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The Letters of Kitsuki Iwemara

 

When Iwemara examined Iweko’s journals more closely, she discovered a letter addressed to her, in Togashi Satsu’s hand and dated to the year of her birth: (this part I scried. Thankfully Iwemara kept the letter, a precious document to her as it confirmed both her position as Daimyo and Voice to her beloved Empress. – Korimi)

 

On behalf of the first Iweko and Empress of the Emerald Empire.

Greets young Iwemara, It is a pleasure to realise that you have truly embraced the path of your ancestors and have bloomed into quite the investigator. Iweko-Sama has a task that she trusts to one of her old family, Iweko Shibatsu her second son is beyond her sight. Seppun Toshinobu has orders to bring him back to the empire, it is your job however to unleash him from his bonds of madness using any force required to complete this task. It is imperative that Pan Ku is stopped EVEN if it claims the life of Shibatsu-Sama, if he is unable to be saved then his body must be destroyed as well. The Empire is currently facing the biggest threat that it has ever faced, the colonies must be united if Rokugan is to survive past this. You are our most trusted individual currently residing in the colonies. Should you return to the mainland you shall be named Voice of the Empress, although Toshi Ranbo may not be as you remember it. The Empire is burning, please do not take too long however, as these are trying times for us all. Please keep the contents of this scroll to yourself. You are, in addition to being named the Voice of the Empress also appointed to the position of Kitsuki Family Daimyo. The Empress congratulates you on your new position. Take care young Dragon. Our paths will not cross again, for the next time you see Toshi Ranbo I will be dead.

Satsu

 

 

Scrying notes of Miya Korimi, Imperial Archivist

 

Toshinobu and his command team discussed the plan for re taking the city, which essentially boiled down to get the Crane, Crab, and the Scorpion and smash the City.  They had access to the Crane via their ships, and would hear from the Unicorn ‘soonish’ as they sent an envoy off ages ago, Utaku Sonia having passed the message on to a reliable unicorn messenger she had bumped into.  They were also expecting the Crab to turn up and help out as they did promise to help with the Mantis conflict and didn’t show. Sairento offered to get the Scorpion on board.  Toshinobu made everyone aware that he had been named the new governor of the Ivory Kingdoms. Everyone applauded.  Sukihime was disgusted, but decided she needs to be nice to Toshinobu.  Iwemara made everyone aware she had been elevated to Daimyo of the Kitsuki.

 

The official orders on Iweko Shibatsu were that he was not to be killed. He was to be taken alive. Toshinobu didn’t give a damn about the Spider, but Shibatsu couldn’t be killed.  Iwemara had orders to the contrary however, but as requested, kept silent on this, She would try to keep the Heir alive if at all possible herself.

 

Himaru, discussing battle plans said a strong Lion front would show strength.  They would flank on the vanguard.  He stated that the Moshi had returned to the Mantis fold, and the Tsuruchi archers, the finest in the empire had been placed at their aid.  Himaru further stated that he would have the archers on protection duty. Toshinobu came up to the discussion and made Himaru Rikugunshokan of the 8thEmerald Legion.  He’d been made head of the Ivory Kingdoms and it would take control of all of his time.  “I am honoured. I will do your legion justice.” Himaru said, bowing slightly less deeply to Toshinobu with his new rank. “Any commands you have for the Emerald Legion as the Second Cities commander?”

“None other than lets go take my city back.  I trust everything you have in motion will work.”

“Let’s return structure to the Second City.” Himaru said, nodding in agreement.

 

Himaru spoke to Yoritomo Hiro. “When Toshinobu regains the Ivory seat it is probably good that the heads of families are there to show proper respect and support.  I understand if you wish to rebuild your city first however.”

Unmei steped forward and told Himaru that Hiro’s duty was to the city here, and his people, but he would give half of his standing army to aid in re taking the Second City to show his support.  Himaru thanked Unmei for their generous gift.  “Who is the head of your forces?”

Unmei named one of the Tsuruchi as in command, and Himaru filtered his orders through him as the Tsuruchi filtered it to the Mantis groups under his command.

Toshinobu didn’t get anything from the Crane, but reports were that Crane ships were gathering together, possibly to come ashore in the next 24 hours. They weren’t attacking the Mantis any more.

 

Sairento informed the group that he had important business to do overnight and left.  The planning group soon broke up for the evening.

 

In the middle of the night, Toshinobu woke up to find Shosuro Nirav in his tent.  He managed to get past the Seppun guards very easily, looking like Himaru with his new gift from the Thunder dragon.  They talked.

“I think you need some new guards Toshinobu-sama.”

“Why would I need guards from you my friend?”

Nirav removed something with his hands, and revealed a Jade coloured Scorpion mask.

“Who areyou?” Toshinobu demanded, reaching for his Daisho.

Nirav pulls out an Ivory Sword.

“What have you done with Sairento?”

“Sairento has…gone away.”

“Yes…and it’s sounding like I should be killing you now.”

“I am Shosuro Nirav head of the Scorpion in the Second City.”

“That explains it.”

“The guards aren’t up to scratch.”

“If the head of the Scorpion can’t get past them, he’snot up to scratch.”  Toshinobu retorted. “Given I’m not dead, I assume you want to talk.”

“You need bigger armies to take back the Second City,”

“And take it back from Shibatsu.”

“You don’t know the doings within the Second City.”

“No.  I have been away a while.”

“Shibatsu has gone mad, the armies are commanded by a Lion of strange tastes.  He has enacted a curfew and killed most of the heads of Clans in the city.”

“I had heard of the Mirumoto Daimyo.”

“It is not great news but thank you.  We are on our way.”

“You have the Mantis and Crane.”

“And the Imperial Legion.”

“And the Imperial Legion.” Nirav paused “I can bring you the Scorpion. Tomorrow I shall meet with the Crane navy.”

“You think they will help?”

“I think they have my army.” Nirav said.

“Ok.  Interesting. Ok, good luck with that.”

“I will then travel to Seven Stings Keep to acquire their army.”

“And if you want an even bigger one, we will meet up with Lion and Unicorn on the way.”

“Ok.”

“I leave the sword in your care. Its previous owner was not of this world. He was hard to kill, and I hope he won’t come back.”

Nirav bowed, put his veil back on, and resembled Himaru again, then left.

 

Iwemara spent the night reading Iweko’s journals.  She found that Iweko was an obsessive compulsive when it came to evidence gathering and and obsessive when she fixed on a mystery to solve. She made reference to things the Rokugani had no knowledge of the existence of, and she spoke of taboo and strange knowledges which Iwemara found fascinating.  Iwemara read them ALL night.  She was aware of all the forbidden and banned and illegal law of Rokugan by the end of the night, and though tired, felt more like herself than she had in a long time, in command of herself, of facts, and ready to face the future with confidence.

 

 

The next morning, as the Crane fleet approached the coast Nirav waited for them.

He had a head count of the Bushi and saw that a lot of the ronin were there, half the Scorpion bushi were missing.  Bayushi Kahoku his most loyal bushi was still there too.

The ships landed, and two individuals exited to greet him.  Kakita Saburo and Bayushi Kahoku.

Saburo introduced himself as the head of the Crane Fleet in the Ivory Kingdoms.

“Pleased to meet you.”

Kahoku bowed and asked if Nirav would like a report.

“Yes I would.”

Kahoku regretted to inform him that Soshi Mai called back half if not all of the Scorpion Fleet to the Second City. He ignored the order, showed his loyalty to Nirav and enacted hisorder.  He managed to hold half of them to him and Nirav.

“That’s somewhat annoying.” Nirav said, scowling “I don’t remember telling her to call back the army, I don’t remember telling her I’d sentthe army…so that’s something weird….yeah…how else…how has fighting gone.”

“Tough in some aspects.  The Mantis are great sea farers. The battles were hard fought.  I have managed to obtain a certain amount of confiscated goods and economic items.  After losing manpower to command half the fleet we suffered time wise.  I offer seppuku for my inability to command my troops.”

“Uuuuum….Denied.  Their naval prowess is excellent, I wouldn’t expect you to command a force as well as you did with fewer numbers.”

“I encountered Saburo.  He observed some of our skirmishes, with the Crane navy.  Some were called back to the Ivory Kingdoms, and they were impressed by the attempt of our army to dislodge Mantis control over the seas, so he joined his Crane vessels to the cause.”

“I have since sent for reinforcements to arrive, from Twin Forks, but have had no response as yet.” Saburo said.

Nirav directed him to Toshinobu.  “It is an honour to meet such an esteemed commander.” He said, bowing and heading off to find him.

“And what news of Sahara and the ronin?” Sairento asked, turning back to Kahoku

“Sahara was intrinsic in winning some conflicts.” Kahoku told him. “The Crane were impressed with his iaijutsu skills, though he didn’t get to demonstrate it against the Mantis.  Of the ronin there were only minor casualties, but they were imperative in taking what we got. There will still be plenty of koku after paying their fees. Their loyalty has been absolute.”

Nirav turned to the Ronin.  He announced to the ronin that if they were willing to join the Scorpion army, and retake the Second City, he would consider them for membership into the clan. Sahara looked ragged, with unwashed clothes, and war weary.  He treated Nirav formally but was unsure of the offer.  He was bent on becoming a perfect duellist. He didn’t want to be tied to any affiliation but he would stay with the army provided he was paid.  The Tessen were more than happy to accept the offer. Nirav accepted Sahara’s noble cause, and refusal.

“I really respect that thing you are doing, that thing you said you were doing…”

Nirav had a present for Kahoku – a banner.  Kahoku seemed to be quite stunned that he had the possession of it. “This is a gift to us from the heavens, but I am not in the position to lead an army, that is your duty and honour. I would be honoured if you would lead them.  I will be going to the Seven Stings to pick up the rest of the army. I am sure the Legion will not miss a few horses.”

 

Kakita Saburo entered the Emerald Legion’s camp, he smelled strongly of sweat and salt and of the sea.  He asked to speak to the head of the Legion.

“I am him, I am Hida Himaru, Rikugunshokan of the Eighth Legion.”

“Greetings Himaru-sama. I am Kakita Saburo.  Head of the 3rdFleet of the Crane. I am here to offer my support to the campaign.”

“I believe that would be well.”

Himaru called a meeting and lead the Crane to meet Toshinobu.  Himaru bowedd to Toshinobu.

“Toshinobu-sama may I present Kakita Saburo, Commander of the fleet that came to assist us.”

Toshinobu bowed.“Well met, please take a seat.”

Saburo bowed even lower. “Please excuse my appearance.  I’ve not been able to refresh myself self since the campaign against the Mantis started 6 months ago.” Saburo said.

“It is understood, we labour under similar battle fatigue.”

“How are you finding you new position may I ask?”

“I am about to go and find it.  It is extremely new. To say I was used to it would be a lie.  I will take the task as best I can.  Our first job is to re-take the city so I can do that job.”

“So, why I am here.  I will offer any service I can provide to take the Second City. You have the use of my army, and fleet, anyone under my command.”

“I am grateful of that assistance.”

“The army I command is limited, but better than nothing.”

 

“Any troops are useful.  If you could discuss troops with Himaru, he can incorporate you into the battle plans.” Toshinobu ordered that Saburo be served tea and have a place arranged so Saburo could rest, and then speak to Himaru.  The Crane and Mantis troops were based at opposite sides of the camp as arranged by Himaru.  Toshinobu told Himaru of Soshuro Nirav’s night visit.

“The entity who may have been Fu Leng was correct in seeing him as a Scorpion then.”

“We may not get the full support. If we do we will be lucky.”

“It’s all in the Logistics…”

“There are the Spider, half the Scorpion.  Currently we have 40,000 to the Second Cities 60,000.  There will be enormous losses either way.”

 

There was more discussion of the battle plans. [This went somewhat over my head, as I am not a tactician I will summmarise what I did understand of it- Korimi]

Himaru wanted a strong centre.  Himaru got a Kuni banner sorted, and Renyu’s personal banner, getting a Crane to make it.  They were stuck high outside the camp to signal to the scouts.  Within an hour, the Hiruma scouts were greeted warmly. The Hiruma apologised for their lateness. There were two things affecting Crab maneuverability, the first being a visit from a Celestial Being which was the most beautiful woman to grace any reality.  The second being assaulted by Spider shock troops.  Further the scout said, the troops were those that had embraced taint to the fullest, and were on the track to becoming oni.  They suspected that the Spider had sent them to the frontier as conquerors.  They had certainly torn the Crab camp apart.

“The Conquerors Iweko-sama sent out are now being used against its own people.”  Himaru remarked

“Renyu-sama has led his Crab into the frontier, and leads a guerrilla war against them.”

“Inform Renyu that it is a tactic to stop the Crab from assisting in dealing with the real threat in the Second City.” Himaru paused, “Tell him Hida Himaru Rikugunshokan of 8threquests his aid to take the Second City on behalf of Seppun Toshinobu Governor of the Ivory Kingdoms.”

The scout nodded.  “At once my lord.  I will be gone now.”

“So that there are fewer things to cause problems, as we return on our journey to the Second City, we can meet up as a main force so your people aren’t harried in the protection of a larger one.” Himaru suggested “Our noble Hiruma scouts can be organising where and when with your blessing.”

“Ok.” Toshinobu agreed to this.

“Nirav-san is going on his own to Seven Stings keep, to gather the Scorpion forces.” Toshinobu said to Himaru eyeing him significantly. “He plans to take the ancestral banner and call all to him who are loyal.”

 

 

Himaru went to Niraav’s tent not long after this.

“Nirav san?”

“Himaru-san, welcome, yes, what can I do for you?”

“You are now showing your true self. You stand your bearing well.” Himaru said.  “You said to Toshinobu-sama about gaining more troops and those that came with you. What are your planned logistics?”

“Kahoku is to lead the Scorpion and Tessen, but if you wish him to do so at your direct command then so be it.”

“I am leaving it to the clans to organise movements, let me know who in your clan should be in my council?”

“I believe Bayushi Kahoku is the only Scorpion to not wear a mask.”

“Where are you going to collect other troops?”

“I am travelling far.  Seven Stings is my target.”

“That is troubling. New heavily tainted conqueror Spider are performing hit and runs in the jungle areas….so be very wary.” Himaru paused and pulled out a small bag.  “Take this with my blessing. It may be useful.” He handed over a pouch of jade powder.

“I don’t suppose I could borrow one of the Hiruma scouts?”

“If you wait until this afternoon, and wait for their return we could arrange for a Hiruma guide to get you there as fast as is possible.”

“Leaving at night would be best.  My army is heavy bushi, not equipped for this kind of travel.”

“I will arrange for one to assist you to Seven Stings.”

“Thank you very much.”

 

Not much later in the day, Himaru got his reply back from the Hiruma – Yes Kuni Renyu was prepared to move his retinue to aid the cause, just tell him when and where and he would be there. Himaru organised the logistics with him and said. “I need another favour of you. Would one of your people escort one of my people to Seven Stings Keep?”

“I could send a messenger to Renyu -sama and go with your companion myself.”

“That would be good, you are clearly one of the best; we need the best.”

The messenger was sent to Renyu, and Nirav and the Hiruma headed out into the jungle.  It would take them two weeks to get there and back.

 

Over the course of that period Iwemara tried to discover the numbers of Dragon in the Ivory Kingdoms; particularly Kitsuki, who might know something of what was going on.  She sent the scouts out to forage and scout ahead for supplies for the army and practiced Iaijutsu with anyone who would duel her for fun, and read Iweko’s journals over an over absolutely fascinated, as the knowledge contained within seemed to change at every treading to reveal more useful – and often banned – knowledge.

Himaru spent his time planning out where the armies would be meeting up and organising the logistics of travelling.  He didn’t want the army to move too fast so the troops were not pushed too hard.

 

Iwemara and Himaru heard from a tattooed Legion individual.  He had been chatting with the head Dragon who on whole had tried to stay in the city.  For good or ill they helped to found and built it, they were trying to ride out the storm.  Whether they have been corrupted?  Time would tell.  He had not heard of anything and no one had heard anything from Rokugan regarding reinforcements.  In fact news from Rokugan to ALL the clans had suspiciously quiet of late.

 

2 weeks later….

 

The army marched for 5 days and were part way into the sixth when the out ridign scouts came across a dog bigger than a horse with Renyu sitting on top. He did not have many Crab with him, but what few he did were the elite of the elite.  They also looked horrendous.  Renyu looked almostpresentable, but his dog appeared to have taken a severe beating.  It had teeth missing, it’s claws were wrecked.  The armour on the soldiers was getting corroded or had taken lots of damage.  One man had lost an arm, one a leg, another an eye; one had lost all three.  The entire force all look angry and exhausted. Himaru pets the dog and gave it food, even as he welcomed the small force.

“It is an honour to meet you. Please enjoy the respite of the camp, your watch for the moment is over, the fight will come soon enough.”  Himaru sent his shugenja – not the Kuni Nirav attached – to tend to the Crab.

 

 

While all this was happening, Nirav and the Hiruma scout were making their way through the jungle, they got into lots of tight spots but they were unimportant in the grand scheme of things.  As they got close to their goal they started to smell burning.  The Hiruma said smelt like it had been burning for a very long time. Then they came across something on the outskirts of the jungle.  Both thought it was an unnatural thing, and it showed a strange symbology, it looked like a massive, massive cross, and pinned to it was a dead Scorpion bushi. He had had his wrists nailed to it, one each side, and there was one going through his feet.  It looked like he’d been up there a while.  As they kept going they came across more and more and more….

 

As they got closer they found more dead bushi at the feet of these crosses, and higher status samurai nailed up.  They came out of the jungle and witnessed a scene of horror in front of them. There was a smoking husk that looked like it may once have been Seven Stings Keep.  There were also three circles of crosses.  The earth had been salted, there was no life, no movement not even carrion eaters.  Everything was dead.

 

Struggling to maintain his compsure Nirav said “Well I’ve not seen anything like this before.”

 

It was very disturbing for both of them…the bodies were rotting and smelling, the smell had grown as they had gotten closer to the Keep until they had had to have cloths over their mouths.  Te closer they had approached the greater their foreboding had become, only to be confirmed by the sight that met them. There was no nod to samurai tradition. The weapons were all there, left on the ground as if they were nothing. The same went for the armour. There were peasants, ashigaru and samurai all mixed and staked to crosses together.  There was no reference to Rokugani culture.  It was quite simply a massacre.  The Hiruma was very distressed.  He had served on the wall and had NEVER seen anything like this before. Nirav was very repulsed and absolutely distraught that so many of his clan had been slaughtered so and dropped to his knees in shock.  He prayed to all of the ancestors…”Kami give me strength”.

They moved away from the carnage and slaughter, in silence there wasn’t anything to salvage.  The attacker whatever it had been had used a scorched earth policy. The rice had been poisoned, wagons destroyed.  The sheer number of rotting corpses were poisoning the earth itself.  They foraged in the jungle in grim silence.

