Fresh from their respective gempukku, the three young Samurai, Doji Ashiro, Shosuro Kayishi and Akodo Jubei find their individual roads leading them to the castle of Doji Haruki, a minor daimyo of the Crane Clan. The castle sits at an important junction of roads and protects the village of Tochigi. The village has a single inn and one sake house. It is most well-known for Tochigi tea, a delightful blend with citrus notes, which is brewed nowhere else.
The castle is bustling with visitors (mostly Crane) who are passing through to attend a gathering at the coastal estate of an Imperial daimyo, Seppun Ayumu. The young Samurai encounter Isawa Keiko, an Imperial Magistrate and her yojimbo, Shiba Tsuko. The two Phoenix are resting before travelling on to the capital Toshi Ranbo.
A precious artefact is stolen from the castle’s audience chamber and Doji Haruki asks the young Samurai to quietly find and return it to him. The item in question is a daisho that once belonged to Seppun Daiori, a hero of the Seppun family who led the Crane Clan during the The Scorpion coup and died fighting that clan. Doji Haruki wants to present the daisho to its former owner, Seppun Ayumu, as a mark of respect.
Investigations reveal that the thief fled west, into Scorpion lands. Doji Haruki tells the young Samurai that a Scorpion village lies to the west, and that he and the Samurai who governs the village have a history of animosity.
En-route, the three companions encounter three Crab mercenaries in the employ of the local Scorpion. They are rough but good-humoured and escort the trio to Wachimasu village. There is one inn, one sake house, one blacksmith and one large estate. There are signs of a recent Shadowlands incursion. Bayushi Hitaro, the Scorpion Samurai-ko in charge of Wachimasu, is far past her prime. Hitaro is overweight and grumpy at being shoved out to the margins of Scorpion territory. Delicacy is required to secure any help from her.
The innkeeper reveals that a young Samurai-ko paused in Wachimasu to pick up some food for the road and have her wounded hand re-bandaged, before continuing westward. The companions resolve to pursue this mysterious figure.