The sleeping vigil
disturbed by lifes crimson blood;
What waits down below?
The trap door was not as simple as they had expected, being inlaid with elaborate metalwork and traces of purified jade. Beneath was a mere storeroom, however, an exposed opening revealed a ladder that descended into the mountains. When dropped Hotaka’s torch required 10, maybe 15 seconds to drop to the floor below, whatever this was it was deep and cut into the rock itself. Shin’ichi and Hotaka took point, pushing themselves to climb quickly down while Naruto and Chiaki climbed with more care. Shugeki, not wishing to abandon their prisoner and servants (nor her trusty steed), remained on the surface.
Hotaka reached the bottom first, finding a large cavern like room with half a dozen stone blocks haphazardly dotted around it. The torch, struggling in the stale air, was severely limiting his ability to make out more than that. In contrast Shin’ichi appeared to have no trouble with the lack of light and started exploring eagerly. It was almost as if there was a faint light illuminating everything in the room. He quickly pointed out there appeared to be script inlaid upon the blocks, in addition to a semi-circle of symbols etched into the far wall. It was as he was pointing this out to the more scholarly Naruto and Chiaki that he noticed the source of the light nobody else could see, a second script faintly glowing on the stone blocks.
Working her way around the room Chiaki began to decipher the writing, which used formal Rokuganese from the early period of the Empire. A sudden insight from her childhood provided context to the words. The stone blocks were sarcophagi and contained within them the sleeping warriors of the Naga. The half serpent, half human race were the thing of legend and childhood nightmares, though Chiaki was able to recall that they had an uncanny knack for being present at critical junctions throughout the history of the Empire. So rare were their appearances that most doubted they even existed.
Up above Shugeki, having claimed authority over their new prisoner, was not surprised to find that the eta carrying the body were preparing to make a break for it. Simply riding over to them was enough to put a stop to that, it also allowed her to spot what had finally pushed them towards action – a small group of figures slowly making their way down the nearest mountain. After Hotaka’s re-emergence the two samurai watched together as the new group approach, slowly discerning that they were likely samurai dressed for battle.
Within the pit Naruto, building upon Chiaki’s incredible recollection, was examining the script on the wall. It was not only of the ciphers used by shugenja but appeared to be almost identical to a spell he was privately researching. Drawing forth the drowsy kami embedded within the stone he sought clarification and learned that while the spell had been laid down 362 years earlier they had been refreshed within the last decade. Further discourse with the kami revealed that there had once been a passageway to the Nobu valley of the Legion Eternal. Neither names meant anything to the assembled samurai, though they wondered whether the Legion Eternal bore any connection to the Imperial legion which , centuries before, had gone missing in the region.
With their investigation drawing to a close Naruto and Chiaki prepared to leave, but not before Shin’ichi’s curiousity got the better of him. He had discovered that the top of the stone blocks were in fact lids, which moved with an unnatural ease. He managed to slide one far enough to see the Naga resting inside before he was spotted and admonished by Chiaki. Naruto took a more direct approach, grabbing him with a hand of earth summoned from the floor. Shin’ichi agreed to leave the Naga in peace, having already seen what he needed.
Once all had returned to the surface they decided to wait for the approaching visitors and made their presence and status as emerald magistrates known. Three samurai of the Crab Clan, two elders and a young shugenja, descended into the ruins of the monastery, each heavily armed and wearing protection more suited to the Great Wall than a contentious border. Knowing the value of first impressions the magistrates, led by the former Crab Hotaka were direct and to the point. They let it be known why they were there and what they had learned, including the accusations of maho and the likely involvement of the nearby Unicorn daiymo.
The youngest Crab was aghast at the accusations and claimed lies were at play. She had apprenticed under the head monk Kommatsu and could not believe he would fall to the taint. There were several indirect remarks about whether Hotaka’s honesty had been affected by his new allegiance to the Scorpion, there were also more than a few rather direct accusations made at Shugeki given the likelihood that members of her Clan had attacked the monastery. It was on the path down to the nearby village where things came to a head, with the young Hida demanding to know why they were bringing dishonour upon them all by carrying round a dead body. The elder Kaiu, who had for the most part been content to observe, echoed the demand, though in a much more agreeable manner.
The scroll and Imperial seal were not sufficient to appease the young shugenja who was ready to start calling forth the kami to right the wrongs in front of her. Her elders on the other hand, advised a more cautious approach. They would give the magistrates until sun-down the following day before they dealt with matters as only the Crab could. As the elder Hida Jimunsha later recited:
As winters cruel frost
Gives rise to the spring blossom
Our blades yet bring life
The village was not what they had expected. Paddy upon paddy of rice lay unattended save for a couple of peasants who knelt in fear at the approach of the samurai. The Lord’s residence, they learned lay on the other side of the village which was equally deserted save for a faint sound of prayers coming from the communal building at the centre. Leaving their Crab guests at the edge of the fields Hotaka and Shugeki pressed forwards towards the residence while the rest made for the communal building. They were quickly rebuffed by a servant stationed outside who was quite insistent that her lord was, unfortunately, unavailable and that they should return tomorrow.
Announcing themselves with a quiet knock Chiaki, Naruto and Shin’ichi found themselves face to face with almost the entire village who were conducting a traditional funeral ceremony. Politely enquiring as to what had happened the head of the village told them that two of their number had been taken by their lord Shinjo Yatada and would continue their service to his only child in the heavens…