“We need to learn to eat like the natives…they can eat meat.”  Nirav commented. But being with a Hiruma, the supplies had gone much further than they could have done.  By mutual understanding they made tracks to re join Toshinobu’s army.  The trip back was rougher.  Both suffered nightmares from the horrors they had witnessed. Even the Hiruma was badly shaken up.  Where they were talkative at night before; the Hiruma telling Nirav of his time on the wall on the way out and Nirav his adventures in the colonies; now both were silent and completely reflective.  Everything was not right with the world any more, something had gone out of balance.  “I want to go home.  What the fuck are we doing here. What the fuck is capable of doing that? It is beyond comprehension.” Were frequent comments between them.  Nirav kept checking that there were no zombies following them.

 

Nirav and the Hiruma eventually made it back to camp. They really didn’t look to be in the best head space.

“Greetings, Nirav San is it not?” Iwemra said, having been appraised in his absence of Sairento’s true identity

“You must be Iwemara.  I have not seen you in a long time, you must be missing the comforts of court.”

“I admit court is more comfortable, but when necessity dictates I go where duty leads.  I was told you were returning with an army.”

“Yes.  I don’t have time for this, where is Toshinobu?”

“I will lead you to him.”

Nirav thanked the Hiruma.  “I cannot but feel your loss, go with peace.”  The Hiruma bowed as low as he had ever bowed.  Nirav bowed back as deeply.

Kowing something deeper was going on between the two Iwemar used her observational skills to discover waht it was.  With Idhi Maru she could see that Nirav was exhausted and tired and had suffered a great blow to his spirit.  He was also very very angry about something. He was trying to appear strong and not angry and was looking like he would punch someone if they were not careful.  Iwemara treated him with respect and expedited Nirav’s audience with Toshinobu as quickly as possible.  She also organised for the Hiruma too and arranged a place for Nirav when he left Toshinobu’s presence.

 

Nirav quickly gaining access to Toshinobu through Iwemara’s offices gave a very concise report.  “To summarise. We didn’t bump into the lost.  The bad news is that there is not and will not be any Scorpion army, they are all dead.”  It was clear to Toshinobu that he’ was struggling not to run or stab someone.

“That is disturbing got say the least.” He said slowly.

“I’ve never heard of any army behaving like this.”  Iwemara who had joined them after giving her orders for Nirav and the Hiruma’s comfort had no idea either.

“We will help you look into the matter as best we can as soon as we have the Second City re-taken.  I will order my Kitsuki to assist in this.”

“The Kuni will have the most awareness of what is going on.  I will have a chat with them.” Nirav said.

Renyu stressed that the bodies must be burned and dealt with. The priority was of course to take the city, but it was going against the Celestial Order.  What had been described to him was a blasphemy beyond all reckoning. Whoever was responsible had to be brought to justice.

“Have you heard of this parallel bars and massacres?”

“None…no…Hold on a minute…hold on a minute…”

“Logistically we can’t go now,” Toshinobu said “But once the Second City is taken and the Ivory Kingdom stabilised, this will be the next action to sort out, but we can’t swerve form path right now, I agree it is blasphemous. If you can find out if any scouts or men come across such, please do inform me.”

“I will send word, but been quite focussed on dealing with the Spider threat, to the exclusion of awareness of other threats to the Ivory Kingdoms.”

“Thank you for your time.”

 

Himaru wanted to know what was going on with the Unicorn  “Probably what’s happened at Seven Stings.” Nirav said.

“And whatever you think comes from the north.” Himaru responded

“Not the Senpet this far south.”

“What is to the north?”

“Lots of sand.”

“Outsiders keep bad people from all the lands.  The Senpet, Yodotai, Thrane, Merane, Yobanjin. It would be impossible to narrow it down.”

“Gaijin.”

“One thing I am absolutely certain of is it’s not Rokugani.  Even the Spider wouldn’t do that.  They’d be zombies in a Spider army.”

“Then we can only continue our march and pray none of the other forces come upon this horror.”

“As long as nothing else has changed.”

“He’s been driven mad by Pan Ku.”

“The Spider didn’t know I had an army to recall and yet they recalled it.”

“We have no idea of the status of the Dragon.  All other clans are limited in numbers in the city.”

“The numbers are in the Spider and Gaijin and Phoenix.”

“How would we get the Phoenix on board?  They are not all in the city.”

“I may…possibly…be able to help with that.” Nirav said slowly. “I was acquainted with a Phoenix by the name of Agasha Sanra. She was a representative of the Elemental Masters, and a fellow Ivory Magistrate.  She carried with her everywhere a staff with the symbol of the void on it.  A gift from her mother Isawa Kimi I believe.  She was abducted by the Kolat and we suspect brainwashed by them.  Not long after this my lord her husband Bayushi Togo was murdered in his bed.  We suspect by Sanra, who then disappeared.  I was…interviewed… by Asako Kaitoko not long after that.  She wanted to know where Togo was.  I told her it was Scorpion business and we would deal with it and asked HER where Sanra was.  She told me she was a traitor to the cause and had been dealt with.  I don’t know where the staff went, but while I was investigating her abduction, the staff put me in directcontact with Isawa Kimi.  If I could find that staff, I could theoretically do so again.”

“Where would you try to find this staff first.?” Toshinobu asked.

“The Elemental Masters estate if anywhere, or with Asako Kaitoko.” Nirav said after some thought “Assuming Kimi-sama hasn’t recalled it to herself.”

“Very good.  As we approach the city, I want you to find that staff.”

Nirav, not waiting to get closer took a horse, and went off on his own that night.

 

Iwemara sent scouts out looking for Rokugani who had left the city and were sane and untainted. She was especially interested in Dragon survivors. The few who they did find reported that Togashi Noburo had disappeared, and that the Dragon section of the city had been ransacked.  One of them was Tamori Kanto, who offered his services and his spells to Iwemara, and the commanders.  Iwemara introduced him to Himaru, who greeted him warmly.

 

Nirav returned several days later, dirty and exhausted, on foot.  He went immediately to Toshinobu’s tent.

“My lord. I have been into the city.  It’s worse than when I left.” His voice sounded bleak. “It’s like the land is becoming like the festering Pit in Scorpion lands, or how I have heard the Shadowlands described.   Everyone in the city is mad, or lost to darkness or a Spider.  They kill any that question them and the Unicorn…those that I saw were no longer among the living…but still walked.  I think they have been turned into undead monsters by the Spider.  I wouldn’t recommend sending scouts to the city.  I barely survived myself but and found the staff of void.   I spoke with Isawa Kimi herself.  The Phoenix maycome to our aid, but those in the city are lost.  Fallen to Pan Ku or the darkness.”  He looked to Himaru and Renyu.  “There don’t appear to be any Crab left alive,” then he looked over to Iwemara “Or Dragon.  Chukage is mad, and Koiso has become a dark shade of herself according to Kimi. We are to travel along the coast, if the Phoenix come, they will arrive in no less than two days, but if they do, Rokugan itselfwill have fallen. She didn’t say to what beyond saying the Empire was burning.” This announcement caused an uproar and it took time for Nirav to complete his report.  “On my return, I encountered the scouts of Mala Singh.  His people left the city before it fell to the madness and darkness within.  Knowing our need for warriors, and knowing what Mala Singh requested of Iweko Shibatsu, I made them the offer of land of their own, governed by you of course, in return for fighting with us to take back the city.  I told Singh that if you agreed to the terms I’d send a scout party out to bring him here to meet with you.”

Toshinobu scowled at Nirav’s presumption, but nodded.  “Do so.”

 

 

Iwemara as head of the scouts, went with the group to meet Mala Singh.  She met him gracefully and brought him and his warriors back to the camp.  The warriors were settled in and Singh was shown to Toshinobu’s tent.

“I would recommend that you use my people against the undead cavalry. My people have heavy shields that can parry their spears.  I would recommend you have some of your archers paired with my men.  They can shoot the horses and warriors down, and my people can protect the samurai.”

“I see what you are suggesting.  Your people act like a defensive wall to fight from.”

“A shield wall.  Yes, something like that.” Singh agreed.

Morale was very low in the army. Many had mixed feelings about going to war against an imperial heir.  They were raised only slightly when the oders came through that when they came into contact with the opposing army no harm was to come to Shibatsu.

Some rumours came to the commanders ears estioning if Shibatsu truly was the Empress’s heir.  He was so heavily under the influence of the Spider, many wonderedif if he came to the throne he’d become their pawn as he appeared to have become now.

 

When this was discussed between the commanders Himaru pointed out that “when he is rescued, if he has been corrupted and tainted so that he is beyond healing he may have to be sent to his ancestors”

“That’s not for us to judge Himaru.” Toshinobu told him.

The gaijin integrated quite well or seemed to. The Rokugani were not sure how to take them and didn’t quite trust them, and as rumours of what Shosuro Nirav had encountered spread through the camps, morale dipped alarmingly low.  Himaru decided they needed to be spoken to, and had them assemble in their ranks.

“The force that stands before us has been sent by Jigoku to test the strength and will of Rokugan. We here stand for Rokugan and the local gaijin, understanding the importance of our endeavors have joined us, for they know that if  this corruption were to spread it would destroy the Ivory Coast and sweep back to the homeland. If we do not stop this here and now none of your families will be safe, your lives will not be safe, nor your children’s.  Our job is and always has been to keep balance in the world, to stop the darkness encroaching.  If you fall, you fall with honour and gain the glory of dying in our Diving and most Beloved Empress’s name.”

The speech gave heart to the troops, and they began preparing for battle with renewed determination.

 

On the second day after Nirav’s return ships appeared on the horizon moving at unnatural speed.  It looked like the waves were pushing the boats as well as a howling, yet somehow controlled wind.  The troops, expecting it to be an attack, prepared to met the foe but as they moved closer, the mon of the Phoenix could be seen blazoned on every sail.  There were ten of the ships, unnaturally large – as big as the recently sunk Aramasu’s Legacy – and not made of wood. The assembled troops slowly began to realise as they saw the packed ships that it was the entire Phoenix army, possibly the entire clan.  How they and managed to mobiles so many so quickly they did not know.  Either they had moved mountains or pulled some serious favours.

 

The ships began to slow as they approached the coast, and the first ship to pull up in thecove the Army was encamped in bore all five elemental rings embossed on the sail, the Phoenix mon in its center. There were 5 very important looking phoenix shugenja standing in the bow, each wearing their robes of office.

 

Bushi began to disembark. A lot looked badly roughed up as if they had been on the move for some time. To Himaru’s eyes they looked dark as if they had served long weeks on the Wall at the height of Shadowlands activity against Rokugan.  They had the long stare of recruits who had broken or were on the verge of it. Many were shaken up. Their armour was not in the best condition, some of their spirit had ebbed away and they looked like they had been in an enormous battle.  As they disembarked the army realized is was indeed, the entire Great Clan of the Phoenix.  Women children and some elderly were also disembarking, aiding those too injured or infirm to make it off the ships under their own power.  No one spoke, they all looked grim and exhausted some of the children sat in huddled heaps near to supplies weeping silently. It was eery and unnatural and gave everyone who watched a feeling of deep foreboding.

Only when everyone else had disembarked the ship did the Elemental masters descended, striding off the ship and up to Toshinobu’s command. Isawa Kimi, resplendent in robes of black and white led the group.  She bowed to Toshinobu.

“Greetings samurai.We have arrived to help you in your time of need. How go your battle preparations?”

“They go well.” Toshinobu replied, looking over the other ships which were now disembarking their passengers.  Iwemara noted that the Masters of Air and a woman, presumably Chukage’s replacement, the New Master of Water looked dazed and more exhausted than the other Masters.  Clearly they had been instrumental in expediting the Phoenix’s journey.“Better now we have such an increased number.” Toshinobu said before pausing and lowering his voice so only the commanders and Elemental masters could hear. “Themessage stated that if you did arrive, Rokugan was in problems and you look like you have fought many battles.”

“This is not the time to discuss the past noble Toshinobu. You cannot help in Rokugan, you have your task ahead of you which for the moment should be regarded as the more important.  Let us discuss your plans so that our forces can be smoothly integrated.”

“Of course.  Is Shiba Tsukimi joining us?”

Kimi shook her head slightly. “Tsukimi remained in Rokugan to secure the removal of the rest of our people.  She lives, but is imprisoned.  I know no more than that.  In her absence she appointed Shiba Hogo-sha to deputise, but the clan as a whole are guided by us and we will give him his orders once plans have been formed.”

Toshinobu nodded and gestured for them to enter his tent. “Come in then, and we will discuss battle plans and where the shugenja are best placed for it.  I feel your Bushi have fought enough for now.”

“They are tired, but are capable warriors and have not spent all of their strength as yet.  If they are needed, they will come to our call.

 

Once the masters had been served tea, and given refreshment they got down to business.

“The imbalance in the world and the rise of the darkness has allowed dark elemental masters to rise in the City. I must insist that it is we who take down these false elemental masters.  They are extremely dangerous.  Koiso, who has now been struck from the family of Isawa may be beyond even our powers to stop, she is probably the most dangerous threat in the city right now.” Kimi told them.  The others nodded.

The new elemental Master of Fire, a very young woman looked grim.  “We are in the position to cause her considerable damage, even if it costs many lives. I would advise you take any measure to kill her.”

“When I was in the city, I was not there long before joining Toshinobu-sama. I heard rumours of her activity thoughand it was not activity befitting a shugenja let alone an Elemental Master.” Himaru said.  Iwemara nodded

“I believe she may have been influenced by Pan Ku, and her actions insanity driven.” Again Iwemara nodded.“I sense Pan Ku’s presence, but I do not understand his form.” Kimi said.

“Can you detect possession?” Himaru asked.

“Yes.”Himaru looked at Iwemara, a glance that was not lost on her, or Kimi, and Iwemara bowed her head.  “He is not here. He is in the Throne Room of the second City.  I can sense a lot of magic surrounding that room, and feel it is an anchor with the effects spreading out from there through the city.

 

“There are events happening in the city that may not be as they appear.  They could be a fabrication of Pan Ku.” Nirav said.

“What happens there, the fate of all is tied to the throne room. We need to get into the throne room to determine what happens to Shibatsu and the army.” Kimi said.

“The creatures could still hurt and kill you and as he is cornered he may lash out.”

“His powers are getting greater and more extreme the longer the dragon affects the Throne room.”

“There would have to be something seriously wrong or an opening to Jigoku for that to be the case.” Himaru related the warping by the Maho Tsukaui they took down at this.

“If there was one warping in the city. Another could be formed. How many would it take? And how much blood would it take.”

“They are creating shadow emperor.”

“No, I am referring to the Son of the Dark Emperor.  His blood could do it.”

 

 

“Toshinobu.  With this information I wonder if we could change our strategy.  It seems that the throne room is all that is important.” Himaru said. “If we have a protracted battle outside…”

“It may be an illusion or real forces could have been created.” Nirav said.

“Certainly but if their guard is let down too much, I agree we should get to throne room, but not if it compromises our defences.” Toshinobu said. They discussed the strategy.

 

They decided on a wedge formation as their opening strategy to fight the army gathered outside. Theoretically the arrowhead wedge would push the forces along their edges where they could be killed, they would have the weakness of a flanking charge, but the Ivindra shield bearers could protect against it with the archers in the centre. Then the bulk of the force could make sure side and rear attackers wouldn’t bother them.

Kimi looked at Toshinobu

“I understand your animosity with the Spider Clan Champion Toshinobu-san, but Kharmically, the Spider will need him before the end. Please do not take the words of an Elemental Master lightly.

Toshinobu nodded reluctantly.

 

The army arrayed itself for the attack as it approached the walls of the Second City through the poisoned and dead lands that now surrounded it. It would take a lot of work to bring it back to normal and safe once this was over. Norimichi prayed to the kami. He strained hard and two enormous golems and effigies ]like the one used by Renyu] appeared as well as army of stone soldiers.

“Well, the battle won’t suffer if he isn’t able to do that again.” Himaru muttered Loyal retainers and shugenja arrayed themselves among the golems the shugenja coating them in armour made from the earth.  A rock solid protection.  Himaru requested Norimich put himself in the centre of the wedge.

“If you see my skin harden and break, my body may be becoming one with the earth.  I may join my ancestors for this, but do not worry.  For Rokugan it I worth it.” Norimichi said, nodding in acceptance.

“I pray that is not the case. You are worth more than what you give.” Himaru told him“I’ve seen ones like you on wall.”

“Thanks. Let us do this.”

The rest of the elemental masters were arranged to flank the point of the wedge, with Himaru leading. When everything was ready, the order was given to advance.

 

The army advanced slowly in well ordered formatin as if they had drilled for months together and the combined forces of Zombie Unicorn, and mad clan samurai swarmed forward in a horde. The archers brought many down before they even reached the wedge, the arrows darkening the sky. The horde crashed against the tip of the formation and as planned were forced to either side, to face the shield wall and the spears and scimitars of the Ivindra, the arrows and katana and tetsubo of the Rokugani.

 

Himaru leading the charge quickly ended up in a duel.  The man looked very familiar when he finally got a good look at him.  His eyes were reddened, he was drooling foamy saliva and he had the symbol od the dark oracle of earth tattoed on his chest, but it was definitely Tatsumaki. Tatsumaki called on the power of his taint, but Himaru hit him first and hit him hard.

 

 

He quickly killed Tatsumaki crumpling in his chest with his new tetsubo

Koiso’s blessing fell off as Himaru struck him, a bold of Lightning helping to guide the tetsubo to the place that would do most damage, the blessings of Osano Wo going with him.

Tatsumaki had a look of surprise on his face as he fell. Himaru roared in success to increase the army’s morale, and it had the desired effect.  The army fought with renewed vigour the tip of the formation pushing into the undead warriors, making short work of them, but taking some casualties. Suddenly the tideturned as a hole in the formation was made by several lucky blows and there was a desperate skirmish to stop the formation from disintegrating.

It was almost as if behind the zombies was a taskmaster whipping them forward after Tatsumaki’s death.

 

Iwemara was near the section of the break and dove into the fray, katana bared and ended up in a duel with a dark warrior of the Spider clan, Armour skiked, his face unsettling.  He wore a mempo, but behind it the face was featureless shrouded in a veil of darkness.  He didn’t want to fight him he was so disturbing, but she did her duty and took a centre stance. Assessing him, she found his weakness and hit him in a vulnerable spot.  He hit her back quickly however, and underhanded blow that knocked her backwards and the duel devlved into a skirmish.

 

Daigotsu Oham had the upper hand against the child like Kitsuki confronting him.  He saw a look of startlement cross her face as she staggered backwards to avoided his blade, almost fear and he relished it.

Iwemara, fighting for her life heard a deep voice entred her head as she dodged yet another blow that if it hadn’t killed her would have crippled her.  She was shocked to hear it.  It was deep and gruff and masculine, but still a voice in her head, and she felt dismay that she might be falling under control of Pan Ku again.

“I am Fudo child, be true, and fight well, and I will aid your path. You will help me stop the Dragon. That is your destiny, in this path we will walk together.”

