land of the crane: introduction

All Tsurukokan children learn about their relationship with the spirit world at a very early age. They learn about the spirits of the field that encourage the rice to grow, about the spirits of the heavens that bring good health, and about the spirits of the dark realm that cause misery and misfortune. They learn about the animal spirits that govern the cycle of years and about the ancestral spirits that bring them daily fortune. Above all, though, they learn about the spirits that guard Tsurukoku, who protect their homeland from the lizard-riding barbarian raiders and the savage Warlords of Xin.

What they learn, primarily, is that, in order to keep the spirits happy, and thus, secure good fortune, one needs to make offerings on a regular basis. The spirits of the field require a cup of sake when the rice is sown, the ancestral spirits require daily worship, and the heavenly spirits require gifts of food and drink. The guardian spirits, though, expect far more: they expect every clan from every corner of the Land of the Crane to send emissaries to carry paper and jade and sake and rice to their remote, treacherous homes.

Thus, in the year three hundred and thirty seven of the Ito shogunate, every clan in Tsurukoku selected a group of their finest young samurai and shinkan[1] and honored them with the task of escorting an offering to Hizuru, the Great Fire Crane, guardian of the northern border. That Hizuru lived in an active volcano which continuously bellowed forth great plumes of soot and cinders, forming an ashen desert responsible for swallowing entire armies of potential invaders, was a minor matter, the daimyō assured their young emissaries.

After all, a treacherous pilgrimage to a distant, fiery mountain, fighting off shadowy ninja, rampaging oni, and hordes of ravenous bakeinu all the while was a sure way to bring honor to the clan, and what young and impressionable samurai or shinkan wouldn't want that? Plus, the daimyō thought to themselves, it was a small price to pay for the peace of mind it would bring; not having to worry about foreign invaders would allow them to focus all of their attention on how best to crush their neighboring clans.

Thus, three young heroes set out from the city of Kurosawa on 27 Yayoi, 337 Ito, Year of the Fire Crane.

[1] Shinkan are Fenist priests, whose duty it is to act as a mediator between the mortal and spirit realm.