Twenty-five years in the past, ten years before the death of the emperor, young samurai from all over Rokugan gather to show their talents to the emperor. Among them are Akodo Takeshi, Nuro Byushi, Umaba Takito, and Soshi Trayak, a shugenja from the Scorpion Clan.
The young samurai are told they have until tomorrow night to plan a display to impress the emperor. They will be split into teams, and they have to come up with something unique for the emperor. Takeshi, Byushi, Takito, and Trayak are placed on a team. Takeshi suggests a demonstration of swordsmanship. Byushi suggests killing a bear. Then the youngsters remember that they were to report to Togashi, the man in charge of the young samurai, once they found their teammates.
Togashi suggests that they retrieve a music box from a nearby abandoned village. Legend says that those who spend the night in the village hear a haunting tune. He mentions that it will be dangerous. The young samurai are undeterred. Takeshi and Trayak recall additional details about the legend, involving a disgraced lion samurai.
The youngsters head to the village. Only three buildings remain standing. Takeshi and Byushi begin preparing the campsite, while Takito goes off to gather firewood. While he is alone, he is nearly hit by a falling branch. He turns around to see a woman standing in a tree. She is dressed in white and does not respond to his questions. She falls out of the tree and breaks her neck. Takito calls for the others. When they arrive, they see nothing.
The children decide to investigate the abandoned buildings. The first building appears to have someone living in it. Byushi helps herself to an old bottle of sake. Takeshi waits for the occupant to return, while the others go to the next building. In that building, Trayak finds a strange, magical sword that once belonged to a lion samurai. He cannot draw it from its sheath. Suddenly, Byushi collapses on the ground. Trayak looks at her strangely for several seconds, then takes her pulse. He tells Takito that she’ll be alright, then moves on the the third and final building.
Takeshi is confronted by an unknown man. The man tells him that it isn’t safe, and challenges Takeshi’s unwavering obedience to his superiors. Takeshi recites the relevant portions of the code of Bushido. The man asks Takeshi what he is doing in the village. After Takeshi explains, the man heads back upstairs. Now that the mystery of the occupied building is solved, Takeshi heads to join his friends.
In the third building, Trayak finds a music box. He conceals this and the lion sword. Meanwhile, Takeshi is convinced that Byushi is poisoned. He manages to wake her from a dream where an older woman that looks very similar to Byushi presents her with the emperor’s dead body. Takeshi announces that he will be taking Byushi back to the main camp for medical treatment. Byushi insists she is fine. Trayak returns, but says nothing about his discoveries.
Upon exiting the building, the samurai see the silhouette of a head protruding from a well. Takeshi and Byushi go over to help. They hear a voice calling for help. Takeshi grabs at the shadow of a hand, and grabs a stick instead. The head slips into the well. The children see another head on the ground. It is a grotesque wooden head, similar to one from a scarecrow. It begins making faces. Takeshi wants to burn it, but Trayak overrules him. The head directs the children back to the second building. There, they discover a book in a secret compartment.
The book is about the dark kami Fu-Leng. As this is forbidden knowledge, Takeshi suggests burning the book. Trayak says that such books often have protective spells, and burning it could be dangerous. The other youths agree to let Trayak look at the book. Magic emanates from Trayak, and the other children are unable to look at him. When they can gaze on him again, the book is gone, and in its place is a music box. Trayak says that the music box was disguised as an evil book. Satisfied with this explanation, the samurai head back to the main camp. Strangely enough, only Takeshi and Trayak remember this sequence of events. Byushi and Takito remember killing several dangerous creatures. In either case, the emperor is pleased with the young samurais’ gift.
In the present, Byushi, Takito, and Takeshi are summoned to see Lord Hakona. She tells them their next mission is to rescue Yuji, the emperor’s heir from a shadowlands prison. They know he is there because Trayak has just escaped from there after ten years in jail. Trayak looks worse for wear. He is still carrying the scarecrow from twenty-five years ago. Hakona gives Takeshi a scroll with Yuji’s picture on it.
The group heads south towards the prison. The journey passes uneventfully until the party comes upon a group of goblins lying face down around a campfire. Byushi, Takito, and Takeshi have seen this before, and warn Trayak. He casts a spell that tells him there are figures hiding underneath the goblins. He throws a fireball at the goblins, and five ghouls climb out of the holes they were hiding in and attack the party.
Eventually the party is victorious. Trayak surrounds himself with gusts of wind, conjures whips of fire, and calls down bolts of lightning. Byushi is seriously wounded. After the fight, the party is approached by a man from the burning sands. He identifies himself as Abdul, and explains that his trap was meant for shadowland creatures. He also explains that he is skilled with swords and spells. He invites the samurai to his camp. They accept, except for Byushi, who follows stealthily.
At Abdul’s camp, which is a pit in the ground, he asks the samurai why they are here. Trayak lies to the man, but Takeshi corrects him. Abdul asks how they will infiltrate the prison. Trayak produces a disguise spell. When Abdul asks, Takeshi admits that Trayak had not told anyone else about this plan. Abdul asks Takeshi if disguising oneself is honorable. Takeshi says that any tactics are acceptable against shadowland monsters. Abdul notes that humans fight alongside shadowland monsters. Takeshi says he will need to think about that. Abdul notes that the river to the south is guarded by some strange power. The samurai will need to cross the river in order to reach the prison. Abdul asks for a katana in exchange for information about the river guardian. He says the samurai can tell him their decision in the morning.