She felt like she could access the powers that the dragon Pan Ku had granted her, but if they helped her to live, she wasn’t going to argue, and quickly accessed the ones that would help her, making the Spider miss his swing as she dodged, and sending he katana through chinks in his armour and through his neck.  He quickly bled out and died. She shook her head, not quite accepting the voice was Fudo.

 

 

On the battlements stood a Lion.  He looked like he was ordering the battle lines.Toshinobu looked at the Tsuruchi in an aren’t you the archer? kind of look. He attempted the shot and missed. A guard offered him a go.  He had a stab at it, though his archery days really were long past and managed much to his own surprise to actually hit him. With the power of Monkey behind him he managed to kill Akodo Genshin, finding a lucky chink in the armour that sent the arro tip to the man’s heart. He reeled away from an attacker, and a chunk was taken out of his peg leg.  The attacker was quickly taken down. Tosh turned to the Tsuruchi“Peg leg, borrowed bow. THAT’S how it’s done.” He declared. The Tsuruchi looked like he’d seen a ghost since he couldn’t have made the shot at all.

Himaru faced three Spider bushi. They all wielded dark looking katanas.  Hequickly took one on and killed him, then moved on to the other two. They went down having missed him.  Kimi unleashed a wave of void strikes on the enemy soldiers, and the wedge formation forced it’s way into the city. The streets made it easier for the army, and harder, until the Tsuruchi took to the roof tops with Nirav, and they fought their way through to the Military District.

Himaru yelled at the top of his voice so it got relayed. The elemental Master of air, a woman helped.

 

“All loyal Rokugani samurai. We have come to rid this city of the corruption. Join and fight back against the oppressors. Fight back now.”

When they got into the Military District. They faced a battalion of Scorpion and Spider.  Nirav dropped down from his vantage point and walked boldly forward.  In response to seeing Nirav, an old man with white hair behind his mempo, tuned and attacked the Spider that stood at his side.  To a man the Scorpion started attacking the Spider in their ranks. Himaru passed orders to Nirav. He was to amalgamate them into the fighting force and it was to be put it under Nirav’s control.

Toshinobu got to pick up Dairuko’s personal banner.

Himaru came face to face with a young Spider trainee.  He looked scared, and had no sign of taint at a glance. He placed his Jade covered tetsubo against the boy’s face. It didn’t sizzle.  He handed the boy over to his lieutennants told them to secure him, removed his weapons and sent him back to be dealt with after the battle.

The army pushed forwards and moved forward into the Imperial District. There was a MASSIVE oni in the way.

Iwemara, Toshinobu and Himaru took on the oni. The wedge swirled around it, and began to attack it within their ranks.  Toshinobu and Himaru attack it first, and quickly. Himaru whacked it very very hard. A lightning bolt hit out to the same point. Osano wo agreed with his strike, and then they ended up grappling but hewasn’t strong enough to grapple such a massive creature.  The oni attacked Himaru with his fire tongues. Himaru was slightly wounded, and his clothes set on fire. The Oni hit him hard with his second fire tongue but only grazed him with the third.  Toshinobu went into an all out on the attack too, several times

 

Renyu launched a boulder at him, as Kimi cast a void strike to the face. The oni, which as Himaru recognized the creature as an Akouma Oni yelled out to the others its identity was wounded.

Himaru drank a potion he had been keeping hold of that Tamori Kanto had given him. The Akouma put its hands together and tried to bury him. It whacked down hard and dented Himaru’s armour, numbing his arm.

Toshinobu snuck behind Himaru and attacked Akouma, wounding him more. Undaunted by his numbed arm, Himaru attacked the creature again doing even more damage. He did an uppercut with his tetsubo, and knocks the creature over but he yelled “I think he’s still alive!”

The Akouma got back up.  Toshinobu attacked him again and cut the creatures throat as it leaned over.  The Akouma screamed loudly and started boiling down and disappearing into the ground.

“The Great Oni Lord Akouma no Oni has just been slain by Seppun Toshinobu and Hida Himaru. If you value your lives drop your weapons.” One of the Samurai Shouted.

There was a clear path to the old Governors estate as some did as suggested.

 

The old Governors estate was a warped ond tisted copy of what had once stood there, obsidian coloured, blackened human flesh sculptures replacing what had once been beautiful white marble.  The teeth of the sculptures were made of human teeth.  Iwemara having been thoroughly terrified of the Oni peered out and followed as Himaru and Toshinobu called for shugenja, the Elemental Masters and the strongest of them to go in.

 

Court was in session.

 

It all looked very twisted, the flesh of courters a pale white colour, or eyes reddened with madness.  Koiso stood to the left of the throne, dressed in black with orange flames decorating the robes, to the right of the throne stood a muscular man that was instantly recogniseable as Daigotsu Kanpeki.

Iwwemara also noticed an old monk with loose teeth in the court wearing an odd hat.  The moment he got a good look at Iwemara his eyes went wide and he dropped to the floor beginning to pray.  Shibatsu laughed. Iwemara drank the potion Kanto had given her.

The room began to warp. It felt very stangelike it was a celestial realm no one was aware of.Shibtsu startedto grin and everyone began to see a dragon coiled around the court as Shibatsu broke out into eery laughter in the silence.

 

The Dragon put its arms in the air. Shibatsu did the same in a zombie like way and the people of the court were pushed to side of the room. Everyone was pinned to wall except for Shibatsu, Kanpeki and Iwemara. Everyone.

He reached down and drew a katana.

Iwemara drew hers.

He laughed again sending a shiver down everyone’s spines

“You are about to witness the duel of two demi-gods and the Celestial Order will not be the same after this time.” Kanpeki said in an implacable voice.

“I guess she had more than one God battling in her head” Toshinobbu muttered within Himaru’s hearing.

“I’m not going to even pretend to understand.” Himaru replied.

“Well we know she had Pan Ku.”

“Pan Ku just said the fight of two demi-gods. Who’s the other?”

As soon as they saw her take a stance, the same way Pan Ku had materialized a spirit, there was a shape behind Iwemara – a portly individual with a dour expression on his face, an impressive stance, and fire in his eyes.

 

 

Miko the old monk started to wail with fear and joy. He turned around and an elbow caught him in the face to shut him up.

“I don’t recognise that one.” Toshinobu muttered.

“I don’t either.”

 

They watched Iwemara assessed the Dragon controlled Prince and saw her blink. “That’s impressive, very impressive.” She muttered quietly, but the silence was so absolute that everyone heard and it did not break her concentration.

 

Iwemara focused fiercely and Shibatsu manically laughed as she took her strike. She felt strength in her arms as she did and as her Empress had instructed, and Fudo had endorsed, aimed the blade straight for Shibatsu’s heart. The blade slipped in easily, and for a brief moment his eyes widened in surprise, then he slumped to the floor a stack of rice.

Everyone fell from the walls.

Shibatsu’s body on ground was beginning to turn normal as Pan Ku shrieking tried to unwind it’s spirit from his body, weaving spiraling trying to escape into another realm. The estate started to shake.

Koiso stood up. Fire started entering her eyes and everything began to darken and get warm. In the blink of an eye Kimi appeared in front of her. Slaps her face and grabbed her shoulders. They both disappeared into the Void.

“Everyone out of the estate before it collapses!” Iwemara ordered.

What she said!” Toshinobu ordered, seconding her.

 

The spirit behind Iwemara bowed to her as she saw him and walked in the room.  It looked like he was walking into the rip through reality. As he walked, Iwemara felt the man she now knew to be Fudo slip away, and she felt a sense of lightness and being herself again.  She bowed back.  Himaru walked to Shibatsu, who was still alive and picked him up, cradling him like a baby.

They all called for a shugenja to heal him.

The spirit of Fudo walked through the rip in the reality, in front of the ivory throne, as he passed through the tear closed over and the estate began to collapse around them.

 

They were left in a perfect circle of rubble, untouched and un harmed.

“Let’s clean up this mess.” Toshinobu said, and began picking his way carefully over the rubble.  When they finally mounted the crest they could see that now the dragon was gone, the Zombie legionnaires were dissipating.  The only things not disappearing were the remnants of the living Lion and Unicorn armies, everything else boiled to nothing.  The taint in the ground disappeared too

“Toshinobu-sama the 8thLegion is at your disposal as city guard until such time as the Second City has filled it’s ranks and can support itself.” Himaru said formally.

“Do not let me take you from your duties. Make sure you touch base with the Emerald Champion in case he has orders for you. We will do well enough.”

 

 

Two days later when city was slowly getting back on its feet again and the gaijin had been officially given their part of the city.Mala Singh attended Ivory Court and formally offered his people to help re-build part of the city in exchange for trade and an embassy of their own.

Toshinobu, well aware that their aid in the battle had been vital to their victory had no problems with that, and gladly granted it. Shinbatsu tended by an Iuchi from the Unicorn ranks of survivors, Tamori Kanto, a Moshi and a Kitsune remained in a coma, but was still alive.

 

When the shugenja explored his mind, they didn’t go insane. His mind was fine. Isawa Kimi had vanished and the Elemental Masters were trying to get their people back on their feet.  For the time being, Toshinobu had offered them the temple district as their own, as there were no surviving Dragon of those who had remained in the city.

A Miya herald arrived at court in the mid afternoon just before it had been about to break up from it’s morning session. She looked battered, the guards reported that her horse had died on the city outskirts. The guards – members of the scouting corpsreported she had an urgent message for Toshinobu.

She was carried in, a pouch of water held in her shaking and frail looking hand.  It looked like she hadn’t eaten in a fortnight, as exhausted and ill and started to openly weep in the court.  With a shaking voice she offered her report from the emerald empire as her hand shakily drew a letter from a pocket.  Her had was too weak to lift it to offer it to him.

Toshinobu nodded, and the Herald explained in halting tones that the Empire as no longer.  There had been an invasion of Yodotai led by a Man called Legulus.  The Empress had declared a state of occupation. Seiken died fighting the Yodotai as did Togashi Satsu who had turned into a Dragon was destroyed by the Yodotai ancestors.

She reported that it had been a close fought battle – they had transported soldiers south cutting supplies to the Ivory Kingdoms and in killing Akodo Dairuko at the pass to the Ivory Kingdoms Road in an unexpected attack had gained a foothold within Rokugan and then, their greatest commander dead, pushed the Rokugani military back to Toshi Ranbo. They now kept the Empress hostage. All samurai had to lay down their arms or the Empress would be executed.

 

She continued slowly, her exhaustion starting to overcome her. The Empress was still alive under house arrest. The Lion Clan had suffered their greatest defeat since the last battle of Toshi Ranbo. Half the lion had gone ronin the other half had committed seppuku.

“Looks like we have some work to do.” Toshinobu said.  “What news of the Emerald Champion?”

“He fell in battle.” The Miya whispered, coughing up a little blood. “The armour has been destroyed and the pieces sent to the four corners of Rokugan.  The Imperial legions stood down.  They did not want to endanger the Empress’s life.” The herald rasped, before fainting her breath bubbling in her throat, a dribble of red at the corner of her mouth. Toshinobu called for a healer, and the Elemental Master of water stepped forward to heal the woman, who was clearly about to die.

“Wht she hasn’t told you is that Magic is inaffective against the Yodotai. The kami simply have no resistance against their ancestral magic.” She said as she cast the healing spell.“Hence why the Phoenix are here instead of in Rokugan.”

Toshinobu nodded and as the Herald was taken away to recover, took the letter she had tried to give him. He broke he seal and read quietly.

 

Toshinobu-san,

You are hereby ordered to protect my son Shibatsu as he is my designated heir now Seiken has passed on to be with the ancestors.

Iweko.

 

Himaru approached Toshinobu.  “My lord, now the Emerald Champion is dead, who should the Legion report to?”

“The legion reports to only three individuals.  The Empress, The Emerald Champion, and the Shogun.  As the Empress is a captive, we have no designated Shogun, and The Emerald Champion is dead, right now you will have to settle for me. I want The Spider out of the City. See that Kanpeki leaves personally”

“Yes my lord.”

“Toshinobu-sama” Iwemara interrupted.  “Do not forget what Isawa Kimi told you.  The Spider will be important in the future.  I believe she could be correct. If magic cannot defeat the Yodotai, perhaps the Spider with their unnatural tainted skills can.”

“You may have a point.” Toshinobu conceded reluctantly.  You deal with it.  I don’t want to see them in my City again.”

 

Iwemara bowed, and went to find Daigotsu Kanpeki to see if he would help rescue the Empress, and defeat the Yodotai.  It took much negotiation on Iwemara’s part, but in the end he was not unamenable provided certain terms were met.

 

 

Closing Comments, Miya Korimi.

 

I will end the chronicle here, as what followed – the retaking of Rokugan and the freeing of the Empress is already well documented in other chronicles.

 

Otomo Sukihime tried very hard to Seduce Seppun Toshinobu, whether this worked or not is up for debate as it is well known that Toshinobu was a great politician, and would have seen the advantage of cementing his claim to the Ivory Kingdoms with a union.  They had a relatively successful marriage.

 

Asako Kaitoko was executed for her unilateral actions, and continuing madness after the city was retaken.

 

Shiba Saburo survived, and continued in his duty of guarding the Estate of the Elemental Masters who resided there until the retaking of Rokugan was completed.

I

sawa Kimi returned, one year to the day after her disappearance with Isawa Koiso holding two girl children in her arms.  She never spoke of it, but it has been long suspected that these were re incarnations of her daughter Agasha Sanra, and

Isawa Koiso, though this has never been confirmed. Both children grew to be powerful shugenja though neither was strong in the element of fire. Kimi did not re-take her position of Elemental Master of Void, leaving the young Isawa Shunryu, who had been Elected in her Absence to the position choosing instead to teach the new generation of Ishiken that emerged.

 

Asako Chukage regained his mind once Pan Ku was dispelled, and to make up for his shameful actions, acted as a voice for the Elemental masters in Shiba Tsukimi’s absence.

 

Yoritomo Hiro, whose heroics in the re taking of Rokugan are well documented made a political marriage with Yoritomo Hirumi, again to cement his position. This was an extremely successful marriage, and the Mantis flourished under his guidance.  Records indicate that the former Yoritomo Hiromi returned to Rokugan with Kitsuki Iwemara, Shosuro Nirav and the Spider.  There are no records of what happened to him after this.

 

Records indicate that Kitsune Shiro appeared in Ivory court very rarely. There is no evidence to indicate what she did in the intervening time, and no more of her journals survive. Based on her final entries it is suspected she spent increasing amounts of time in the jungle with the Zo, and communing with the spirits of chikushudo.

 

Tamori Kanto ran a successful herbalist shop, training suitable Gaijin in a new technique that blended the knowledge of the Gurus, the magic of the Kami and the blessings of the gaijin gods, who began to reincarnate much as our own kami have begun to do.

 

Rani Sita learned Rokugani etiquette, and was accepted among the Daidoji…eventually.  She married a Daidoji by the name of Kinawan.  I suspect this Kinawan was the child of Daidoji Kanawan, but cannot find the records that confirm his parentage.  Too much was destroyed in Rokugan during the Occupation.  Her cousin Mala Singh retains much affection and reverence among the Ivindra for having preserved his people and their culture during the trials they faced at this time.

 

Hida Himaru, after ensuring the Second City was secured to Toshinobu, Commanded the 8th Legion until his death in battle, his ten year tenure ensuring no Yodotai or other enemies of the Empire entered the Ivory Kingdoms. When the call came, the 8th Legion were instrumental in taking part in the retaking of Rokugan from the Yodotai.

The Fudo Miko was eventually executed by the brotherhood for spreading his heresies, despite his having seen his god, and many others as well. The Path of Fudo is still a subject they refuse to discuss, but Miko’s preaching had had its effect, and if one looks carefully, once can find followers throughout the Ivory Kingdoms, though not as much in Rokugan where the brotherhood hold sway.

 

Tategami Akai survived his shipwreck, as the chronicles indicate he made his way to companion the Empress in her house arrest, and was instrumental in securing her safety.

 

There are no records to indicate the fates of Soshi Mai, Yasuki Jekku, the creature that was Yoitomo Kiyomi or Togashi Kemuri.  It is presumed they died in the Second City, either during the time of madness, or in the battle to re take the city.

 

 

 

Thus ends the Second City Chronicle.

 

I very much hope that you have enjoyed reading.

I have other RPG’s that I plan to write up into a fictional format.  There may be a short hiatus as I have a Novel of original fiction I want to finish first…but watch this space :)

 

If you /really/ enjoyed this and want to contribute (amazing person that you are) buy me a Ko.Fi (I’m VERY British and actually I drink tea ;) ). at:  https://ko-fi.com/K3K58V5G

 

 

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Scrying notes of Miya Korimi – Continued

 

 

On the battlefield the Legionnaires stood staring at the grinning man covered in tattoos.  The ground where he was sat was dying and wilting, Himaru knew the man was pretty much lost to taint, but not in a way he had seen before – there were no outward signs.  Then he realised who the monk was, and his face hardened.  It shouldn’t have been possible. He reached for his jade powder

 

The monk stood stood and Kokujin attacked Himaru, injuring him badly.  Himaru, took the time to cover his tetsubo with Jade Powder.  The Akodo Legionaires retaliated to the attack on one of their commanders and did some minor damage to the man.  Toshinobu also attackedd him, cutting his shoulder.

Kokujin used the abilities of his tattoos which glowed in an eery way, and attacked Himaru again. Himaru felt like he’d been hit by a Zo, harder than he’d ever been hit before. This time, Himaru attacked back hitting Kokujin very hard, leaving a huge gash in his side, and he staggered backwards.

The legionaires attacked again and injured him too, bringing him to his knees.  Toshinobu killed him, and the body seeped into the ground, a black sticky mass, and left a golden filigree covered egg in its place. Himaru roared with anger and frustration.  He pulled out some linen from his destroyed travel pack, and wrapsped it up very heavily. He picked up the sword and put it in his obi.

The eyeless Dragon Bushi was still screaming on the ground, and Toshinobu decided to put the bushi out of his misery.  He was gibbering on the floor, a wreck of a person.  To kill him would be a kindness.  He slid his katana in between the plates of armour, quickly piercing the man’s heart.  He died instantly, and his black blood left a black stain on the sword that sunk into the metal, showing that the metal was tainted.  Toshinobu shrugged, and decided to get a new one made as soon as possible. During the battle the rest of the army had managed to take the gate to Kalani’s Landing, and were running towards the port.

 

 

On the Aramasu’s Legacy, which was finally pulling away from the harbour the Kuni could hear clattering above him.  Looking up he could see that there were five Mantis with pails of water heading his way. Realising that, fire was not his forte, and he was almost out of fire spells in any case, he switched tactics, and cast a powerful earth spell, that would cause the earth to rise and create an earth relict.  He acted quickly, calling on his Kuni ancestor to cast it quickly and powerfully.

 

On deck Yoshi got up and attacked a Storm Legionnaire with his bare hands scratching his face.  The legionnaire immediately began to moan, and scratch and claw at his face.  He quickly collapsed to the floor crying, the claw marks getting deeper and pus started seeping from them.  More Storm Legionnaires tried to take him on at this.

 

Below decks the Kuni started heading away from the approaching Mantis, and went to look for a way off the ship.

