Tales from the Lion Clan
Episode One: Lighting up the Chrysanthemum Festival
"The festival starts
The palace is almost blown
Lions save the day"
Location: Toshi Ranbo, the Imperial Capital
Day: Year 1160, 6th Day of the Month of the Horse
The Imperial Capital awakens to the bustle of activity as final preparations are underway for the Chrysanthemum Festival. In the Vigilant Blade Dojo, Commander Akodo Renge, Gunso of the Shinsengumi Nikutai, assembled her unit and issued their orders for the day: oversee the delivery and mounting of the last-minute Dragon Clan hanabi that will be arriving from the village of Diku.
The Shinsengumi awaited the delivery of the hanabi at the Western Gate, where Akodo Shimpachi made good use of the waiting time getting to know the attractive Daidoji and Matsu gateguards. Eventually the shipment arrived and Matsu Toshiro oversaw the assessment of the paperwork while Matsu Keisuke checked the shipment – five horse-pulled carts carrying the hanabi in wooden crates – and discovered that the fifth cart had crates that contained hidden compartments. It was discovered that the hidden compartment contained sacks of gaijin pepper, which prompted the Shinsengumi to initiate a confiscation of the cart and detainment of the Dragon Clan heimin that transported the shipment – a doddering old man who did not know of the illegal goods in his shipment.
It was then that a Lion Clan Magistrate, the local magistrate of the Imperial Capital, intervened and took charge of the apprehension, apparently expecting such an illegal shipment to arrive at the city. He ordered the Shinsengumi to escort the other four carts into the Senzai District, a largely-Crane occupied district, where the hanabi will be set up for the festival. He also gave orders to report to his office afterwards for further debriefing.
Pursuant to their new orders, the group traveled to the entertainment district of the city, where Shimpachi once again lost no time getting to know the Daidoji guard overseeing the heimin setting up the hanabi, who in turn insulted his lowly attempts to win her attention, a fact that the level-headed Ikoma Souji silently endured for the oblivious Shimpachi's sake rather than risk a confrontation during an important Imperial celebration. Afterwards, they headed to the Magistrate's office in the Chuushin District, near the Imperial Palace. En route, they find the Magistrate and his escort killed, with only small puncture holes on their vitals as the only injuries sustained, a fact that mystified Keisuke and Toshiro as they assessed the situation. The confiscated cart stood empty beside the corpses, which prompted an escalation of the matter due to the potential dangers that such a quantity of gaijin pepper possesses.
It was agreed that the beastmaster, Matsu Kondou, would employ his trusted warcat, Shin-kun, to track down the missing gaijin pepper and he and Toshiro set off to hunt for their missing contraband. The others informed the Magistrate's office of the situation, where they found Commander Renge and she promptly took charge of the matter, leaving the four to chase after their comrades. They met a Unicorn Clan Samurai along the way, a jovial and cocky fellow named Moto Joja, who was apparently headed to the Imperial Palace on some business. He claimed to have seen a lion and two samurai head to the Palace as well, a fact whose urgency was not lost on the others – did the gaijin pepper find its way into the Imperial Palace?
Toshiro and Kondou found themselves accosted by the Imperial Guards as Shin-kun tried to approach, but Toshiro's convincing explanation of the urgency of their business, with some assistance from Shin-kun's apprehensive snarling, prompted the guards to allow the two on grounds that they do not come close to the Imperial Gardens. Keisuke, Souji, Shimpachi, and the Unicorn Joja caught up with them, and together the Lions stormed the Imperial Palace, bent on finding the lost gaijin pepper before events could spiral out of hand.
Shin-kun tracks down the missing gaijin pepper to the Imperial Courtyard, which adjoined the Imperial Gardens, where the group learned that the Emperor himself is engaged in the festival's rites. The courtyard is being set up with other hanabi, which could mean that the gaijin pepper may be stowed nearby in what could perhaps be an attempt to bomb the Imperial Palace. Keisuke and Toshiro launches into an immediate investigation, with Keisuke barely brushing against death as a circular pellet shot from a distance narrowly missed him. The group catches sight of the assailants – two heimin atop the palace walls, armed with a curious long stick that they seem to be taking aim with.
Toshiro and Kondou take the forefront of the fight, immediately apprehending both heimin assailants, with Souji following suit and killing one outright before it could threaten to fire another shot. Another heimin on the courtyard, an accomplice of some sort, ran to a storage house, where Shimpachi and Shin-kun headed him off and Keisuke proceeded to look into the heimin's goal – a storehouse packed from floor to ceiling with sacks of gaijin pepper. He wasted no time in dousing the foul substance with water to render it impotent.
As the relatively outmatched battle wound down, the two Lion clan samurai overseeing the heimin in the courtyard suddenly attacked Toshiro and Kondou, prompting the two to retaliate despite their efforts to explain their situation. It was hinted that the samurai are in leageu with the rogue heimin, which reveals a conspiracy to bomb the Imperial Palace itself from the Lion Clan's own ranks. Shin-kun immediately proceeds to ravage one while Toshiro and Kondou proceed to incapacitate another.
The commotion finally attracts the attention of the Emerald Magistrate, who was in the adjoining gardens at the time. After getting the details of the situation from Toshiro, he sentences the rogue samurai to death, although the own samurai's arrogance to insult the Magistrate prompted him to cut him down personally. The Magistrate then proceeds to interrogate the group as to their actions and raised suspicion on the circumstances of their presence in the Imperial Palace.
Thankfully, their friend Moto Joja comes to vouch for their actions, offering testimony before the Magistrate. He is accompanied by a Crane courtier, Lady Doji Kirara, who was with the Unicorn Samurai and together the two proceeded to explain the events further to the Magistrate, the crane's flowery remarks buffed down by Souji so as to downplay their involvement and prevent needless attention, much to the Crane's surprise. The Magistrate promptly clears up the situation and escalates the matter to his hands, ordering the group to report to him after the festival for further debriefing of the matter. He asks them to leave immediately, where Keisuke catches sight of the Emperor himself staring at them from the Gardens, his expression unreadable from afar.
The Shinsengumi return to Commander Renge, who listens to their reports with a mixture of emotions, then heaves a sigh of relief as she learns that the matter has been dealt with. She gives them the rest of the day off, allowing them to partake of the festivities that lasted throughout the night, the Imperial Capital lighting up with the colorful hanabi and radiating the sounds of merriment, its inhabitants oblivious to the disaster that almost struck them.
All in a day's work, pursuant to the Vigilant Dojo's creed: Slay Evil Immediately!