattern called Hachiman Opens His Fan, named for the broad covering of arrows such a formation can loose. The cavalry would come last, riding down the monks after the infantry had stormed the gate, in the pattern called The Great Righteous Lance.

Takeda Ryuji, however, was no fool. As the infantry approached, he commanded the gates open behind him, and out fell the two stone gods that had been guarding Peach Blossom Mountain! These massive statues were fifteen feet tall and made of solid granite, and rolled down the slopes of the mountain, straight into the marching soldiers!

(This humble scholar will remind the reader, that the guardian spirits had already been vandalized by Umon some weeks prior, and were beyond repair. Rather than have them shamefully retire, Lord Takeda gave them the honor of defending the temple one last time!)

The infantry thus scattered and distracted, with many men crushed beneath the granite gods, Lord Takeda commanded his two generals to attack! From behind him leaped Satsuko and Lady Akiyama! As the archers loosed their arrows, Lady Akiyama planted her Blade of Destiny in the ground, and caused the arrows to miss their mark, falling short in mid-air. As the scattered infantry readied their charge, Satsuko flew into their midst and tore into them with her mighty jaws, causing even more disorder in their ranks!

Already had Takeda Ryuji taken the edge off the attack, without losing a single man. Presently he readied his own Blade of Destiny and charged in amongst the archers, scattering them like leaves. Lady Akiyama withdrew her blade, and directed four monks against the other thirty archers.

Presently Captain Sho stepped forth from the ranks of the soldiers and challenged Lady Akiyama to duel, while his men gathered around Satsuko with their spears. This Captain had been trained in the Iron-Arm Block technique, and could deflect any ordinary blow with his left hand. Lady Akiyama was his better, however, and distracted him with her Akatsuki techniques before stabbing him in the leg, removing him from battle.

Now the cavalry readied their charge. Riding down their own fleeing men to attack the monastery, they aimed for Takeda Ryuji, who was back at the gate. My Lord and master avoided their attacks, unsaddled a man, stole his horse, and rode for their champion Katsuro, who had challenged him to single combat. This champion was a masterful horseman and such a giant, that he must ride a specially bred steed. He wielded a large spiked club and a heavy lance, that no other man could lift. But this lance shattered against Takeda Ryuji’s breast, and the fearsome warrior was impaled upon my Lord and master’s blade. He was Azami Katsuro, and he fought well.

No general, no matter how great, can lead a battle completely without losses. As Katsuro and Captain Sho fell, Takeda Ryuji looked back across the battlefield, and saw that Satsuko was very injured from a multitude of lances; that Captain Abe had felled six or seven monks with his arrows, and that his men were climbing the walls; and that the path into the monastery was clear for the cavalry. He ordered his loyal okami to retreat, and charged Captain Abe with a blunt-tipped lance, knocking him unconscious. Thereafter he turned his wrath upon the cavalry, while Lady Akiyama cleared the wall of clambering soldiers.

Here this humble scholar must pause in his account of the events to make a personal remark.

At this point in time, Lady Akiyama left my Lord and master’s side. In doing so, she left him alone amidst a multitude of horsemen, including Captain Kurosawa (who, admittedly, had at this point been unsaddled by the warrior-monk Kenshin), and with deadly archers still on the walls. Of a man, this would certainly have been unforgivable. This humble scholar infers, however, that Lady Akiyama’s maternal instincts took control of her, leading her to abandon her sworn master to protect young Lady Ootori. Given that she is honorable and worthy, it is the only explanation for this unreasonable behavior, and therefore the reader should not judge her too harshly. As the educated reader will know, it is a common failing of the female sex that their instincts sometimes guide them, rather than their reason.

Thus Lady Akiyama disappeared from the battlefield, seeing to her apprentice. Lord Takeda, meanwhile, cleared out the remaining soldiers when he saw Asai Noburu, that faithless rat, approach on the battlefield. Riding out to face him, he planned to ask for his surrender – but was suddenly interrupted.

For now, the Akatsuki struck. Having hidden among the archers, they drew their forbidden weapons, coated in poison. If not for Asai Noburu’s cowardly scream of panic, my Lord and master may have never seen them coming. The sudden outburst gave him time to move, and he was merely grazed by the assassin’s knife – though afflicted with the Akatsuki poison, and instantly made weak and sluggish. Despite the incensed venom burning in his blood, Takeda Ryuji instantly slew the attacker, and addressed the soldiers, telling them how the Akatsuki had betrayed them all.