 

On deck, Sairento attacked Yoshi with the ivory sword.  He hit him really hard. Yoshi looked surprised, realised what weapon was being used and hissed.  In a ripple split second Sairento got the picture that underneath the façade of Yoshi was a snarling beast that looked like some form of oni, and looked very unnatural.  Sairento then darted back out leaving the Storm Legion in the way.

 

Below decks the earth relict that the Kuni summoned rose from the sea floor and punched its way into the ship.

 

On deck, Yoshi or whatever it was cast the fist of Osano Wo, bathing the entire deck in flames.  Half of the Storm Legion were injured, as was Hiromi, and the top deck was set alight.  Sairento was also burned and his kimono set alight.  The ship went up like a tinder box.  Hiromi attacked Yoshi despite the flames roaring around them with his kama, but did no damage when he hit him.  It just bounced off.  On the top deck, crewmen could see ships on the horizon as the Legacy pulled out of the harbour. They were close enough that the crew could see they had blue flags. The Crane had come to pick a fight, even though they only had about the third of the size of the Mantis fleet (one of them).

 

The ship was now being seriously damaged by the earth elemental as it rampaged around inside. Mantis were trying to put the fire out both inside the ship and on deck quite desperately.  The Mantis that were dealing with the earth elemental – which was grappling one of the bushi – were also in difficulties as it didn’t seem to take any damage.

 

 

Yoshi fired another section of the ship.  It was now well ablaze, beyond all hope of putting it out.  Hiromi had dropped the Celestial Sword.  He was too injured to hold it any more.  Sairento dived in and grabbed it before looking around for a way off the ship.  It felt really solid in his hands as if, if he tried to unsheathe the weapon, he’d be unable to do it.  It had intricate Mantises all over, and glowed with an eerie green light. Oddly it was very light to the touch despite how solid it felt to him.  He ripped his kimono, and wrapped the two swords up to disguise them.  He turned to see the Kuni chatting to a Mantis near a lifeboat that was about to be put out, holding out a piece of paper. “I’m not going to pay for this…then again I’ve heard rumbling and crashing…so he may have done what I ordered.” he muttered. He headed over and got into the lifeboat with him.

 

As they bobbed away, they watched the Aramasu’s Legacy. It was being hit by thunder and lightning now, unnatural lightning that was hitting ONLY the ship, but Sairento assumed it to be the magic of someone or something else that wanted the ship destroyed, such as Yoshi.  As the ship properly went up like a torch, the flames having finally caught in the rigging, the fire took a shape. It was no chaotic form this, as it moved, it looked like the shape of a snarling beast, changing rapidly from tiger to hawk to zo and hissing loudly before forming other more sinister shapes.  There ere a lot of Mantis diving off the ship or going for life boats now.  Things were being destroyed inside too, cannons being thrown around from the sound of things.

 

As Iwemara and Sukihime stepped out of the residence, the Mantis seemed surprised Iwemara was there, double taking as no one could have gotten past them.  Sukihime waved them imperiously aside, and they formed a sort of royal guard around them.  Sukihime demanded they put their weapons away, and they walked through the city with an armed guard to meet Toshinobu.

 

Tohinobu got reports from the front lines of a substantial group of Mantis clan samurai led by a woman with the Imperial mon on her robes and Kitsuki Iwemara approaching.  He shortly afterwards heard the demanding tones of a woman used to authority.  “In name of Iweko I let me see your lord commander.”  Toshinobu saw as she approached that she wore Mantis green robes. Toshninobu bowed, but not very deeply.

“It is good to see you Sukihime-sama.  We have missed you.”

She crossed her arms and looked at Iwemara  “Your commander is a fool and has no wit.  Stand sir.  Why have you declared open war on my beloved husband?”

“Who is it?”

 

 

“Approximately four months ago I sent an Imperial Decree to highlight that I gave command to my beloved husband Yoritomo Hiromi.” She said haughtily. “What is the meaning of this attack? Why are you at our gates?  In whose name do you stand?”

“I am acting on orders from the Empress.” Tosinobu said evenly.

“Indeed.  Do you have any documental proof?”

“To what effect? Do you want the written orders?  I don’t have that.”

“You don’t? What a shame.”

“And who is this Crab by your side?”

“He is one of my officers. Do you want a list all of my troops?”

“He looks different. Bigger, stronger than your other troops.”

“He is a Crab. They arebigger and stronger.”

“Indeed.  Come with me, into the city so we may talk in more comfort.”

“I beg to differ. We are at war.”

She shook her head “Boys and their toys. We have an Imperial Decree to discuss..”

“The fact that the acting governess passed leadership to Hiromi-san and given…”

“Hiromi-Sama” she snapped.

“San.” Toshinobu stated firmly

“-sama” she insisted.

“San” Toshinobus said implacably. “Why was there no response when Kuni Renyu took it off him and then the Spider from him.”

“Hiromi had a peasant revolt to deal with.” She said defensively to Toshinobu’s questioning.

“And who is this boy?” She asked him, referring to Yoritomo Hiro who had approached on hearing of the Mantis contingent’s arrival.

“Perhaps I can introduce him at a later date. I have a battle to finish. We will speak later on the matter.”

“You will not speak at all if you don’t follow me to the Champion’s residence.” She snapped.

“The only persons who can command me are the Empress herself and The Emerald Champion.” Toshinobu snapped back.

“According to my new advisor Iwemara was to free me from captors and set me on the throne in the Second City.”

 

“Not at all, we had no idea you were here.  We will deal with this after the battle is finished.”

“Stand down.”  She ordered

“We can pause for a while.” Toshinobu agreed.

“Now in the interim please follow me to Hiromi’s estate.”

“I will not enter the city yet and I’m not ordering the army to stand down if you continue to be so unreasonable.”

Iwemara was silent listening to the interchanges.  On the one hand, she had agreed to serve the Legion, on the other Sukihime was technically the Governor of the Ivory Kingdoms.  She really didn’t know which way her duty lay.

“Maybe we got off on the wrong foot.” Sukihime said, conceding a worthy opponent in Toshinobu.

“I think we did. Let’s start again.”

“You will surrender.” Sukihime started.

“No.” Toshinobu said firmly. “If your husband wants to meet with me to talk, fine, but you will surrender the city and we will meet in a pavilion outside the city.”

“Very good.” She said in a irritated tone, but seeing how the Mantis were being pushed back had to accept they were being beaten. She clicked her fingers and a Kitsune came up, and she whispered something to him.  The Kitsune ran to port, presumably to find Hiromi.  “In the meantime I will order my Mantis to stand down. If you will order your troops to do the same.”

“I don’t understand this my lord, we were attacked first, we were attacked by cannon, which is banned in the city.  I am unsure of the correct etiquette in this situation sir.” Himaru said to Toshinobu.

Sukihimi rolls her eyes. “If you consult the Imperial charter meat head, the jurisdiction is only limited in Rokugan waters.”

“My lady, I do not wish to speak out of turn, but it meant within the Empire of Rokugan.  With your rulership that charter does extend here.”

She lost her temper and it took more effort than was pretty to keep her face….and still failed. “The Ivory Kingdoms is MY jurisdiction!”

“Yes, as you stated earlier.” Toshinobu said dryly.

“I writethe Ivory Charter.”

“Has it been amended for use against Rokugani citizens?” Himaru asked bluntly.

“You can see for yourself if you follow me to Hiromi’s estate, you can consult it there, though it’s obvious that reading not a strong point of yours.”

“I am sorry, I thought that the charter was supposed to be presented in written form out in the Second City. I must have missed it.” Himaru said.

 

“It was being sent to the Second City when that peasant revolt dislodged Hiromi from his position of leadership.” She said scathingly.  “I suggest you return to your ranks.”

“Yeah the Mantis will need to explain themselves,” Toshinobu said enigmatically.

 

Sairento and the Kuni sat in the lifeboat with other Mantis who had abandoned the Aramasu’s legacy. They watched as the ship went down and the Crane fleet started to take on the Mantis.  After a while it was brought ashore on the banks of the Kalani River.  The battle didn’t appear to be going well for the Crane, but the worst danger to their fleet – the Aramasu’s Legacy – was gone, dragged down by the flames and holes the earth elemental was punching through it.  On shore one of the Mantis looked at Sairento a bit oddly, but didn’t take any issue with him.  Most of the rest were in the process of rebuilding what had been damaged or destroyed, and no one really paid him any attention once he’d left the boat.

Sairento realised he needed to visit lodgings and change clothes, and salve the burns he’d gotten from the ship going down – if it was still standing.  The Kuni followed him around like a puppy, waiting until he got paid. He expected money would be available later.  Sairento gave him a koku, “Meet me at Thunders Roar tavern – and don’t get into trouble on the way – in an hour.  He nodded and walked off in search of a pharmacist to fill a prescription for him.

Sairento wrapped both swords tightly, retrieved his gear,- miraculously the tavern was untouched – and left the tavern, meeting up with the Kuni as arranged. “Right, now we have the real head of the Mantis to go see.” He stated, and they headed off in the direction of the Imperial Legion.

 

Back on the battlefield Sukihime turned to Iwemara giving her back to Toshinobu. “What do you see in these villainous men?  Where were you previously stationed?”  Iwemara explained the situation in the Second City, and how they met while she was on the trail of missing Gaijin, and how they had had similar goals.  “Despite the fact Hiromi had an Imperial stamped seal to let the world know my position?” Sukihime asked

“I did not see that, my lady, I arrived some time after Hiromi left. I met Toshinobu-sama and Himaru-san while I was investigating the missing gaijin.”

“We were investigating the same thing.”

“Explain.  Why was there an Imperial Legion outside the city? Why did they leave? You are a bright girl.”

“The city was becoming dangerous, my lady.  There were beheadings on the orders of those surrounding Shibatsu-sama.”

“That’s not what I had heard.” Sukihime said archly.  Iwemara gave her reasons.

“It is interesting that the Legion are getting involved with the politics of a Great Clan. Almost unheard of is it not?”

“It is.”

“Perhaps I should inform him myself. Thank you, you have been very informative.”

 

As Sukihime turned back to Toshinobuu Iwemara saw that not far away  was a dead dragon bushi and a dark patch of dead ground, she decided that for the momet, she would wait to ask about it, as There had been no dragon in the legion but herself.

“Why did you decide to march on Kalani’s Landing?” Sukihime demanded

“It was a strategic move.”

“How so?”

“The Legion couldn’t be sustained in the Second City which is strained for its resources already.”

“Why not other strongholds? You have passed several on your way. There is Golden Plains to the north, they would have been more welcoming.  You have travelled quite a distance.”

“Kalani’s landing is as good a place as any, but I am not as well versed in the terrain as you.”

“Perhaps you were misdirected to this land then.”

“There are no other Legions here. So I will do the best I can,”

“Aren’t they? Interesting. Getting involved in the politics of a Great Clan is an interesting stance.”

“The Empress asked me to deal with many of the problems rife in the Ivory kingdoms.  The Mantis clan unrest is but one of them.”

“I was not aware of this.”

“Perhaps your husband is not as forthcoming on Mantis matters as you might think.”

“I should think it would be absolute as I am his wife. Since he has personally taken governorship of Kalani’s Landing, the lands have enjoyed a superior income, the granary has increased ten-fold, the merchant district has increased in size and taxes have increased as a result….well, with the exception of your little stunt with the taxes coming into the city that is.  It is interesting you chose to be the aggressor.”

“I found it quite amusing to take the taxes coming into the city on behalf of her Imperial Highness. And we didn’t actually make the first aggressive move. The first stone was cast when your husband sent an assassin to kill me.” Toshinobu said.

“You cannot blame merely a few scouts and bushi doing their job repelling invaders.”

“We were not invaders, we tried the diplomatic route; he responded with assassins.”

“He’s a little paranoid given recent events.”

 

“We need to discuss this further, I don’t have time now, maybe later.” Toshinobu said uncompromisingly. He turned to the business of calling his army back, and stopping battle.  He couldn’t do anything about the Crane force attacking the Mantis fleet at sea, but fighting on the land eventually ceased.

 

Sairento headed back to the army, realised his tent had not in fact been brought with them, and went back to where it was left behind to fetch it.  Kagetsu carried the bundle for him. The ground they tramped over was very torn up and there were craters where cannon balls hit the ground with force. Sairento turned to the Kuni  “It’s a good thing we stopped that.” When they finally approached the camp, the Seppun on guard were confused by his Kuni companion. “Who is he?”

Sairento introduced Toritaka Kagetsu.

“I think it might be worth introducing him to Himaru-sama to judge if he can stay.” Sairento suggested when the guard looked like he was going to refuse him entry into the camp.

“I will allow him past, as long as you take him straight to Himaru-sama.” The guard finally stated, allowing them both past.  He did as asked, and headed off to find Himaru, Kagetsu in tow.  He found Himaru overseeing some of the Bushi, and not too far from Toshinobu and Sukihime.  He had huge dents in his armour, was limping a bit, but underneath his armour his flesh colour revealed he was a lot worse off than he was showing himself to be.

“Ah you are back.” Himaru said.

“As you can see. Aramasu’s Legacy is no longer a problem.” Sairento said in return.

“Yes, no longer a problem.” The Kuni said, echoing Sirento. Sairento introduced him to Himaru.

“By the way, you are bleeding. “ He took out his medical kit and started working on Himaru. He was half way through tending Himaru when the Kuni mentioned he had memorised the path to Inner Peace healing spell.  “I’ll cast it for 2 koku a pop” he added.

“What kind of a Crab are you?” Himaru asked. “You are a trained shugenja, but have taken the path of commerce to sell your skills?” He sounded scandalised.

“I see no reason not to, it’s very useful and I get lots of koku.  It’s not out of the realms of spirituality” Kagetsu told him.

“Have you spent anytime on the Wall?”

“Yes, I’m well versed in battle techniques and Shadowlands creatures.”

“How would you like to join the Legion for a while?”

“As I understand it, I have done that in a way; I have sworn myself to Sairento who is a member.” He said. “I am attached to him, as he is attached to the Legion.  I serve him, he serves you.”  He paused. “If he gives me leave I will join the legion.”

“As long as he stays I do not see that it will become an issue.”

 

 

 

“What does it pay?”

“What does it pay?” Sairento asked curious himself.

“It pays in honour and glory of the Empire” Himaru said huffily.

“I to pay in koku.” Sairento said.

“And the occasional koku” Himaru admited reluctantly, not wanting to discuss anythingrelated to commerce.

“As you are currently…” he paused trying not to sound so disdainful as if what he was about to say made him feel dirty.  “As you are currently the paid attaché to our Scorpion friend here…Sairento do you have any problems with me assigning your companion duties in the Legion?”

“As long as I get him back at some point.”

“You’d be sharing a tent. I’d mostly need him during the day.”

“That is most gracious of you to allow me to retain my hired help.” He said sardonically in a tone that was lost on himaru.  “In the army there are some things we all have to bear.”

“I don’t like bears.” He said.  Sairento put a patch on one of his injuries, but he was bleeding quite heavily “That’s very nice, but you put it over my armour.” Hijmaru told Sairento.  He felt a little bit better though after as Sairento had succeeded in staunching the blood flow.  The Kuni healed him…for a price, and even then it only healed about half of the injuries.

Sairento went to the Mantis, followed by Himaru after this.  He introduced himself, and humbly presentedd Yoritomo Hiro with the Celestial Sword of the Mantis.  “This is my gift my Lord, to the trueChampion of the Mantis.” The Storm Legions bowed deeply, recognising the sword. Unmei also bowed, whispered to Hiro, who stepped forward, and also bowed low.  He accepted the word, thanked Sairento personally and said he hoped that this petty conflict will be at an end soon.  As he gripped the katana, the atmosphere got a bit tingly, then it stopped. He then put it onto his back and nodded. The Storm Legionnaires rose.

Sairento apologised about the loss of his predecessor.

“Hiromis dead is he?” Hiro asked with interest.

“He was on the ship as it was burning before it sank, so probably” Sairento said, not willing to absolutely commit to it.

 

 

Himaru went to Toshinobu after seeing the weapon Sairento had retrieved and presented to the Mantis Clan Champion.

“Toshinobu-sama.”

“Himaru-san?”

“I think um..Sairento has just given the Clan Sword to our guy.”

“We should really go and congratulate them then.”

“Yes, I thought I should let you know first so you can. I will go order the troops.  I’ve had enough of courtly doings.”  He did however go with Toshinobu to the tent, but had confused himself by thinking too much and looked a bit bewildered.

“If you could do me one thing.” Toshinobu asked before Himaru left. “The Imperial banners are looking worn, if you could break out the Emerald Banners I’d be appreciative.”

“This is one of those political things. Isn’t it?” Himaru asks gruffly, not liking politicking.

“Yes.  I’m making a point.  I serve the Emerald Champion.”

“I will see it done.”

As he walks away, he thinks of something, stops and turns back “Sir, do you also want me to make sure that the men refer to themselves as Emerald rather than Imperial?”

“Instruct the men that the correct title is 8thEmeraldLegion.”  Toshionobu said with a smile.  Himaru nodded, and left.

 

In Kalani’s Landing, Iwemara went shopping for a kimono that was more up to the minute and fashionable (in Dragon colours of course), as having looked in a mirror, she did indeed look quite wild in armour, tattered stained robes and mussed hair.  She planned to remain in her armour over her new kimono – the number of scrapes she had been into suggested it was a wise precaution, but she had it properly cleaned first.  She took Sukihime’s advice on what the latest fashions were, and spent a lot of Koku to look fabulous, despite the armour.

 

 

Back in the Legion’s Camp, Toshinobu gave Sairento thanks for a job well done.  He then went and talked to Unmei and Hiro to see what their next course of action will be, and offered to back them up.  He knew that it was paramount for Hiro to become the acclaimed Clan Champion for his own political survival.

“I believe we will see a peace envoy from Hiromi, assuming he survived the battle.”

“Yes, it would make things simpler if he is indeed dead.” Hiro agreed.  “But however things turn out, I would like my ascension to Clan Champion to be done as formally and correctly as possible” Hiro said, pausing.  “I’d also like it to be very public.”

“We could do it in the pavilion where Hiromi’s envoys will meet us and formally invest you with the powers in the city later if you are agreeable?”

“I think the people need to see him.” Unmei said.

“If Hiromi concedes smoothly – which I doubt, we will be in the city by evening.  If not, I have no idea how long this may take.” Toshinobu said. He told them he planned to bring Himaru and Sairento, who he was honouring for retrieving the Ivory Sword of the Ivory Champion, and the Celestial Sword of the Mantis for Hiro. Hiro approved.  He did however advise that Sairento not actually bring the sword to the peace talks.  Sairento shrugged, borrowed Emerald Legion robes, and wore a normal Katana – his Bayushi blade as the secret was now out on his clan affiliation even if it hadn’t been entirelycorrect – but kept the Ivory Sword in his travel pack and in a reachable position in case it was needed.

