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Season of the Mantis: A New Storm Dawns

The darkened monastery chamber was lit only by a few candles scattered throughout the room. Far from illuminating the room, the feeble light seemed only to deepen the darkness between the candles. In the center of the room, a monk sat motionless upon a plain stone tier. Although his bald head and athletic form gave no clear indication of his age, the expression on the monk's face, even while at rest, belied decades of carrying a great burden.

The silence in the chamber was broken by a gravelly voice. "Why is it," the voice grumbled harshly, "that you never seem any older? The Fortunes know my old bones have suffered over the years. Just the other day, a child in port asked me if I had been a friend of Kaimetsu-uo. His parents were horrified, of course, but my men certainly enjoyed the joke." An aged man clad all in green stepped into the light to regard the monk frankly Despite his words and his appearance, the newcomer carried himself in the manner of a born warrior. "You can tell me the truth, Komori... is it magic? If so, I certainly hope you would share the bounty."

Komori opened his eyes and stared at the warrior without expression. "The time has come, Kamoto. We must begin."

Yoritomo Kamoto's face fell. "It is, is it?" He sighed. "I had hoped this would not happen in my lifetime. I suppose I hoped I had already earned my place in the next life. There is no fool like art old fool."

"You are ashamed to perform your duty?"

Kamoto set his jaw, his eyes narrowing to slits. "When I was a younger man," he rasped, "you would have died for such slander."

"Good," said Komori. "Then you are still an honorable man. But do you know where your loyalties lie?"

"You know that I do." The anger was gone from Kamoto's voice, replaced only with grim resignation and something that approached regret.

"Very well then." The monk rose from his seat, his simple robe hanging emptily on his gaunt frame. "My agents have informed me that the usurper will meet with her new allies in a few weeks' time. It will be the chance we have been waiting for. At last, an opportunity to expose the usurper for all that she truly is."

"Why do you never use her name?" Kamoto asked. "Is it easier for you that way?"

"The problem is one of transportation," Komori continued, as if Kamoto had not spoken at all. "Transport to the mainland will be simple enough, as the usurper has distributed her forces across Rokugan itself, and the samurai conducting the blockade are loyal to you. Once they reach the mainland, however, our task becomes considerably more difficult."

"Yes," agreed the old warrior. "Kitao has her agents everywhere. Our men will be unable to move about freely without attracting attention to themselves, and that is something we cannot abide."

"We will need allies," said Komori flatly. "It matters not from where. We must find a clan willing to aid us in gaining covert transport to the meeting site." He raised his eyebrows questioningly. "Perhaps the Scorpion?"

"No!" insisted Kamoto. "They killed Aramasu!"

"And she guided their blade. Would you not turn it back against her? Or would you prefer that the usurper be allowed to deal with the matter herself? I am sure she will have only the best interests of the Mantis in mind."

Kamoto said nothing for several moments. "I have contacts among the Ichiro," he said finally. "They would gladly aid us in return for the resources necessary to rebuild their home. And we would gain a foothold in yet another region of the Empire."

"That is a possibility, yes. I still believe, however, that we would be better served by gaining the aid of one of the clans, and the remnants of the Badger barely qualify."

"Why would the clans aid us, Komori? We certainly do not act in Kitao's name. What can we offer them?"

"We have wealth the likes of which most clans have never seen. Spices, silks, gaijin artifacts and weapons, not to mention our sizable coffers. In times of war, who would turn away such a treasure for so small a service?"

"Bribery?" said Kamoto, his voice heavy with skepticism.

"Survival," Komori responded. "Bushido demands that such a dishonor be punished, but does bushido fill the stomachs of starving soldiers? In the Clan War, the honorable Crane turned to their coffers to enlist Yoritomo's aid. Without that wealth, we may not have ever become a Great Clan. Now, let us use that wealth to insure the survival of Yoritomo's bloodline."

A long silence passed between the two men. Kamoto looked away into the shadows. Finally, he said "If we fail in this, all we have worked for these past two decades will be lost, and our lives as well."

"Yes," agreed Komori. "But you and I have failed in our duty for far too long already, old friend. The time has come to make things right, and we cannot fail."

Kamoto only nodded. "I will prepare my men to depart soon. In the meantime, I leave it to your discretion to choose our allies. It is not a decision I envy you." The aged warrior strode purposefully from the room, leaving the monk alone with his thoughts once more.

* * * * *

Their lord Aramasu is dead, slain by an unknown assassin. His position has been assumed by the young and untested Yoritomo Kitao whom many in the Empire regard as little more than a pirate. But there is a faction within the clan devoted to exposing her treachery and restoring the proper order to the clan. Old allies and enemies will be radically altered, and new alliances and conflicts will be born. Who will reap the benefit of this upheaval? The faction that achieves the most victories in the Season of the Mantis will gain access to the riches of the Mantis, an invaluable resource in this time of both land and sea blockades. If the Mantis win, they will seize control of their own destiny and gain new allies in the Ichiro family.

Now is the Season of the Mantis. This will be a tale of ambition.




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Togashi will return!