Holy See of Tenouza, Kaminari no Kuni
Two days before The Illumination...
In the northwest of the Holy City of Tenouza, the fortified training grounds were a mess of swinging blades and errant sparks. Bedecked in heavy training gambesons, dozens of the city’s kadettenkorps--the future officers and leaders of the legendary city guard--swung their blades and staves with terrifying speed and power against each other, all for the singular goal of winning the day’s bragging rights. Pride was a sin, but the youngsters wouldn’t have known that based on a cursory glance.
Cardinal Kurosawa Moscato, a middle-aged man with thinning hair and an ill-fitting pince-nez, scurried along on the outskirts of the yard on his way to the commander’s office, trying not to let his gaze linger too long on the spectacle of bodies in motion. Violence was a valuable tool to be wielded against heretics and other enemies of Mother Church if needed, but he had never enjoyed seeing it in use.
The young woman who’d escorted him from the gate--a leutnant by the red sash slung over her gambeson and gilded longsword belted to her waist--stopped in front of a simple wooden door and bowed and gestured for him to enter.
“Bless you, my child,” Moscato said, without really looking at her, and stepped in. He could have sworn he’d heard a dismissive grunt from the girl, but continued anyway.
The man inside rose from his chair and his hand went--instinctively--to the hilt of his blade, but stopped fluidly upon realizing who’d entered.
“Commandant Nemoto Fiore di Kanazawa,” Moscato said without the customary bow. Instead, he offered the hand bearing the ruby-bedecked sigil of the College of Cardinals of the Holy See. “I am here unannounced, but on important business, you see.”
“Your Excellency,” the commander--Fiore--said, knelt, and took the cardinal’s proffered hand. He gently kissed the man’s ruby ring before rising. “May I offer you wine?”
“No, thank you. My time is short, and I am expected at the College within the hour.”
“Then to what do I owe the suddenness of your visit? I wasn’t expecting an ecclesiastical inspection for another month.” Fiore slowly made his way back behind his desk and gestured to the empty chair across from it. “Please sit, humble as these barracks are.”
“Yes, thank you,” Moscato said. From his satchel he withdrew a calfskin packet of sealed orders--military orders--and pushed them across the desk to Fiore. “I’ll be brief. Feldmarschall Senna the Elder hereby immediately mobilizes your unit, Campo di Fiori, to the Kounia Province. There, you are to work in conjunction with selected agents of the Lightning bakufuu to perform a joint inspection exercise on our northernmost dimeritium smeltery. It’s gone quiet in recent days and Her Excellency would like to know why. I trust you can be ready to depart within twenty-four hours.”
Fiore cocked an eyebrow and slowly set the papers down on his desk. “Why send soldiers? If a smelter’s gone cold, then shouldn’t we be sending out engineers and laborers to restart it?”
“Rest assured, Commandant, those arrangements have already been made. Your unit will merely be there to provide...added security. Despite the loyalty and faith of the daimyo of Kounia, there are still threats from bandits and wildlife and the like. And ss you know well, dimeritium exposure is unhealthy for those who haven’t been blessed against its toxic effects. But your unit, on the other hand…”
“Yes, Cardinal. We’re protected. Very well, I will make arrangements.” He glanced over the orders again. “Who are these bakufuu agents we’re supposed to accompany?”
Moscato took in a deep breath. “They are...how shall I put this… employed by Kumogakure.”
“Kumogakure? You mean shinobi?”
Fiore frowned and rested his chin on folded hands. He locked his gaze with the cardinal. “Forgive me, Your Excellency. I am but a simple guardsman and servant of the pontiff. And thus I completely and utterly fail to comprehend exactly why my unit--whose entire purpose is to protect our church from those cursed by chakra--is being sent out for a joint operation with the very creatures we’ve trained all these years to battle against?”
Moscato shrugged. “We are not at war with them, Commandant, and I don’t need to remind you that the feldmarschall herself is also one of them…”
“Lady Senna renounced her shinobi status and repented of it!”
“Do not raise your voice at me,” Moscato said. “This is a direct order and you will follow it to the best of your ability. If I hear of trouble, then it is you who will be held accountable. Do I make myself clear?”
Fiore clenched his jaw and nodded. “Yes, I hear you, loud and clear. I will follow my orders, regardless of their...unearthly nature.”
“Then, Commandant Fiore, I take my leave,” Moscato said, and stood. “I’ll see myself out.”