 

Hiromi was there at the meeting when Toshinobu and entourage arrived. He was very badly scarred from the fight and fire on the ship, where he was very badly burned, but he was there, along with Kitsune shugenja, some Storm Legionnaires, and the vast majority of the population of Kalani’s Landing.  Iwemara stood between the two groups unsure where her duty lay.

Himaru bowed very slightly as did Sukihime.

Toshinobu and entourage also bowed, bowed but only to the same depth as Sukihime and Himaru and introduced Yoritomo Hiro to them.

“And what proof have you that you are the true Clan Champion?” Sukihime asked, eyeing him disparagingly.

“My father Yoritomo Naizen anointed me as Clan Champion, what is this pup doing here?” Hiromi demanded insultingly.

“I believe he can speak for himself.” Toshinobu said evenly.  Hiro stepped forward and explained he had the blessing of Unmei, who helped the Mantis become a Great Clan, “and I wield the Celestial Sword of the Mantis.”

“Thief!”  Hiromi cried.  “It must have been washed up on the shore during the battle.”  Many people oohed.

“The sword is a Great nemurani of the Mantis.  It is always sure to make its way back to its true owner.” Hiro said calmly, also raising the Kama from his belt “These too, found me by fate.  Immediately the Storm Legion bowed deeply to Hiro, and unanimously made their position plain, walking to stand by Hiro’s side.

“Traitors!” Sukihime cried. Hiromi didn’t look happy either. “Your claims are an insult beyond reckoning.”

“I could step in here,” Toshinobu said to her quietly, “but it is not my jurisdiction. If the Clan Champion requests my aid, however, I would be willing to assist him.”  Hiro stretched out his kama and nodded.

“I believe that the position of Clan Champion has changed.  You may accept or not as you wish but the power is no longer yours Hiromi.”

“Fine if this is the will of my clan I will accept it.” Hiromi said, sounding sulky.  He tore the Mantis mon from his clothes and declared himself ronin.

“Would you be interested in a position in the Emerald Legion?” Toshinobu asked.  Hiromi refused.

Sukihime making an instant judgement call asked all of the Mantis around her, or her Imperial handmaidens to arrest said ronin and take him in for questioning regarding his dishonesty in being the true Clan Champion and then graciously asked would it be permissible if the Lord of Kalani’s landing –Hiro- be so kind as to take him into custody for her?  Hiro agreed, looking slightly amused at her change of position, and Hiromi was taken into custody. He did not fight it.

Toshinobu nodded approvingly “Sukihime-sama.  It is the intention of the 8th Legion and the Mantis to re-take the Second City from the Spider Clan and put you in as the true city leader.”  As he finished this statement, time seemed to stop for everyone but Himaru, Sairento, Toshinobu and Iwemara.

 

 

They heard the most majestic roar coming from the sky.  Then there before them suddenly was the mysterious, beautiful woman.  She came out of the thunderous roar.  To the men, who hadn’t seen her before she was more stunning than any woman they had ever seen.  She landed daintily, tilted her head and smiled.  There was a tear running down her face.  She walked up to Himaru. He put his hand in hers and she kissed his forehead.

“I commend your bravery noble warrior.” She said to him, her voice like a summer day, a crisp part of spring, pretty, and musical.  It gave them all the feeling that they had the courage to face ANY threat.

“I have consulted Komori, and they have let you have this.”  She handed him a tetsubo that looke old and battered, and seemed to cackle in his hands. “This is the tetsubo of Hida Osano-wo. May if serve you well.”

Himaru bowed deeply to her. “You honour me greatly with this gift.  I can only think to give you a burden in return.  I have tried to destroy it myself. I believe only a pure celestial such as yourself can deal with it.” He took the rags out.  She put a finger to his mouth “shh” and it vanished from his hand. “It is in the hands of my brothers and sisters.  Good luck to you noble Crab.”

 

“Sairento.” She said smiling and laughing as she turned to him. “You have come a long way. I have watched from afar. You seem to be a man of honour and have served your clan and legion impeccably.  I had meetings with many junshin for a suitable gift for one such as you.”

My first gift for you is for your current incarnation of your life…”  She handed him a majestic standard, that Nirav recognised as the Ancestral Standard of the Scorpion, “My second…”  She smiled enigmatically as she handed him something else.  It looked like a small red rag. She noticed his bemusement and whispered in his ear.

“My path has always been to be true to my clan and true to the Second City despite the monsterous hardships thrown in my way.” He said in return. She nodded, kissed his forehead and moved on to Iwemara.

 

“My my little Kitsuki you have come a long way too.”  She said kindly.  Iwemara bows deeply.

“I apologise for one of my most devious brothers toying with your emotions and perceptions. I hope it hasn’t made you think ill of us all.”

“No my lady.” Iwemara said humbly.

“Very good. For you I happen to have had the audience of an interesting individual at Imperial court.  I consulted Togashi Satsu as to what I should gift to you.  And this comes to you at his suggestion. He sends you his blessing and tells you to keep the faith.  While there I also heard Iweko mention you by name in court.”  Iwemara’s eyes sparkled, and she looked at the Thunder dragon properly, knowing fully well how rarely Iweko spoke, and how much of an honour that conferred on her andher family and now knowing exactly to whom she was speaking.  The Thunder dragon smiled back, and presented her with a set of light armour.  It looks very rough and ready, very light, and had lots of pockets.  It had the Kitsuki Mon on it. “This is Agasha Kitsuki’s original armour and in one of the pockets is one of the personal journals of your hero to read and reflect on. May it serve you well.”  Iwemara quickly looked down at the armour, realising she meant one of Iweko’s journals, most of which had been taken into the keeping of the Scorpion before she had been born.  She had not known that there had been others safely kept elsewhere.  She felt the bulge in the pocket, and stroked it possessively, wanting to dive into reading the journal.  She realised quickly enough that that would not do however and looked back up at the woman gratefully. [It appears that the Scorpion are not aware of the existence of this journal.  It must still be in the keeping of Kitsuki Iwemara’s descendants.]

“I thank you my lady. It is a greathonour.”

She nodded to Iwemara, smiling in understanding of her desire to want to immediately dive into the journal of her heroine, and that her sense of propriety forbade her from being so rude.

“Don’t lose faith in your path little Kitsuki, you may have strayed slightly but I assure you you will reach your Destiny in time.  I hope your hero’s testimony and the armour of the founder of your family serves you well in the future.” She kissed Iwemara’s forehead head, and moved on to Toshinobu.

 

“And to you commander of this fine legion…When discussing with Satsu your Kistuki companion, I happened to draw attention of another practitioner of Imperial court.

“The Daimyo of the Seppun sends his regards and presents you with this.”  She revealed a finely crafted Katana.  Toshinobu immediately recognised the katana as the original sword gifted by Hantei to Lady Seppun “And well done on your new position.” She added as he took it, and a scroll with the Imperial Chrysanthemum seal appeared on top of it.  “I am sure you will be a fine leader in these dark times, good luck in keeping your city. I suggest you appoint an appropriate Ivory Champion.”  Toshinobu nodded.

“Good luck, all of you. I will see you in the next life if you make it to the Celestial Heavens” She said, before disappearing in front of them.

Himaru pointed to Sairento “He has better chance of surviving than the last two,” he said, referring to the comment about appointing an Ivory Champion “but should probably tell us his real name.”

“I think we need a chat people.” Toshinobu said, mostly to Hiamru and Sairento, partly at Iwemara. He didn’t quitetrust her and wanted to know where her loyalties lay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Scrying notes of Miya Korimi – Continued

 

Toshinobu and Himaru attacked a shugenja.  They almost killed him, and Toshinobu who had the upper hand with Himaru’s aid told the shugenja to surrender or die.  The Shugenja surrendered, and Himaru told him the same thing he told the other Mantis he spared. “That man there is your rightful lord.” He yelled, pointing at the young Mantis Clan Champion “We will put that man on the Mantis throne as your True Clan Champion.  When you live through this remember it so you can serve him in your next life.”  As he pointed, the shugenja looked over to see the young Mantis Champion.  He was fighting like someone who had twice his years in experience, and was a whirlwind dervish of death and destruction using advanced Yoritomo techniques to get past opposing guards, killing them and moving on.  The Storm Legion were struggling to keep up with him.  He was cutting a swathe through the battle. Himaru pointed him out “He is the true heir to Yoritomo. Toshinobu as the Imperial representative confirmed him buy Imperial Decree.” Himaru offered the downed shugenja – a Kitsune – his hand and helped him up. He then handed the shugenja over to the troops to take him back behind the lines and to safety.  He was after all a powerful shugenja and should be protected.

 

On the battlefield from where Hida Himaru stood, came a piecing white light that was painful to look at. It appeared to be coming from out of his travelling pack.  Those who looked saw that the bag appeared to be growing, though it was painful to look as the light was so bright.  Himaru was looking around in confusion, but felt the pack begin to get heavier…and heavier …and then begin to rip.  Himaru yelled commands to the men around him to secure the area.  One or two of the Legionnaires dropped to the floor rolling around clutching their eyes – which were bleeding from looking at the light.  The rest shielded their eyes and crouched low, all were in awe of what was happening before them.  Himaru took his pack off, and put a rag over his eyes.  As the light began to dissipate, he removed the rag.

 

Iwemara saw the blinding light from her position, and knew it couldn’t be a good thing.  She continued with her duties in the battle.

 

When Himaru removed the rags, he saw before him the Dragon Bushi Tatsumaki in full armour, both swords drawn, and a huge – and entirely disturbing – smile on his face.  Himaru threw jade powder at him.  It had no effect.  Tatsumaki seemed to be amused.  His eyes opened…and Himaru could see that they were red and steaming.  His bamboo tattoo started to glow.  Toshinobu and Himaru attacked Tatsumaki he dodged their blows and went for Himaru. He hit him, but didn’t do a lot of damage. Missing the second time he swung at him.  The Legionnaires were ordered to guard Toshinobu and Himaru, who attacked, and missed again.  Tatsumaki attacked an Imperial guard, dropping him quickly.  He attacked another, and missed.  Himaru hit Tatsumaki, and knocked him over.  The Imperial guard attacked Tatsumaki, he was hit and cut. The second attack also hurt him, knocking him to the ground unconscious and bleeding.  Toshinobu performed the coup de grace, beheading him.  There was another huge burst of white light at this and where the body had lain, now all that was left was an ornate filigree covered egg.

 

Even from the reserves Iwemara could tell that some of the Mantis were disappearing in a particular way….down the same passageway… and also that the lovely woman on the watchtower had moved somehow without her observing it. She was now on the gate. She smiled directly at Iwemara and pointed towards the fleeing Mantis…Iwemara took a chance not knowing if what she was doing was right or wrong and followed them.

As she went down the path she lost track of the Mantis…however the lovely lady had moved again and was now above the street on one of the house parapets and pointed her towards the Mantis Clan Champion’s residence….She was not quite sure why she was trusting this woman given recent events, but she headed in the direction the woman pointed, spurred on by something inside telling her it was the right thing to do.

As she got near the Mantis Clan Champions residence she could just see on the horizon LOTS of Mantis bushi guarding the estate.  Iwemara approached cautiously, no idea why she was coming this way.  All of a sudden and with no warning Iwemara found the mysterious confidence inspiring woman walking right beside her.  She smiled brilliantly and Iwemara suddenly felt amazing.  Iwemara felt a wave of inspiration come over her and felt quite light. She looked at her hands and couldn’t see them…or her body or her legs or any part of herself…she was amazed and looked to the woman.  The mysterious woman put her finger to her lips as if to say shhhhhh and gracefully walked away.  Iwemara followed the woman’s orders. She was obviously a powerful shugenja orsomething, but she didn’t seemto be evil, and the Mantis seemed to trust her…she was beginning to get the thought in her head that the woman might possiblybe the Celestial Thunder Dragon….but she had no actual proof to corroborate it, and no longer trusted her own judgement.

As she entered the compound of the Mantis Clan Champion’s residence, she noticed a guard look straight at her.  She nodded respectfully, but kept quiet.  If they challenged her, then she would speak.  He seemed to shrug and carry on with his duties… “Must be the wind” he muttered under his breath.  Iwemara blinked, tried to look at her hand again, and quietly moved through the residence.  She was not surewhyshe was there, but she would investigate while she was invisible to see if she could find an obvious clue to…or the actual whereabouts of Otomo Sukihime…whichever came first.  It HAD been the mission she had been initially sent on after all.

 

On the ship Sairento was still hidden among the Mantis fleeing the deck.  Yoshi had split himself up again with another four copies to further confuse everyone.  Hiromi looked pissed off at Yoshi.  He started shouting orders at his men. To everyone he seemed like he was completely mute. People didn’t understand.  It looked like he should be screaming but there was no sound coming from his mouth.  He was pointing and gesturing then ralised he couldn’t be heard and drew two kama and stalked up to one of the Yoshi.

 

The Kuni shugenja set off the gunpowder barrels with a fire spell just as Tatsumaki was defeated. The sound of the blast was completely unnatural sounding, no one having heard such a thing before.  A section of the ship was blown apart and a few Mantis fell out (those that weren’t overwhelmed by the ensuing flames).  The area was now fiercely on fire.

Sairento tried to shuriken another Yoshi copy.  He had now tested three of them, and failed to find the original, and none of them took any injury.  Immediately after Hiromi went for him, he ordered the ship set sail ‘On lord Hiromi’s orders”.  The people on deck seemed confused.  Hiromi was shouting silently, and looked highly pissed off, and was making no noise despite looking like he was screaming.  The Mantis began to prepare for departure though.  Half of the clones stayed on deck, some went below.

 

 

The Kuni ran interference to the fire putting out crew.  The fire was spreading across the ship, the Kuni moved to avoid it, searching for another gaijin pepper store, thinking he might do better to go up on deck and started to make his way up.

 

On deck, Hiromi tried to tackle the nearest Yoshi, he flew straight through, and the others laughed and continued what they were doing.

 

Below decks, a Kitsune was going down to where the fire was.  He was very interested in going down quickly to the level and looked sweaty, slightly panicked, and slipped on the ladder in his haste.  When his feet hit the deck, he charged full on in the direction of the fire as if he was late for an appointment.  He carried a scroll and the Kuni thought it might be a fire suppression spell.  The Kitsune was already muttering to himself under his breath.  They sounded like prayers, but slightly different.

 

Sairento from his position among the bustling Mantis, shurikened another of the Yoshi to try and find the original. This time the tiny weapon hit home.  He chose the Yoshi nearest to the Storm Legion, and the tiny weapon hit him, tinged, as if hitting metal, and fell to the ground as one the Storm Legion looked at him.  They pulled their kama out.

 

Yoshi started cackling. He was not resisting the Storm Legion’s advance.

 

Eighteen of them formed up in a circle around Yoshi and attacked him mercilessly. The clothes appeared to be a part of him, and they appeared to be attacking nothing. There were the sounds of impacts on his body, but they didn’t appear to do anything.

 

The vessel was rapidly being prepared for sail by the Mantis, sails being hung, lines being pulled, it was all organized chaos, with the crew doing their jobs, and avoiding the fight with the Storm Legion.

 

 

Toshinobu ordered the men to destroy the egg.  An Akodo man took his katana out, but before he could strike it, Himaru spoke up.  “My lord I don’t think we will be able to destroy it with mundane weapons.  I believe the magical sword Tatsumaki was wielding may work, but do not know what the level of corruption will do.  In this world, Magic defeats magic.  I was keeping it safe. I did not know it had been corrupted by Tatsumaki.”  He wrapped the blades Tatsumaki had carried and picked them up.  He immediately got the impression that the blades would hit objects as if it was jade, crystal or obsidian and that it was unbreakable.  They shined in his grasp.  He stated.  “I am in command over you, and you have no power over me.  And with the righteousness of the empire, this thing will be destroyed.” He then hit the egg with no skill or finesse as he was used to using more damaging, heavy battle weaponry.

 

As she passed through the residence like a ghost she could hear some guards talking “Is the governess safe and secure?” … “Of course, we are hardly going to let her out of our sight.” … “Where did Hiromi put her?”… “Really, like you don’t already know!?” … “Ah his chambers then.” … “Safest place for her.” … “safest place? Really? That’s not what I heard haha!”

Iwemara smiled, and passed silently by, searching for the quarters of the Clan Champion.

The residence was very lavish if slightly crude, with gaudy and expensively guilded equipment and artefacts everywhere, it was ostentatious compared to Dragon architectural design…Iwemara rolled her eyes, and was half tempted to mutter ‘showoffs’.  She was surprised to see guards outside Hiromi’s room but they seemed rather relaxed, playing Go and dice in the hallway.  Knowing it was dishonourable to attack while invisible, and also bearing in mind the strange woman’s silent signal to keep quiet, Iwemara decided to slip past them.

 

As Himaru hit the egg, it all felt like it was happening in slow motion.  The winds and the kami were going crazy that both items were in the same place. It was almost as if time stopped still as the katana hit the egg. As the sword made contact there was a microsecond of stillness before everywhere got shaken up, and huge force waves knocked everyone to the ground, the wind knocked out of them.  Everything felt ‘wrong’, as he got back up and Himaru wheezed “So that’s what that feels like”.

 

The giant ship Aramasu’s legacy rocked really hard, and a few of the mooring cables snapped. Cannons rolled around and crushed several Mantis bushi. The Kuni was knocked through one of the portholes, though he remained on the ship – ending up three floors lower.

 

The estate shuddered and started to crumble under the blast. The dice slipped down the stairway, and the koku spilled away from those who had won it.  One Mantis dived sideways, making a grab for it.  From inside the rooms of the Clan Champion came a shocked and bewildered  ‘Oh my goodness!” in a posh Imperial voice as well as a small cry of fear.  Iwemara stumbled but kept her feet, and rushed into the room past the guards.

 

The men near the egg all heard an unnatural screaming sound in the near vicinity of the egg.  The sword looked untouched.  The sword was in the hands of whatever came from the bright light. The people closest to it saw a man sitting in a lotus position.  He was smiling, bald and had tattooes all over. There was not a single square inch of his body without a tattoo.  His smile was disturbing, it was maniacal and he licked his lips.  Next to him, there was what looked like a severely mutilated Dragon clan bushi crawling around.  His eyes had been put out, and he was the source of the infernal wailing. He was in agony and his screaming scared the troops.

 

 

The Aramasu’s Legacy was now moving beneath them slowly at first, the sails, took time to get the vessel up to momentum, but all realized that when it did pick up speed it would quite literally fly through the water. The rest of the Mantis fleet in response to Aramasu’s Legacy setting sail, also began to prepare to leave – all three of the Mantis Storm fleets were there.

All of a sudden the other Yoshi’s went into the ground, he stood with ease despite the many Mantis trying to beat him up on the ground. He drew his ivory sword and cut five of the bushi in half with ease, raising the sword and beckoning them to have at him.

 

Below decks, the Kuni pulls the scroll he had just put away back out, and followed the Kitsune down to the fire. He saw him standing near to the fire, reading a scroll and slowly the fire was fading and flickering and was put out (the natural fire was at least), the unnatural fire had already died away.  Through the carnage, he could still see 10 well spaced out cannon on the deck.  The kuni cast his spell, and slightly singed the Kitsune, the cannon standing next to him was totally destroyed.  It battered the Kitsune, but the man still stood.