In this instant, all the defeated soldiers all saw how righteous and good Takeda Ryuji was, and surrendered. Asai Noburu, too, realized his error but fled in shame rather than admit his failings. Captain Kurosawa was the first to kneel before Takeda Ryuji, and swore him allegiance. Now they understood that the Akatsuki had slain Asai Shinji of their own accord, and not by my Lord and master’s command, as they had first suspected. The remaining Akatsuki was quickly struck down by Kenshin, aided by the archers who resented being betrayed.

But what had been the Akatsuki’s purpose in attacking Takeda Ryuji? Surely they knew an assassin’s dagger would not fell him in combat? Indeed it was so. The vicious assassins had merely sought to distract him, while their most deadly member – Shiruzen Haruka – moved to strike at Lady Akiyama.

For while all this happened, the following had transpired: Shiruzen Haruka had shed her disguise as a courtesan, and donned the armor of a cavalryman. She had ridden along the men up to the mountain, and thereupon struck the okami Satsuko with a poisoned lance, wounding her mortally. She now lay dying in the courtyard. Then she had ridden past the other warriors, abandoned her horse and her disguise, and headed for the infirmary.

Dressed in just her underwear, she disabled Umon (who, as the reader will recall, had recently been badly whipped, and was in no shape to fight), took young Lady Ootori hostage, and aimed to interrogate Lady Asai and Lady Akiyama about the location of the promised Blade. The Akatsuki, too, had designs on this weapon, and had planned to steal it from Lady Asai upon its retrieval.

Upon learning that a Sword-Saint had already been chosen, the murderous harlot placed her dagger in young Lady Ootori’s back. The girl fell lifeless to the floor. Dropping her dagger, Shiruzen Haruka readied herself to strike down Lady Akiyama with a dreaded technique that is known as Ten Thousand Birds. Of this technique, this humble scholar knows only a little; the educated reader will know that it channels the body’s ki into a lethal weapon, which cuts through flesh, bone, and even steel as easily as if it were paper. Perhaps she would have succeeded, but at this very moment Lady Asai unleashed her mighty kiai shout, and the ferocious whore was distracted. Lady Akiyama parried her blow, unbalancing Shiruzen Haruka’s ki in the process and greatly weakening her.

This humble scholar poorly understands what happened next, but believes that the worthless she-devil was simply overcome with fear, and fled like a cowardly dog.

Lady Akiyama rushed to the side of her young apprentice, and learned that the Akatsuki training had saved her; at the last moment, young Lady Ootori had diverted her ki flow, staying alive despite the deadly blade in her back. Time, however, was short. As the battle ended outside, Lady Akiyama desperately began trying to save young Lady Ootori’s life.

Meanwhile, Lord Takeda rushed to the aid of his loyal Okami. As she lay dying, she transformed into the shape of a woman and bade my Lord and master for aid. For her loyalty and bravery in combat, Lord Takeda rewarded her, using the power of his Blade of Destiny to purify her wounds of poison. Furthermore he ordered several blocks of incense to be burned around the injured Satsuko. The educated reader will know, that the purifying smoke that rises from incense has a healing effect on creatures of spirit, and let it be known Takeda Ryuji spared no expense in healing his loyal servant’s many wounds! This humble scholar estimates that he burned incense to the value of twenty-five koku or more.

This humble scholar has carefully questioned Captain Kurosawa, and learned how the battle concluded:

Virtually all of the defenders had been injured. However, only eight monks were dead. Takeda Ryuji had shallow wounds across his chest and stomach, the brunt of the blow deflected by his iron physique. Poison burned in his veins, but this did not stop him from tending to his allies. Lady Akiyama had a spear-wound in her side. Kenshin was poisoned. Satsuko had a dozen wounds from the enemy lances; were she a mortal woman or an ordinary wolf, she would certainly be dead.

As for the attackers, there remained around one hundred infantrymen, eight archers, and thirteen cavalrymen. Asai Noburu and Shiruzen Haruka had fled the battle. Their men had either died or abandoned them. Captain Kurosawa was bruised, Captain Abe had been knocked unconscious, and Captain Sho had a badly injured leg. All three would soon swear allegiance to Takeda Ryuji.

After the battle, the Enlightened Sage declared his intent to depart. Before this, he spoke with Kenshin, Umon, and Takeda Ryuji. This humble scholar does not know the details of the conversation; but the soldiers say that a sudden squall parted the clouds, as the Enlightened Sage died.

This is what transpired at Peach Blossom Mountain on the nineteenth day of the fourth month of the third Year of Chaos. May Heaven preserve this record. I am Takeda Yamamoto, chronicler of House Takeda; my brush now rests, and my hand will raise a cup of tea in honor of Takeda Ryuji.

(Summer fragrance, green leaves, rich flavor, fine cup).

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.

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.

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.

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.

Welcome to your campaign!
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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.

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