Fiore let out a long sigh as the cardinal shut the door behind him. But any time he would have had for his own thoughts was quickly cut short by another uninvited entry. The girl who’d escorted Moscato had let herself in and was now plopped in the chair opposite her commander, with her feet up on his desk.
“Hey!” Fiore snapped. “How many times have I told you not to do that?”
“Aren’t you excited, though, Fiore-sensei?” the girl said, excitedly twisting her curls around a finger. “We finally get to fight real shinobi! This is what we all trained for!”
“Your feet are still on my desk. You shouldn’t eavesdrop like that, either!”
Her green eyes flashed. “You’re gonna pick me to come, right?”
Fiore crossed his arms. “No. Just for that, you’re staying here. You get to peel potatoes the entire time.”
“Yucky!” She swung her feet off the desk. “And you need me to come along, Sensei. I’m like, the best bladey-swingy-person in the Campo. Besides you, of course.”
“‘Bladey-swingy-person.’ Right.” Fiore rubbed his eyes. “I’m not saving you if a shinobi tries to gut you. You’re on your own.”
The girl’s features morphed to a killer’s smile. “Just the way I like it.”
...A few kilometers from Okaya Station
Contested territory, Kagoshiman Khanate
You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is "Never get involved in a land war in Asia." But only slightly less well known is this: "Never go in against a Tenouzan when death is on the line!"--Anon
The chain of mistakes made on that day started with a simple nudge against a single domino and ended up causing a cataclysm that we’re still trying to understand, much less rebuild from to this very day. I’m not talking about Yuii’s failed engagement to Osuteno, although that was a catastrophe in its own right. Rather, I’m talking about the day I received the innocuously-worded request from the Holy See for an inconsequential escort of some Tenouzan guardsmen in the frozen north.
It was simple and straightforward enough. A certain Cardinal Moscato wanted to hire a mid-sized group of shinobi to accompany a small detachment of their own guardsmen, engineers, and miners to a dimeritium smelting operation owned by the Daimyo of Kounia but essentially managed by the church.
As shinobi, we’re naturally leery of anything related to dimeritium. It’s a rare element that--at sufficient purity and density--acts as a powerful chakra sink. Being around heavy concentrations of the stuff, even in its unrefined state, causes most shinobi to experience things like headaches and fatigue. But when the pure metal is used to fashion things like armor and weapons, it goes from mild annoyance to actual danger. Our most destructive techniques simply absorb into the stuff,, and when struck with weapons laced with the ore, our inner reserves sink to almost nothing. Non-shinobi have used it for centuries to give themselves an edge against our kind, and it’s probably one of the reasons we don’t exert complete dominion over the earth at this point. The Tenouzan Church regards the metal as sacred and essential to their liturgical needs, which is why they’re one of the world’s largest buyers of the stuff. Officially, it’s a total coincidence that their “sacred steel” also happens to be hazardous to our continued existence, but I doubt it.
The Kounia Daimyo has also become something of a sore spot for us as well, in recent years. He’s a recent convert to the church, having renounced worship of Raiden and Aion quite publicly. Of course, our nation has no official mandated religion, so there’s naught the shogun could have done against it. And it so happens that the frozen northlands under the daimyo’s dominion are very rich in dimeritium. Hence, lots of smelters.
Cardinal Moscato’s letter was more of a courtesy call than anything else--he’d have sent his soldiers even if we hadn’t responded to his request. But then Yuii and I would have looked bad if we’d allowed Tenouzan Guard to tromp unescorted across Lightning Country, so I had no choice but to send our own envoys. Of course, the prevailing thought of the day was that no conventional military force could match even our genin in battle, so I authorized a detachment of genin and chuunin for the task. Of those I had selected, some had been in a few minor scrapes, and most were completely inexperienced in serious battle outside of the sparring rings. That was fine, of course, since nothing was going to happen on this joke of a mission.
Of course, I was wrong. We were all wrong.
A few days before it happened, I sat in a private cabin on board the diesel-engine Northern Express sipping coffee and absentmindedly reviewing the dossiers I’d assembled. Recruiting had been a total rush job: I pretty much plucked the files of any genin who weren’t patriotically losing fingers and toes in some godforsaken hellhole and dispatched messengers to summon them all to the grand central station of Kelmura. For some reason, Yuii had insisted that I go along as Kumo’s representative to the Tenouzans. But it had never been my intention to actually, you know, command some slapdash squad of fresh genin, so I made sure to include another chuunin on the roster. One who seemed like he might not lose his shit at the first sign of trouble, but who was also far junior to me in seniority. Kashino Yuu would do the dirty work of keeping the troops in line, and I’d be able to fuck off and sightsee or something. So what if he was only thirteen?