 

Above decks, Sirento heard another explosion, dropped his shuriken on the floor and attempted to disarm Yoshi by taking a flying leap out of nowhere.  Yoshi wasn’t disarmed, and seemed a bit bemused.  He smiled at Sairento.  Sairento yelled to the Storm Legion “Get rid of his sword,” Most ignored him, and keept trying to attack Yoshi, but three of the more sensible ones heard and made the attempt. They all failed.  A fourth one seeing what they were doing also tried, he hit the blade and the shock of it sent it flying from Yoshi’s hands and into one of the masts.  The bushi tried to stab him or knock him over after that, but he was like a wall.  Yoshi grabbed two of the legionaires and squeezed the life out of them, seemingly amused.

 

Below decks, the Kuni healed himself of the various wounds he had incurred with a healing spell he had memorized.

 

Above decks, Hiromi was starting to panic.  He drew an incredibly carved blade from its sheath and lifted it into the air. Some of the Storm Legion looked to him and were very impressed.

“He’s drawn the Celestial sword.” One of them gasps.  “Osano-wo’s blessing upon it.” It looked like he did a strike in mid air…only nothing happened.  Hiromi looked bemused, confused, started trying to swipe at Yoshi, an expression of terror, confusion and panic on his face.  In his hands, the sword looked like any other sword.  It was obvious he and the legionnaires had expected something else to happen.

 

Below decks, the Kitsune tried to extinguish the fire that the Kuni had set raging.

 

Above decks, Sairento tried to pull the Ivory Sword out of the mast in such a way as to do as much damage as possible.  The sword came out quite easily.  It was potentially possible to chop through the mast, but he simply cut a large vee in it as he pulled it out.  It took the combined effort of the entire Storm Legion to push Yoshi over.  He was laughing at them.  And as Sairento turned to look, it seemed to him as if Yoshi could get up at any time.  The Storm Legion worked together as a well oiled unit attacking him while he was down.

 

Back in the city, Iwemara saw a lovely looking woman who had noble features dressed head to toe in Mantis green (it was a very good look and she noted that the silk looked second to none) “and who the kami are you?!” She demanded, as Iwemara enters.

“You can see me?” Iwemara asked, surprised.

“Of course I can! Foolish woman! I will ask you again what you doing in my chambers?”

Iwemara nodded, “Good.”  She bowed. “I am Kitsuki Iwemara.  I assume you are Otomo Sukihime-sama?”

The woman laughed at Iwemara… “Silly girl where have you been!? Your attire looks out of date and your hair is appalling.”

Iwemara blinked.  “I have been marching with the 8th Legion for the past few weeks, and performing my duties as Magistrate in the Ivory Kingdoms, I fear I have not had the opportunity to acquire any of the latest fashions my Lady.”

“Ah! Silly girl you are fighting with the wrong side! To be a true Imperial you would fighting by the Mantis’s side”

“I do fight with Mantis, my lady and the true Clan Champion.”

“Ha! A sad joke little Dragon anyone who is not my husband is a false pretender haha!”

“Your husband?”

“Where have you been!!!!? Yoritomo Hiromi! Of course you nitwit!”

Iwemara blinked again “Oh…The people of the Second City were under the impression he had kidnapped you.  I was sent to investigate such rumours.”

She looked at Iwemara archly “Love is more….complicated than those silly pillow books that the dojo create… it falls into place like black rain…”

“I am sorry, I do not understand…You married for love?”

“Of course! I don’t expect a girl to understand such complex emotions….”

“Forgive me if this is a stupid question my lady, but was this marriage sanctioned?”

“I am Imperial! I am above sanction!”

Iwemara bowed very low “My apologies Lady Sukihime-sama.”

“Who are you to question me? I could have your head for such audacity!”  Iwemara bowed very low.  “So who are you anyway? scrawny thing…”

“I am a Kitsuki Magistrate, under Kitsuki Fujimura, and have been seconded to the 8th Legion by the late Mirumoto Joben at Toshinobu-sama’s request.  I serve as Taisa to the scout corps.”

“Toshinobu…. I have heard of that old crippled general…. I presumed the Empress sent him out here to die in this great land… what a poor righteous fool.”

“He supports the man who the Moshi, and a great number of the Storm Legion claim to be the true clan champion. He has decreed that the Empire will support Yoritomo Hiro over Yoritomo Hiromi.”

“ Ha! Another pretender. How pitiful… Take me to this decrepit old general and we shall see where his allegiance stands. My darling husband has probably cast out this boy into the waves where he belongs… lead the way young fop and we shall see what lies ahead…”

Iwemara bowed deeply and respectfully once more. “If you would come this way my lady…”

The Letters of Kitsuki Iwemara

 

Mother,

Much has happened since I last wrote to you, and my most recent letter was burned in my tent before it could be sent, which was, probably, a good thing. I must ask you to disregard as entirely truthful much of what I have written to you of late. I believe you need to treat my writings from the time I went to the Temple of Fudo carefully, as I am unsure what was actually meand what was the work of…another… yesterday it was revealed that for some time, I have been under the control of Pan–Ku, though I am no longer. I remember everything that occurred in that time, and many of the actions I was forced to do I deeplyregret, for they were dishonourable and beneath me. I am very much ashamed I did not tell my companions of the voice in my head at the time, and am ashamed I was so mislead. I did for some time consider asking to make the three cuts of Noboru-sama, but there are so few Dragon left in the colonies, and so much work to be done, it would be a waste, and so I have decided to work to redeem the honour I lost during the period I was under the Mad Celestial Dragon’s control.

Since I last wrote, things have happened that I amproud of however. I helped uncover and aided in the utter destruction of a cell of Maho Tsukai cultists in the Second City, and in the destruction of an Oni that they summoned; though it was Hida Himaru and Tatsumaki-san who did the most of the work in destroying thatfoul beast. In that I am finally beginning to follow in Iweko-sama’s footsteps when she was a Kitsuki, and it is one of the few things I can look back on over the last few weeks and know it was very much the rightthing to do, and it was done well. The Maho, a Phoenix of the name of Hayana had several dark objects, one of which sadly sent Tatsumaki-san mad. I fear it was the work of the dragon Pan-Ku however, and so not his fault. He is in Dragon custody now, though Toshinobu-sama wanted him to make the three cuts. Togashi Noboru-sama objected to this. The dark items are in the care of Hida Himaru, a very worthy warrior with much experience with creatures and objects from the Shadowlands. I have learned much Shadowlands lore from his tales of patrols and hunting parties beyond the Wall. We search for a way to destroy them, among many other things.

I have been invited to join the VIII Emerald Legion of Rikushukogan Seppun Toshinobu-sama, as a Taisa of the scouts, a position Joben-sama approved. I travel with them now, and we are stationed near Kalani’s Landing. We are aiding a boy who the Mantis Storm Legionnaires, the Moshi priestesses and a strange old man, who appears to be some kind of sage, certainly an advisor to the young man they all claim to be thetrueMantis Clan Champion, take the city. There were several reasons for my agreement, beyond Joben-sama agreeing. Something happened in court – a Scorpion tried to assassinate Iweko Shibatsu-sama, and chaos broke out. He told me to go, and to be safe. I am sorry to say that was the last time I saw him alive. He fought, and was defeated by Daigotsu Kanpeki. I hate to relate the treatment he received, it cannot be any other but the Spider who suggested it…on a mission to speak with the Mantis, I re-entered the Second City…and the dishonourable dogs the Spider are, had had his head mounted on a pike outside the Dragon embassy. I have never felt so sickened in my life at the barbarism and madness that is rife in the city – another reason I left.

Since joining the Legion, I have seen that the Crane pursue their vendetta against the Mantis, though they seem less…less opposedto the new Clan Champion as opposed to Yoritomo Hiromi. There is a ronin travelling with the army too, by the name of Sairento. Hes young looking…makes me look my age…we went into the city together. He is very good at play acting. I first thought he may be of the Crane clan, but another personality we met, a man who names himself Gotsu, and who claims to be one of the Kami who fell, revealed he was Bayushi. The Gotsu person is very powerful. I still don’t believe the evidence I saw before my own eyes, that he brought dead bushi back to life, but then today I also saw the most incredibly beautiful woman, who smiled at me, and sank into a pool of water, completely disappearing with no evidence of her passing – I looked. She left me with the feeling everything would be alright, and that I was destined for great things, but after all the revelations of the past few days, I do not trust the feeling at all. What I will trust is hard evidence, and the shugenja and the scouts with me confirmed her presence, where there was nothing physical to show she had tread the earth. The Gotsu person too knows things…I have the suspicion, though it is unconfirmed that Gotsu, may be Fu Leng, though there is no solid proof, only the link of Gotsu/Dai-gotsu and Doji/Dai-doji, and his many many skills, far surpassing any of our own. He is very good looking, very cultured, and very interested in the Tao. He did not seem interested in harming anyone, and was insistent on seeing his sister Shinjo. He left Camp to look for her. I’m not sure whether I should have accompanied him to watch over him or not…but it is too late now. I think I must study the Tao myself to see where I have been going wrong, perhaps the Teacher will have a message to guide my steps.

In the meantime, I will do my duty to my family, my clan and the empire, ad try to regain the honour I have lost.

Take care,

Iwemara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diary of Kitsune Shiro

 

I’ve been having a simply wonderful time in the jungle.  Big Tusk and his herd are very friendly, and now regard me as practically one of the herd. They have even allowed me to practice my magic, and protected my body while I did so (it is a little risky going into a trance out here without defence after all).  But I’m really getting to grips with my new school technique of becoming an animal with earth magic and the aid of the earth kami and the spirits of chikushudo.  I’ve only been back to the city the once…And I’m not going back again after the grilling that so called ‘steel’ magistate gave me.  Quite rude he was. He needs to take a whiff of opium and chill out. I shouldprobably go and find Lady Hirumi…but then the Herd are going to another part of their territory tomorrow…perhaps it can wait a littlewhile longer.  I’ll have to be all prim and proper and stiff upper lipped and formalwhen I’m back among people.  Animals are so much more relaxed.

 

 

 

Scrying notes of Miya Korimi, Imperial Archivist

 

Toshinobu, bowing to Himaru’s greater experience with battle, took his advice to move the army at the earliest opportunity, and early in the morning as soon as the great ship had been observed, the army made haste to pack their gear and move to place the city between themselves and the ship.  The moment the troops began to move however, the ship began to fire its cannon.  The sound was terrible and completely unnatural, and terrified the samurai with its massive thunderous bangs and flying metal shot. The army held their ground despite this. Toshinobu and Himaru were the least phased by it.  Himaru had seen worse, Toshinobu had seen strange things too. Iwemara was terrified, and while she did not run, she did take cover where she could.  Soon the smell of sulphur and smoke entered their nostrils as the smoke from the opening volley – thirty cannons firing at them – wafted their way.  The first shots missed by a small margin, but by the tail end of the volley, men started getting hit by cannon balls rolling into the troops. There was major damage on the front lines from this, though it wasn’t as bad as direct hits would have been.

 

 

In the city, Sairento in the archives heard the boom of the cannon. He dropped the scroll he’d been holding “Aw shit.” He cursed.

 

On the front lines, orders were given to charge the city and do what they could, closing the distance and that they were to use the city as a human and brick and mortar shield.  The legion held its ground, even the most dishonourable members.  Iwemara looked absolutely terrified. She went with the army, but was near the back, and shaking in terror. She had completely lost control of her face, but from her position she could see that the sky – which had been grey for days and raining a lot, was getting darker and darker, taking on the look of the middle of the night.  Static was slowly starting to build and the wind was picking up.  She could tell that a massive storm was in the making.

 

Sairento, having discovered the Kuni’s weakness for opium and having plenty of money about him made a proposition of ‘help me and I’ll pay for your opium’. The Kuni was of course very amenable to this and so Sairento handed Toritaka Kagetsu ten koku as a down payment on this and he took it quite happily.

“Right, we have cannon to deal with.” Sairento said.

“Sounds like a plan.” Kagetsu said “…What’s a cannon?”

“Ok, we have a very large ship to deal with.” Sairento said, knowing it would take too long to explain.

“Big ship. Ok.  Let’s go sink a ship.” Kagetsu said happily.

 

 

As they exited the library, they could see women & children cowering in the streets, and Bushi trying to restore order, but they could barely be heard over the booming thunder of the cannon.  Sairento tapped one of the bushi on the shoulder, showed the bushi one of the maps he had with him, and shouted tersely, “Caves – women and children – now!” The Bushi nodded in understanding, patted him on shoulder in thanks, and began to herd the civilians to safety.  They were not far from the port, and headed in that direction.  As they got closer they could see deckhands on the port side scrambling to disconnect ships, pull anchors, and sort the rigging and raise sails. There were vast numbers of people swarming about.  On the Aramasu’s Legacy on the top of the deck, a white haired man could be seen.

He was a Mantis bushi in a fine kimono, with jet white Crane like hair. It was very definitely a male bushi, and he had a Katana drawn in hand.  This was unusual as Mantis didn’t take them on board their ships – they were too precious.  He was swiping the sword in time with the cannon fire almost as if he was conducting a symphony.  The hilt was made entirely of Ivory. Sairento recognised it as the sword of the Ivory Champion, which Kiyomi stole.

 

In the army outside the city Himaru had charged to the forefront of the army, sending commands and orders flying to all of the small squads he set up earlier with, orders on how to storm the city.  Toshinobu, with his peg leg unable to keep up with the large Crab, commanded from behind. The army stormed up to the city, and the Mantis bushi defended valiantly commanded by one of the Yoritomo, possibly the head of the city guard.  Himaru got into a skirmish with a Yoritomo bushi as the army came into range of the cities defenders.  They fought, and Himaru quickly knocked the Mantis to the ground and injuring him, the man swiped back and grazed Himaru who didn’t even notice it, and failed in his attempt to knock him over as he was too well grounded.  Himaru attacked him again, severely injuring the Mantis. The Mantis swung back ineffectually and missed him.  Himaru finished him off quite quickly.  Iwemara was in the reserves.  She saw no action, but did not run in the face of the cannon fire, even though she was terrified.

 

Toshinobu got into a duel. A young Kitsune asked him to show his stance.  He obliged. “An honourable Mantis.  You sure you know what you are doing boy?” He said over the sounds of battle and the booming of the cannon.

The boy swallowed and nodded.

“Very well.  Show me yourstance.”  Toshinobu way outclassed the young man.  He hit first, and gashed him deeply.  The boy tried to hit back, swiped and missed.  Toshinobu attacked again and killed him, moving quickly on.

 

Sairento, and Kagetsu got on board the Aramasu’s Legacy using the ramps from the dock to get to the mid-ship levels and then searched for ladders to get to the top deck. Initially Sairento told Kagetsu to wait. Kagetsu shrugged, took out a piece of paper and started to write something on it.  He followed Sairento and presented it to the bushi guarding the ship.  Kagetsu had, using a combination of magic and his own skill managed to forge signed orders from Hiromi himself to get him on board.  He explained that he’d been ordered to put an earth ward on the gaijin pepper stores as there was the strong suspicion that there would be an attempt to sabotage them. “Can you direct me there?  I’ve not been on board this fine vessel before.”

The Guard looked at him assessing him.  Eventually he nodded and gestured.  “Right this way.”

Sairento pulled out his shuriken, having raided the Scorpion armoury before leaving the Second City and also got on the ship easily in his Mantis disguise.  As they got on board, they could hear Hiromi yelling for a cease fire.

 

In the middle of the battle while the Legion were laying siege to the city, the cannon fire momentarily ceased.  Iwemara still with the army, but hiding in the reserves, observing everything so she could avoid one of the cannon balls should it come her way noticed very high on the tallest tower in the city what looked like a figure.  She recognised her.  It was the strange and mysterious disappearing woman from the earlier scouting mission.  She was on the highest point of highest tower with her arms in the air.  Iwemara could almost feel her gaze.  Suddenly everything felt fine.  The fear of the cannon faded in the face of the woman’s gaze. Feeling braver, Iwemara made her way forward to join the battle.

 

Toshinobu and Himaru, were both heavily engaged.  Toshinobu took a slight wound; Himaru brushed off attempts to injure him, and ended up skirmishing with another Mantis.  He hit the Mantis in the face, and the bushi was knocked on the ground, unable to get up or do anything.  Himaru leant over him and yelled over the sound of battle “That man there is your rightful lord.” pointing at the young Mantis Clan Champion “We will put that man on the Mantis throne as your True Clan Champion.  When you live through this remember it so you can serve him in your next life.”

 

As Iwemara moved up, her sharp eye pierced through the fighting to see a buff looking Mantis shouting orders.  He had his Kama out and Iwemara guessed correctly that this was the opposing forces commander and that she had a clear shot as her loyal contingent of scouts were keeping other Mantis from getting close to her.  She pulled her bow, aimed carefully, and whispering a prayer to the kami that it found it’s target took the shot. She hit him with a clean, clear shot that bypassed his armour and took him under the arm he had raised while ordering his troops.  As it hit, he jerked and grabs hold of the armour where it hit.  One of his Tsuruchi body guard saw where the arrow came from, and was quick to respond with a returning arrow trying to take out the samurai with the temerity to try and kill their lord. One of Iwemara’s body guard of scouts leapt in front of her dramatically, taking the arrow for her, and dropped to the ground, dying at her feet.

 

 

Back in the port on the deck of the Aramasu’s Legacy there was a lot of confusion and advisors were arguing in the background with Hiromi.  One set were claiming Hiromi …”Can’t just shoot through our beloved port and destroy the city!”  Yoritomo Yoshi was claiming that “Hiromi must do it, to destroy the traitorous dogs and that in the long run, the Legacy must be protected.”

As Sairento saw Kagetsu on board, he whispered a few orders to him. “Find the powder room, if the cannon begin firing, or something appears to be going wrong, blow it up.”  Kagetsu nodded, and followed his guide as Sairento headed to the deck.  Kagetsu learned that there were 8 gaijin pepper stores in various areas in the ship, and there was no one central area on the ship to store it as it was a bad idea. The pepper was stored in each small section where cannon were held – 5 to 6 barrels to each cannon.

On the deck, of the Legacy Sairento saw a lot of confusion. Hiromi was at the helm, the white haired man was talking to him, as were other advisors. There were masses of Mantis on deck doing things.  The Storm Legionnaires stood around Hiromi and the white haired Mantis in guard position.

Sairento moved across the deck, not noticed by anyone – they were all too busy doing their individual jobs. Hiromi was being won over by what the white haired man was saying.  “I’m not firing on my own city.” could be heard above the din however. But white haired man could also be heard.  “Let the ruins of the city crush the Legions from within.” Sairento could see that the Storm Legion looked concerned by the advice, but were doing their duty and stayed stoic and silent and looked disapproving.

