It is the peak of a hot, dry summer in Rokugan. The story begins in a nameless village in an irrelevant territory near to the lands of the Crab Clan.
There is great excitement in this small village. An Imperial herald came to announce that the Crab Clan has declared a “20 Goblin Winter”.
Any man or woman, regardless of social status or ability or sins current or past, may present themselves at the Wall between Crab territory and the feared Shadowlands. The “20 Goblin Winter” is a competition to prove one’s self worthy of admission to a Minor Vassal Family in the Crab Clan. This opportunity has not presented itself in a century; to succeed is to win a prize with implications that will span generations and bring a lowly serf great fame and prestige.
Peasants and labourers gather weapons, makeshift armor, and provisions. In groups of two, three, sometimes four anxious fortune-seekers, they leave the village. It is a two-week journey to reach Crab territory and risk all for glory. Many will not come back.
A ronin bushi, MUSTACHI (played by K.D.) is caught up in the mood. A wandering traveler, only recently arrived in this village, Mustachi wastes no time. He immediately heads out on the road alone, toward Crab Clan territory.
Three others hear of the Crab Clan’s announcement. Ronin shugenja TAKASHI (played by E.G.) was meditating at a local temple. SHOSURO YAMA (played by T.F.), bushi of the Scorpion Clan, was at a tavern. Ronin bushi YOJIRA (played by K.R.), member of the infamous Forest Killers, was enjoying a modest lunch of noodles and tea. Yojira hears rumour that the Crab Clan’s declaration may imply weakness to the other Great Clans.
These three know it is too late in the day to travel alone. They happen to take up residence at the same inn, intending to leave instead by morning’s light.
The inn’s dining room is only these three men when dinnertime comes. They eat alone and quietly respectful of the other strangers in the room.
Another man enters and presents himself to Yama.
It is overhead that his name is Hida Ichiro. His conversation cannot be eavesdropped by the shugenja or the Forest Killer, but they see it is of a business nature, and that the visitor thinks little of the bushi to whom he speaks. The others mind their own affairs.
Ichiro consumes a bottle of sake on his own. He says all he has come to say. Then he takes leave of Yama, laughing as he departs.
While Yama, Yojira, and Takashi have a restful night alone in their rooms, trouble has found Mustachi.
At nightfall, Mustachi made camp off the road in the woods. The ronin had not noticed he was being tracked. In darkness two wild dogs attack him. A bowman by training, Mustachi puts up a weak defense against the wild dogs and is badly injured. He is chased up a tree and trapped there.
At first light, Yama, Yojira, and Takashi happen to start their journey at the same time. Being inoffensive and of like minds regarding this Crab Clan opportunity, they decide to travel together.
Hours later they unknowingly pass the section of forest where Mustachi’s hidden camp lay in ruins and the unfortunate bushi archer remains treed by a single sleeping dog. Further down the road, Yojira hears wild dogs off in the forest behind their group. His associates do not hear anything, nor have reason to investigate.
An old, hunchbacked man is traveling the road in the opposite direction. Out of courtesy, Takashi warns him of wild dogs ahead near his path. The old man waves him off. The group sees that the man carries a wakizashi.
Takashi persists, and offers of escort and protection. The old man shoos him away. Takashi shadows the man. The aged traveler grows more irate.
Yama follows after Takashi. Yojira stands and waits.
Finally reaching his breaking point, the old man becomes enraged. Clouds of wasps swarm from his hunch-back and attack ! This man is no ordinary human. The wasps harass and Daze both Takashi and Yama. Yojira runs to assist. The shugenja cannot cast and the Scorpion bushi swings his katana in vain at the furious cloud of hornets. The old man watches and laughs.
Evading the wasps, Takashi casts spells against the traveler while Yama and Yojira take turns engaging it in melee; Yama with his blade and Yojira with his tetsubo. It is Yama who slays the monster. The wasps disperse.
The creature’s dead body must be burned. Takashi and Yama forage in the forest for wood. They discover Mustachi trapped in a tree, above a dog that had died of its wounds some time in the night.
While alone with the body, Yojira’s practical nature as a Forest Killer compels him to search the dead Shadowlands-Tainted body. He finds three Koku coins, an amulet of an unidentified nature, and the wakizashi, which is of supreme quality.
His traveling companions return with firewood and a very injured bushi archer. Yojira honors his association with his fellows and shows them everything found on the dead creature’s body. The group immolates the evil corpse, wrap up the amulet and sword, and then resume travel.
They reach the next town. It is a fair-sized way-station, and also features a minor Crab Clan garrison. Mustachi wishes to find a geisha-house but there is none in this place. The spoils of combat pay for the group’s accommodations, dinner, and marginal-quality sake that night.
(end Part 1)