Next on the list was someone I actually knew from before. The last time I saw Suzuki Setsu I might or might not have attempted to sell him to some very sketchy entities before he suddenly revealed his true inner power of being a televangelist. Still, there was something about the kid that I really liked, and my fingertips may have lingered over his dorky identification photo for longer than strictly necessary while I was looking over his file. Now I was glad that Yuu would have to deal with him. I wasn’t a goddamned hebephile and definitely didn’t want to become one.
Finally, there was Endo Eiji. The half-assed, slapdash censoring job applied to half of his file was a pretty obvious indicator of his status as an ANBU candidate, only slightly less blatant than a carnival barker under neon signage. Going on this sketchy of a mission was par for the course for his situation: until they formally donned the mask, high command took every opportunity to send them off to toad-strewn wastelands to kill, drink, and fuck until they either died or somehow turned into professionals. The former, of course, was way likelier.
The train’s last stop was the capital city of Okaya in the Kagoshiman Khanate. From there, we were to diembark and then meet up with the Tenouzan delegation at an abandoned citadel on the city’s outskirts. Formerly known as Ughuir Prison, the once-impenetrable rock had been a base for the Lightning Army during the bloody, decades-long Kagoshiman occupation. Supposedly, so many dissidents were tortured to death within its walls that you can still hear the screaming coming from the caved-in levels below ground. Leave it to the Tenouzans to meet in such a cheerful place, I guess.
I’d been given almost no information about their delegation save for the commander’s name: Nemoto Fiore di Kanazawa. Everyone’s heard of the Nemoto clan: they’re synonymous with Tenouzan strength, and form the bulk of the city’s elite guardsmen. Their most famous contribution to Cloud, of course, was a girl named Nemoto Senna, who started out as one of us and then famously cast away her shinobi heritage to become their feldmarschall--supreme commander. So revered is she that it’s said every other Tenouzan girl is named ‘Senna’ in her honor, which must lead to a lot of confusion when it comes time to take roll call at school.
Of course, this complete omission of any substantive facts left me worried: how many soldiers did the cardinal plan on sending? What if when we arrived, there was a grinning legion of Tenouzan elites waiting to kill us on neutral land and stuff our bodies into the forgotten chambers of Ughuir Prison? Calm thy tits, I told myself: we were officially on friendly terms with the church. My father and many others had sacrificed their lives to save their city, and the memory of that day was still fresh in many an older Tenouzan’s mind. I’d heard rumors, though, that the new generation of faithful had been taught to see our kind is a much less sympathetic light.
I looked over the pile of dossiers at Yuu, who because of his rank, got to occupy the “good” cabin with me. I’d let it to the genin to figure out where to stuff themselves for the journey.
“It’s going to be cold up there. Did you make sure everyone’s dressed for the weather? Anyone with a bare midriff is gonna lose guts to frostbite.” Some of the dossier pics looked like their subjects were dressed for a night out at a club rather than for a knock-down-drag-out fight. And that was before getting into Tenouzan sensibilities about how to dress properly. “I don’t know if you’ve dealt with our holy ‘friends,’ but always be on your guard. They’ll spout holy scripture out one side of their mouth and whisper an order to kill you with the other. I don’t like that they’re meeting us on Kagoshiman territory. Means they can attack us without any diplomatic consequence. You ever killed anyone, Kashino? And not by accident?”
And so we start the mission! I usually like to omit the tedious beginning parts where the party assembles at the gate and gets leave to depart because they don’t usually add much to the narrative. Right now, your characters are all on board a train headed to the northernmost province of Lightning Country, about to make its final stop in the Kagoshiman Khanate. You can assume that your characters have at least made cursory greetings to each other and are somewhere within said train, away from Saeko and Yuu. You’ve been briefed already that you can expect cold weather, lack of prepared shelter, and potentially armed conflict with involvement of dimeritium (a chakra sink), so you’ve been told to prepare accordingly. Whether or not your character actually did this, and what they brought or didn’t bring, is entirely up to you! And if you want to interact further with each other, sulk silently, seek out your mission leaders, jump off the train into a ravine is also up to you!
Yuu, if you decided to bring a path along, you can decide if the path is in the private cabin with Saeko or whether he’s mingling with the rest of the team.
So far the team is Yuu, Setsu, and Eiji--I still have room for any latecomers if they want to join up this round, otherwise you’ll just have to wait for the next mission.