Sairento approached Yoritomo Yoshi and Hiromi and from what little conversation he had heard, decided that Yoshi needed to die. He tossed a shuriken at his face, and it bounced off. Hiromi was shocked by what he saw. Sairento did his best to remain unnoticed.  Yoshi didn’t see him, none of the Mantis could tell it was him either as they weren’t paying attention.  Yoshi cast a spell, and suddenly there were four of him on the deck looking to see who threw the shuriken. Hiromi seemed to be very surprised. He didn’t appear to know his friend was a shugenja and was very confused and concerned by what he saw.

 

Kagetsu hearing the hue and cry ordered the Mantis near the powder barrels to go deal with the evil threat, it was probably the sabotage that was warned about and kept Mantis near the barrels to guard them.  Kagetsu then moved away to a safe distance himself. And then he blew the barrels.

 

Hiromi picked up the shuriken that bounced off his friends face, and examined it. “NINJA!!!” He screamed in rage “Clear the decks! Clear the rigging! Let’s find this bastard.” He yelled.  The Storm Legion swarmed around him and formed a body shield of protection.  As the Mantis fled the deck on Hiromi’s orders, Sairento moved with them.  On his way out, he picked the nearest Yoshi, and threws another shuriken.  It went through the Yoshi, and hit a random Mantis in the neck. He fell to the round, and started flailing. It was obvious there was more wrong with him than just the deep cut.  The blades were poisoned.  The Mantis who saw this looked like they had seen a ghost, and moved more quickly away from the Yoshi copy.  Yoshi shouted down into the ship “Master Hiromi says ready the cannons!”

Scrying notes of Isawa Korimi– Continued

 

 

Toshinobu was woken to the news of the arrival of the enormous ship in the harbour in Kalani’s Landing, and “It’s facing us broadside.” the man said sounding only a little intimidated.

Toshinobu didn’t really know about cannon. He had a look though, and saw that it was proudly displaying a Mantis mon on it.   “I don’t like the way it’s approaching. It looks like it’s about to attack,” Hida Himaru said “But it is odd, it is so far away.  They seem to be far away…though it is possible the ship is full of shugenja…It may be worth setting up defensive situations.”

Himaru had noticed that many of the legionnaires were intimidated by the huge ship.  They simply had no point of reference.  Other ships looked like toys in comparison.  He also heard some whispered rumours behind his back from some of the guard who weren’t intimidated by it, but were raring to get going. He also heard the rumour that there was an intensely beautiful woman around camp…so beautiful it set the men’s hair on back of their heads on edge.  She was very polite and then she vanished.  He heard that it had been happening over the last 24 hours.  She nodded and smiled and then vanished. Himaru was concerned that the men were seeing things and were on edge.  But the men seemed quite raring to go for this battle…at least the ones who had seen her were…They thought that everything was fine, and that they could deal with this.  Himaru helped organise the men into the best defensive positions possible, spreading them out in separate squads, so they were not clumped together, based off his knowledge of what fire magic could do.  He arranged squad leaders for each group – groups of 20 – hunting party sized from his time on The Wall.

 

When Iwemara heard the same rumours she took a Tsuruchi and the Seppun guard that came into the city with her on a scouting mission to see if they could find this vanishing woman. They had a look around in the surrounding jungle, and came to a particularly lush oasis or grove with a pool and access to the sky.  They saw an intensely beautiful woman there, tall, slim, the epitome of the perfect Rokugani female.   She smiled at them with a sweet smile.  She had a beautiful painted face.  Iwemara thought that she was as beautiful as her childhood memory of the Divine Empress. She nodded, acknowledging them without speaking and turned away.  She appeared to walk away, walking over the water of the pool in the oasis, and sunk into the water.  Not sure she believed eyes, especially after recent events, she looked to the Seppun and Tsuruchi, who looked absolutely terrified. She asked if they saw her and silently they nodded.  Still not trusting it she went and

investigated the area for physical evidence.  As she looked around the oasis she found none. There was no hole in the bottom of the pond.  There weren’t even any tracks, no disturbed grass.  It was impossible to Iwemara’s training.  There shouldbe evidence, but try as she might, she found nothing. It seemed to be totally illogical.  But after having seen her, and despite everything that had happened she had been left with the feeling that everything would be ok, that she was a good person, and would go on to do great things, and everything would turn out fine.  Still not quite believing she had seen what she had seen, but feeling a lot better in herself, and no longer feeling like she ought to commit seppuku for having failed to realise she had been taken in.  She had almost done it the previous night, but hadn’t been brave enough.  She continued and finished the scouting patrol.

 

 

In the city, Sairento found his way to the archives building.  There were two bushi on the door guarding it. It was a fair sized building like an old keep, but nowhere near as large as the Clan Champions residence or the dock.  Sairento took the map Sonia drew out of a pocket and wandered off a bit.  He pulled out a piece of charcoal stick and scribbled some fake directions on it.  He then kept his head down, followed a vague direction, and eventually came back to the doors of the archives.  He looked up, ‘saw’ the bushi and enquired if this was the archives?

They looked at Sairento. They knew he wasn’tquitewhat he appeared to be.  “And who are you? You look far too Rokugani to be a Mantis.” Belatedly Sairento remembered that the Mantis frequently intermarried with native non-Rokugani, like the Invindra and other peoples….and he was the epitome of a fine Rokugani male.

“I’m here to get some information.”

“I’m afraid the lord of the archives is indisposed.  Would you like to leave a message?”

Sairento made a show of appearing to panic “I’ve been sent to see keeper of archives.  I…I’m not sure what to do.”

“No, I’m really sorry. He’s indisposed.  We can take a message samurai san.”

He made a decision…it was not something he wanted to do, it was a massive breach of etiquette to do so…but …if it worked… it would get him in.  He looked at the guard who spoke and burs into tears…starting very slowly, with big frightened looking eyes and a quivering lip.  He made it look like he was trying veryhard not to cry…and like it was kind of frightening what was happening and he couldn’t cope…and allowed a tear to fall.

The guards looked at each other and just watched him. They acted like he was not doing it.  Sairento sobbed a bit, then turned his back and did the flappy armed thing to try and compose himself and then turned back.  “I was sent by my father.  I’m sorry, nothing’s  been explained. I got directions from a strange man in a bar, got lost four times, and I’ve probably passed by here twice.  My father will be so disappointed if I don’t get in to see the keeper.”

His acting skills were excellent, and the Mantis bushi swallowed the sob story hook line and sinker. They looked at him with a touch of sympathy.  “I can check to see if he is busy and if he can spare five minutes to chat with you.” The one who had been doing most of the talking said and left. The other one looked really uncomfortable.  It was probably the most uncomfortable social situation he had ever been in.

Eventually the archive master came down. He was a very old Tsuruchi who appeared to be almost at retirement age.  He looked at Sairento, eyeing him up and down.  He didn’t see through the disguise….he had cataracts.  He did see the tears however. “Dry it up samurai what’s wrong with you?”

Sairento straightened up, hurriedly wiped the tears from his eyes and  in a quite embarrassed/ flummoxed kind of way, and bowed low to the archivist,  “Master archive keeper Tsuruchi-sama. I apologise for my appearance. I was sent here to be apprenticed to you by father Kitsune Akio.  I’m looking forwards to working for you…sir.”

“Hmm….Indeed…. I was not aware of such a thing, but I have been very busy these last couple of days.” He trailed off as he kept thoughts in his head.  The guards looked at him to prompt him to continue. “Yes very well, come inside and get settled.”

Sairento entered the archives and followed. Inside he could see lots of dusty scrolls.  There were hundreds if not thousands.  The old archivist trailed off talking about the Kitsune….”Yes…well my grandfather fought with Kitsune Rosen in the Clan war you know…. you know about the Clan war… so bloody…he trailed off that thread and his conversation meandered and wandered in many directions.  Sairento smiled and nodded pretending that he was eager to learn, trying and steer him in the direction of building plans.  The man seemed intent of explaining what each section did, and went off on many tangents in the process.

 

There was a Kuni in the archives in Kalani’s Landing.  Toritaka Kagetsu was in the corner asleep.  He had lots of respect for the trade the Mantis did – especially their fine stores of opium.

 

Eventually, with Sairento’s promptings the conversation came around to the fantastic architecture and of course Sairento expressed great interest in this topic  “Fantastic! It is wonderful to get the young involved in fine architecture.   We have schematics for the archives and the barracks and the port.” The old archivist went on at length, eventually getting round to the Clan Champion’s residence and stronghold.  “The Clan Champions quarters; I am really interested in buildings in Kalani’s landing, could we have a look?”

“I don’t see why not.” As he got to the area that one was stored, he saw the Kuni. He almost grown into the archive records, scrolls scattered around him.  SThe scroll the old archivist searched for was wedged on his shoulder.  “Ah ok, I will have a chat with my esteemed colleague.”

The Kuni was very out of it. In his hand was a smoking pipe.  He looked to be in his forties and Siarento detected the clear and distinct whiff of opium. “Whetidwrhw…where am I?”  He asked very confused when the old master finally managed to wake him.

“Please excuse me Kagetsu-san. I have a new apprentice to the archive and I’m just showing him some of it and the scrolls.” To Kagetsu in his muzzed state, it was obviously true what the archivist was saying. “May we have that scroll precariously balanced on your shoulder?”

He ruffled around, and picked it up “This one?”

 

 

“Yes that one my friend.” He un-rolled it and showed it to Sairento who studied it closely. It looked impressive.  “This incredibly intricate design was crafted from gaijin…” the old man droned on, and Sairento feigned extreme interest.  The plans showed that the ground floor as used for the Mantis court, the second floor housed family and friends, the third floor the Storm Legion, and the top floor was designated as the personal quarters of the Clan Champion and their closest friends and family.  There was a single stairwell.  Eta got ignored by everyone on it… Eta quarters were also on the ground floor.

“This is all really interesting.  I’m impressed, and it looks like a really good building.”  Sairento said, before offering to organise the scrolls and put them away.

“Good, good, that will be an excellent chance to get your head around the layout of the place.” Sairento bowed, held his hands out to be given scrolls, and the old archivist handed over a large armful of them. Sairento went off to shelve them.

 

The Kuni was very nosey about the new boy, and followed him.  Sairento was putting the scrolls away and having a look around the archive building and surrounding city from the maps.  .There was a lot of stuff going on underground. One tunnel was not well marked and very dusty. It highlighted alargeunderground room in Kalani’s Landing – almost an underground city. Sairento had no idea what purpose it had, and it didn’t quite match the Kalani’s Landing in the city – it was in the merchant district on top of the building. It looked like the city had been built on top of it. He thought it might prove inaccessible.  Sairento made a mental note of its existence, and presumed it was Ivory Kingdoms built.  There were ancient walls, hidden gateways etc hidden by foliage that he could discern from the maps too that he hadn’t noticed on observation – they would be veryuseful to get him close to the Clan Champions residence unnoticed. There were shortcuts between walls, secret passages from District to District.  Nothing going into the Clan Champions residence however…it was too new.  The Kuni kept getting in Sairento’s way, but he was patient and went to find a room to live in to keep the ruse up.  He kicked a servant out of their quarters, which were modest but comfortable.

 

As they continued scouting Iwemara, the Tsuruchi and the Seppun discussed the woman they saw. “It could be a spirit.” The Tsuruchi said.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before.” The Seppun said.

“Perhaps we should consult with the shugenja.” Iwemara suggested.  Tsuruchi, and Seppun fervently agreed, and so Iwemara went to the Moshi as the only shugenja currently with the legion. She described what she had seen. They seemed to be confused. Iwemara asked them to check it out.  They chatted with the kami, then seemed even more confused. The kami’s reports varied wildly.  Some saw a woman.  Some something else they hadn’t seen since the dawn of the empire.  Some were quoting or trying to contact Osano-wo. It was all very strange. The shugenja got nothing cohesive.  The kami were quite excited was all they could properly report.

 

In the city the Kuni had noticed that the kami were excited too.  They couldn’t articulate why beyond there was something serious going on. They were incredibly excited. Whoever this woman was or whatever it was they saw had them very jittery and excited.

 

“At least she exists.” Iwemara said, reassured.  Iwemara made her report to Toshinobu.  “I don’t quite know what to make of it.  The Shugenja confirmed she wasthere though there was no physical evidence I could find.”

“I do not understand. A woman who isn’t really there. How can that be? It’s just a distraction.  Go about your business.”

“Yes my lord.” Iwemara said, bowing and leaving.

 

 

Toshinobu received a report from the Moshi not long after Iwemara left.  They had been meditating and told him that tomorrow was going to be quite terrible on the weather front, even though currently the weather was very calm and for the Ivory Kingdoms, pleasant..

“That’s ok.” They were told.

They repeated that they couldn’t do anything about it even jointly. Rain would be torrential.  There would be a lot of thunder and lightning.

Himaru went to see the Mantis in the camp and asked for an audience with the true Mantis daimyo. The Storm legion admitted him.  They were very alert.

“Hiro-sama, Unmei-sama, I don’t know if you are aware, but there is a large Mantis ship on horizon. I am not sure, but it may be taking up an attacking posture, I have seen similar postures with shugenja.  The size of the ship is causing concern among the men. Do you have any information or advice on its men and capabilities?”

Hiro had NO idea what was going on.  Unmei sat and meditated for a while. “You are referring to Aramasu’s Legacy.  It is the finest ship the Mantis have ever constructed.”

“It boggles the mind how it stays afloat.”

“It is constantly part powered and crewed by shugenja as well as the usual crew members…and in that capacity, it puts us in an interesting position….it reminds me of another event in Rokugan’s history…I didn’t think the Mantis had fallen thatfar. I hope its presence is not a remit of the past…”

“What is this battle you refer to? It must be something very dishonourable the way you refer to it. This bears no stain on your Lord or the Clan, it all falls on Hiromi, and is why he should be deposed for the true heir of your clan.”

“I refer to battle of White Stag. I watched…  Rokugan watched Guy Hawthorns cannon onslaught destroying many districts of Otosan Utchi.”

“I have seen the reports of that – battle plans and counter plans using shugenja and other weapons of the Ivory Kingdoms. I never expected to see anything like that. It would not occur to me to be implemented.  So far such weapons have been banned. It shows how unworthy Hiromi is to lead your clan.”

“Or his desperation.”

“What is the range of these weapons?”

“Substantial.”

“Each of these is like a shugenja casting powerful fire spell?”

“Correct, though I pray it is not case.”

“If armed with shugenja support along side, I dread to think of the destruction the device is capable of.”

 

“The Question is will Hiromi sink so low as to use such tactics.”

“I heard what he did in the city.  I believe there is no level to which he will sink.  There were only rumours of what I heard him do, but I heard it told from those who witnessed it.  I believe it may be the same as the Spider are doing in the Second City currently.”

“The Kami is choosing a new champion as result of his dishonourable action.”

“It may be the same whisperings of the Spider affecting him as they have affected the Son of the Empress. As in the Shadowlands, once the shadow has gone too far, the only way to cleanse the wound is to remove the dead flesh.”

“I spoke to his sister. Despite his boisterousness this even stretches her awareness of his capabilities to the limit.”

“I have been setting up squads to distribute….and separate in terms of fighting shugenja.  I am considering advising Toshinobu-sama that we move the camp to the other side of the city. It may not be as strong a position for a frontal assault, but the city will be between us and the ship. I’d like to prepare for the worst case scenario.”

 

The Thoughts and Whims of Rani Sita

 

Well Mala it seems isn’t a complete idiot.  He’s ordered our people out of this accursed city.  He’s not told me much, no more than he told the Rajah’s at least but I can read between the lines.  I’ve seen enough to be able to, that’s for sure. Well, on the very rareoccasions I was permitted out of the Ivory District that is….  Heads on pikes?!? Arrested for the LEAST misdemeanour, killed for minor crimes? especially our people, and all the work on defences.  Looks like that Shibatsu Prince thinks there’s a war coming…or he’s lost his head. I strongly suspect the latter.  Only barbarians put heads on pikes.  What Mala did say to the Raja’s, and they (and I) fully agree on is that it’s not the city he (they) thought it was.  I fully agree that if we stayed there we’d be run into the dust.  It was already beginning to happen with us being penned in one place and our strongest workers pulled away to work on their pet projects, or mysteriously ‘disappearing’ without any indication as to why…and no samurai willing to help but the Dragon…and there are precious few of them around either now there are Spider in such great numbers. I’ve no idea what Mala thinks we will do, but we seem to be following in the path of that army that was in the city. He probably thinks we can work together or something.  Personally I’d be glad if we could find a place that is ourssafe from all comers.  But for now it looks like we will be roughing it again.  I’ll look forward to getting in some decent hunting. I made sure that the kids and the people under my protection or that usually follow me around were well provisioned before we left the city.  The kids probably shouldn’t have nicked it from a merchant’s store, but what’s done is done, and we certainly aren’t going back.  It’ll be rough going for a while though we’ve had rough…rougher before. We survived that, We will survive this, AND with our culture intact.  Mala does seem to know what he is doing.

 

 

Scrying notes of Isawa Korimi

 

A guard entered Toshinobu’s command tent.  “My Lord, some of your friends wish an audience with you, and food has been set up outside so you can all dine.”

Toshinobu nodded, and left the tent.  The guard reassumed his position.

When he emerged from the tent, he saw Hida Himaru, Kisuki Iwemara, Sairento, some of the guards and the strange man in black.  Himaru looked stoic.  Iwemara was pale and looking a little drawn.  When Toshinobu emerged Himaru was watching Gotsu’s reaction to see if he saw Pan-Ku in their esteemed commander, but he simply looked interested.

Himaru stepped forward. “My lord I thought it worthwhile you having a conversation with this individual yourself” He said, gesturing to Gotsu “So you can judge personally.  I have had food prepared so we can sit down together while discussing the nature of things.”

When Toshinobu looked over at Iwemara with raised eyebrows, silently questioning her presence Himaru correctly interpreted it “It appears the…ahem…otherindividual…was only inhabiting Iwemara temporarily. It has moved on, we don’t know where it has gone.”

“Very good” Toshinobu said, taking a seat.

Iwemara blushed deeply at the shame of having been so taken in and kept her eyes lowered, taking her seat silently fighting tears.

Gotsu sat down as did the others. Iwemara was sat near Gotsu.  She was not hungry however after the recent revelation.  Gotsu had very good etiquette and was very eloquent.  He was very confused as to why he had been brought there. While they ate, Iwemara once she had recovered control of her emotions tactfully explained Rokugani history to him in snippets bits and snatches, apologising for its inaccuracy and the fact she couldn’t answer half of his questions about it.  She readily admitted she was no historian.  Once the meal was finished, Gotsu eventually asked Toshinobu what the current situation was here.

Toshinobu was not sure what he wanted to do or give him the entire plan.  “I’m here on behalf of true Mantis Clan Champion.” He said eventually.

Gotsu looked confused ”Mantis?”

Iwemara explained that it was a conglomeration of minor clans that were raised to Great Clan status for services rendered to the Empire.

He looked back at Iwemara and laughed hysterically, as if it was the funniest joke he had ever heard, but Iwemara was quietly insistent that this was the case, and he could tell she wasn’t lying and none of the rest of the samurai at the table were trying to have him on either, and sobered up.  “That’s really strange, a Great clan without a founding Kami.”  Iwemara decided to not tell him the rumour that Yoritomo now wasa kami, he had had a lot of information today.  Gotsu turned to Toshinobu again.

“Why are you getting involved in the politics of another “Great” clan Toshinobu-san may I ask?”

“The stability of the empire is the mandate of the Imperial Legions.  We do not wish for conflict here anymore than we do in Rokugan.”

 

 

“This is not technically the Empire though is it?”

“Everything the Empress owns is the empire, the empress owns this land, therefore it is part of the Empire”.

“As you say.” Gotsu said. “If it’s all the same, if you have no reason for me to stay, I am of a mind to move on.  I want to take my leave and go to Imperial Court, and ask where my Great Clan is and why a Hantei is not on the throne.”

“If there is anything you need we can help you to speed you on your way just ask.”

“No, I will go.”

“What of your sister Shinjo? We sent a messenger.” Iwemara ased.

“Ah yes, I may wait, or may ride to find her.” He said.  After this, the meal completed, Gotsu went to prepare.  Iwemara kept with him, answering any questions he had as best she could, and watching him.  She didn’t trust her own judgement at the moment, so had fallen back on what she did know how to do – follow Imperial Mandate, so she watched him.

 

After Iwemara and Gotsu had left, Toshinobu, Himaru, Sairento and his other commanders discussed the situation at Kalani’s landing, and how to get Hiromi to make his first move. Toshinobu was keeping up the taking of the taxes in the name of the Empress, but that was a slow process.

“I can make him make a move.” Sairento said.

“If you can do it, then do so.” Toshinobu told him.  Without giving too much away of his plan, Sairento asked if he could get a map of the city, specifically he wanted to get into the archives in Kalani’s Landing. Sonia had had a bit of a look around while they had been encampedand she had returned quickly from her message run. She said she could easily point it out, and pulling out a piece of charcoal and some parchment began to make a sketch map of the city. When it was completed, it showed the Mantis Hierarchy Residence (the official home of the Clan Champion in the Ivory Kingdoms) off the coast of the town, the port, and about half a mile away from the residence, the archival building, which held the diagnostics and plans for all the major buildings in the city.  Sairento then left the tent to prepare what he planned to do.

 

After he left, Himaru brought up the conversation with Gotsu again.  “He made the interesting observation that Sairento is a Bayushi. He can see through disguises, of all kinds.  I thought I’d better tell you so you were aware of it.”

“That’s neither here nor there.  He’s on a Musha Shugyo.”

“It would be interesting to know his skill set however.  And you remember he mentioned he can bring people in to join with the legion.  I don’t think he was talking about a band of Ronin.”

“You think he will bring in the Scorpion?”

“Yeah.”

“Well let’s hope he can.”

 

Sairento waited until nightfall and then stealthily left the camp, his Mantis robe in a bundle under one arm.  He headed to the city, changing half way there into Mantis robes.  He knew from his previous visit that he’d have to climb walls to enter, and had come prepared to if necessary.  He first tried the easier option of sneaking onto a wagon entering the city. His luck was in.  There were two.  A Yasuki traders cart, and a peasants cart.  He opted to sneak onto the Yasuki cart, and did so successfully.  He curled up.  The cart contained spices, some nice armour, koku and fish.  Sairento took some of the koku. It was a large bag of about 500 – he took a handful (about 15) and got through the gate undetected. The wagon rolled into the merchant district and stopped.  Sairento was long gone and no one noticed his egress. He blended with the street.

 

 

He walked up to the Mantis main building watched for a while, then found a vaguely seedy tavern that catered to Mantis rather than the ronin one he went to earlier. As he passed the harbour, he could see that they were making space for something huge.  It couldn’t be a ship.  It was too big. Sairento guessed that it must be a fleet that that was coming in.  There was a lot of hustle and bustle, lots of Mantis and crew members were making efforts to clear the landing dock.  They didn’t notice Sairento everyone was too busy.

“Interesting.” He said quietly, taking a mental note.  He headed into the nearest inn “The Thunders Roar”. It was close enough to the docks that he could find a ship that looked like it had just arrived that he could claim he had just arrived on.  He saw one called the White Lotus unloading, and decided that was the one he would use.  The tavern looked like it was a place Mantis went when they are on shore leave.  “Sounds like a nice establishment.” he muttered before entering.

The tavern was full of bushi.  There were also some crew men too of lower social class.  It was more allowed among the Mantis.  He wanted to rent a room for the evening, asked the inn keeper for the cost. Itwas 30 Zeni a night.  He decided to take a room for 3 nights and handed over one of the stolen koku and told the inn keeper he could keep the additional bu as he would also like a drink.  The inn keeper got a bottle of sake, and he went off to his room.  It was plain, but not uncomfortable.

 

Once Gotsu had retired to meditate alone, Iwemara rescued the koku and the twin sister blades, from her tent which would now need repair to the handles, and new scabbards.  She went to the stores first to get the main items she needed to replace, like a new tent, paper and ashigaru armour (It took some effort to find some small enough) and a travel pack to replace what was burned – She also acquired a new bow (this time a half sized yari she convinced one of the Tsuruchi to make her for some of her koku) a quiver full of arrows, and a spare change of clothes.  Luckily she had been wearing her Kitsuki courtier robes as the change of clothes she acquired were Seppun coloured but sturdy and suitable for travel and an army life.

 

Back in camp, the guards went to Hida Hiamru and Toshinobu, they informed them that there was a Crane scout here requesting permission to talk to Toshinobu-sama.

“Show them in.”

The Crane entered, and bowed low.  “Toshinobu-sama, I bring a message from my commander. Kakita Saburo Captain of the Kami’s Wind.  He shows great interest in helping with your current fight with the Mantis, and requests his orders on immediate application.”

“How many ships?”

“30 vessels my lord, the last of the great fleet of the Crane. The rest have been destroyed, or are being used by a third party, and my lord is not willing to discuss that right now.”

“I have not seen them in harbour yet, but if your commander were able to cause a distraction to keep the fleet occupied while we go for the city, it would be very useful.”

The Crane paled “With all due respect my lord, I am hesitant to issue such an order of ask that of my lord. Every Crane vessel sent into Mantis waters has not been heard of since. I believe what you ask may be a suicide mission.”

“I am not looking at you attempting a victory, simply…” Toshinobu paused “Look at it as hittingthem and running.”

The Crane looked down. “You wish us to be Harriers to these individuals.”

“That is the tactic as it stands, yes.”

The Crane looked up. “Desperate times may call for desperate measures my lord.  I will let Kakita Saburo know.”

“I appreciate you may not be able to do this.” Toshinobu said smoothly “If you can’t we will find a way around it.”

“Saburo-sama is perfectly willing to shed Mantis blood my lord, but my not be able to do that in the way you ask.”

“I appreciate that it’s a difficult thing to ask.”

“I will speak to my lord Saburo about it.  You will either hear from me in the positive, or not at all my lord. I wish all the best.” He bowed very low and exited the tent.

 

Sairento woke up early, expecting most of the patrons to still be sleeping off the night before. He was surprised to find that the tavern was absolutely rammed full with Mantis bushi.  The owner was having to refuse people.  He hadn’t enough rooms to supply demand.

The owner was having to shout at them to calm down; He had no rooms, that they should find accommodation elsewhere. “I hate to give business to rival inn keepers, but I have no choice! I have no space!” he cried, sounding beleaguered.

Sairento squeezed out. No one paid any attention to him, they were all too busy.  The streets were also incredibly busy, and he decided to head for the docks. It took him a second to realise what he saw in that direction.  For a start it was a LOT busier in that direction, and there appeared to be a massive wooden wall across the harbour that extended higher than the rooftops, and all along the harbour front.  When he looked more closely he realised he saw the biggest ship he’d seen in his life.  He kept telling himself it couldn’t be a ship.  How it was possible to exist and still float he had no idea.  He realised his footsteps had taken him closer to the harbour than intended as he had examined the enormous vessel and he could now see that there were Storm Legion men, and Yoritomo Hiromi at the docks, looking and helping the crew for the new vessel.  They were loading bags of dense powder.  Hiromi was very strict what people were allowed near the ship.  To get closer he would have had to push past guards.  He had no reason to be there so he didn’t try.  But he could smell the sulphur.  The bags looked very heavy too.  It was enough information for him to put together from the description from Daidoji Kanawan’s journal that they were loading a LOT of black powder gaijin pepper onto the ship.

“That’s useful to know.” He muttered.  He could see his target on the docks, but the man was inaccessible. He was roaring orders down on the docks.  The men were being made abundantly aware that what they were doing had the very highest priority.   There was almostthe slight sound of panic in his voice.

 

The ship was so big, everyone in the Legion’s camp could see it.  It towered over buildings in the city.  When Iwemara woke, Gotsu had already left, taking one of the Seppun Guards mounts.

Notes of Isawa Korimi – continued

 

 

Sairento reported to Toshinobu that Iwemara appeared to be storing Fudo’s head, then told him the Mantis were hiring forest killers and were planning to sail to the Eyrie to take it and the current politics behind the decision.  For some utterly unknown reason during this conversation Toshinobu got an overwhelming urge to burn Iwemara’s tent to the ground.  He ordered the guards to do this.

 

As Himaru moved through the camp, he saw a group of Seppun guards going to burn a tent. He was not entirely sure whose tent it was, but it had gone up in flames very quickly.  Iwemara noticed the fire in camp and quickly realised it was her tent.

Himaru entered the command tent. “My Lord, I have just heard a very disturbing conversation.”

“Between?”

“Between Iwemara and the monk. I know how this person was friendly with her and he explained it as if he knew her. He said “you are Pan Ku, you are the shell o a body, but you are him.”

“That makes sense.” Toshinobu said. “I was visited by a voice in my head. It has occurred when Lady Seppun has come forward. She instructed me to burn Iwemara’s tent.  It was also confirmed when Sairento told me she as storing obscure items there.”

“It appears that there is some plot of Pan Ku there that we have avoided.”

“One other thing My Lord,” Himaru added.

“Yes?”

“He finally gave his name.”

“And that is?”

“Gotsu.”

“The means nothing to me.”

Himaru, who also wasn’t completely slow had also worked out the Dai and Gotsu link, and discussed it with Toshinobu.  “The Daigotsu get their name from the Shadowlands. I think he is connected to the Shadowlands.”

“As my advisor on that, I bow to your experience.”

“The Maho Tsukai get their power from blood, the Daigotsu get their power from the darkness and beyond. It is very possible there are creatures and beings from that place we have never seen before.” Himaru theorised. “Maybe he thinks he is something he’s not or is a source of power? He may even be who he says he is.  If he is not one of the known Kami, he must be one of the ones struck off.”

“There may even be more Kami that fell… or are you implying this is Fu Leng?”

“He had no knowledge of Fu Leng while chatting with Iwemara, or whatever she is.”

“This is a spiritual matter. I am no expert.”

“He was able to observe this was Pan Ku, and after that she had a conversation with herself.  Also, he has brought men back from the dead.”

“You believe he IS a Kami and can do all this then?” Toshinobu was still sceptical. “It is a strange thing. And this is a strange world. The Lady Shinjo has returned.  In the Second City we have seen the effects of Pan Ku.  We have seen the Dark Naga, and this Fudo thing. It’s as if the realms are coming to some spiritual and cataclysmic head.

“I am no theologian, I am just a foot soldier” Himaru said. “I fight the darkness. Currently it feels like all is coming together in some huge explosion.  I would not put anything past him right now.  There is something strange about this man or kami or whatever…” Himaru says, continuing.  “He appears to be like some Togashi monks I have seen.  Ambivalent, and happy to stay and go with karma.”

“However if he is the corrupted one, who is to say if it’s a matter of time before he turns? Toshinbu asked.

“This is beyond me.”

“What do you think we should do?”

“I want to avoid bloodshed around him.”

“I agree. I don’t know what to do about Iwemara.”

“I think she should be removed from the company for the time being.” Himaru advised.

“She knows our plans regarding Kalani’s Landing.”

“I didn’t say she should be allowed to run free.”

“Yes that would be extremely unwise.”

“We need to investigate this.”

“I have enough evidence and testimony.  We cannot consider her as safe now.”

“The only person who can safely sort this out is Lady Shinjo” Himaru said.

I have sent an envoy, hopefully she can sort it all out.”

“Until then, I recommend that we humour this person. Try and make it so he doesn’t get angry or ambivalent.”

“No, your council is good. That is a wise plan.” Toshinobu said.

“We will see if he has any needs we can accommodate.”

“It does bring a problem to campaign.”

“Oh?”

“Considering he can bring people back from the dead, I do not know how he would behave near a battle.”

“It is not my intention to slaughter the Mantis at this time, merely to restore control to Hiro. If it can be done with zero bloodshed that would be a bonus.”

“No, if the heat of battle surrounds him, I do not know how he would react. We must be careful in forcing the Mantis’s hand.”

“It would be far easier to remove the Champion, if he were to die of some sickness it would be very beneficial to our cause, however we cannot rely on the fortunes.”

“If possible get him into a position where he would accept a duel.”

“He’s a hothead, I don’t know if he would keep to tradition, but if he issues a challenge I will certainly meet it. It could be seen badly if I challenge him to a duel.  We will wait on him to make the first move.”

Himaru nodded. “Sairento, if you will assist me, you are a scout are you not?” Himaru asked, as he saw the man in the tent.

“If you will assist, we will secure Iwemara to some secure quarters until we discover what is going on.”

“After you.”

Himaru took guards from a little away from the Command tent and went off to find Iwemara.

 

As Iwemara sat with Gotsu. He looked at her and smiled. “My friend has gone. Pan Ku has left. He always was as flippant as the wind.  I did not realise he was a fan of yours.”

“I did not realise it was him.” Iwemara said in a voice that sounded strange even to her.

“Well he is an interesting being to say the least. I’m not sure why father exiled him.  I was always disappointed. My father was so rash.”  At this point Iwemara saw the flames, put two and two together, and ran to try and save the Fudo items. The tent was burning to the ground, and the Seppun, following orders stopped her.

“If you do this you destroy a weapon that can be used against the mad dragon.” She told them her tone desperate.

Gotsu who had followed her spoke up. “Mad?  Pan Ku is interesting but mad is a strong word my lady.”

The Seppun ignored Iwemara. Iwemara tried to fight them and Gotsu put his hand on her shoulder “That won’t be necessary my lady, please do not aggravate matters.  Like the rest of my brothers I have some degree of kharmic knowledge. You are fine, whatever is in that tent you do not require to fulfil your destiny.  If this Fudo order require a new leader why not choose you for the job?”

Since her tent and all its contents were now burnt beyond saving she went limp, and slumped to the ground in despair watching it burn, not really taking in his words.

Gotsu looked down. “According to the Tao you must let go of all mortal possessions to achieve enlightenment.  Shinsei was an interesting person.  I would have loved to have met him.  Oh look here are your friends.”  He looked at Himaru “Ah the son of Hida who refused my company.” He looked at Sairento “And a son of…Bayushi?”  Sairento strongly disliked having been so easily identified as Scorpion Clan and started to circle him. “Your robes declare otherwise but your stance and smirk say it. It is written all over you…but…something is not quite the same.”

“You talk too much.” Sairento said.

“Your etiquette is rather lacking for a son of Bayushi. If I was your founding Kami I would take offence. As it stands I will let that one slide.”

“Which was the clan you founded?”” Himaru asked

“I was not in the position to find one. I was in a dark sleep. I have missed the last 1200 years. I have just recently woken up. I have been watching the Rokugani populace spring out of nowhere and begin construction. It has been quite interesting watching you.” He paused   “Tell me where has Pan Ku has gone?  I was talking to him and now he’s disappeared.  I always liked him.”

“What is it you want to do?”

“I’m not sure.  Mostly I have been watching the followers of my siblings.  I might talk to the current Hantei, possibly discuss forming my own major clan.  I deserve it.  I deserve lands and followers like my siblings.  I presume the lineage of my brother is still live?”

“I am no orator.” Himaru said.

“Perhaps I can explain this later?” Iwemara said in a sad quiet voice.

“I don’t know Rokugan politics, I am not the best person to explain.” Himaru said.

“You may not be a master of court at least tell me you have met the emperor? Who is it? Hantei the…?”

“It’s an Empress.” Himaru said.

“Don’t tell me you do not know her name?”

“Iweko” Iwemara said quietly

“Hantei Iweko”

“She’s not of the line of Hantei” Sairento said.

 

“Then what IS her Lineage?”

“Kitsuki.” Iwemara said tentatively, but with well masked pride that one of her family ascended to the throne, and to Divinity, especially one so closely related. “There has been much that has happened recently.” She added tactfully.

“Um… that seems wrong. That’s wrong.” Gotsu said quite firmly.

“Perhaps we can discuss the history of Rokugan in more depth?”

“Yes, but in the mean time, why are you here? Where is Pan Ku? I need to speak to him.”

“You are saying he is not here any more?” Himaru said, glancing at Iwemara.

“You just broke the news that the line of Hantei is not in leadership of Rokugan and you have no idea where Pan Ku is.”

“You said he was in Iwemara” Himaru said.

“He was. He is no longer there.” Gotsu said sounding resigned. “He is a playful dragon. He was coiled inside her. He does this from time to time. Now he is elsewhere.”

“In terms of your friend he is no longer playing there.”

“Be my guest you will be much better able to find him than I.” Sairento told him.

“I will look, but when he disappears it can take, seconds, hours, days, weeks even years to appear. I will not wait for him to show up again.” He changed the subject. “But you my Bayushi friend, why dressed in brown. Where has your red colour gone?  Why not proudly bear your Kami’s founding colours?”

“Why insist that the actions of your friend is playful when he has caused countless deaths and untold madness?” Sairento responded, avoiding answering the question.

“Pan Ku? Never. He was our protector.  He took court with my parents and siblings.  For some reason he was cast out.  I still don’t know why.”

“Perhaps because he decided lives were trivial.” Sairento said.

“No. That’s not the case.”

“As you say it’s been 1400 years”

“That is no time to a celestial being. I appreciate the sentiment. Bayushi was always the optimist.”

“I believe the word is truthful.”

Iwemara stood up. “Do you know why the Seppun burned my tent?” she asked.

Himaru put his hand to his helmet just below the mempo, his finger massaging his temple in an ‘Oh dear Gods kind of way’.

 

“Um….You said Pan Ku moves around…” He had a sinking suspicion forming. “It’s a very rash decision to burn someone’s tent. What happened my Scorpion friend?”

“He…I told him Iwemara had the head of a statue of Fudo and he told the guards to burn it and her tent.”

“He burned the Actual Head of Fudo. And his Heart and his Feet” Iwemara says dully.

“Why were you collecting them?”

“To battle Pan Ku. They were enemies.  I…I thought that assembling his artefacts would provide a weapon…”

“You were under Pan Ku’s Control the whole time?”

“I have no idea what’s going on now.”

“Did you hear voices?”

“Yes.  Ever since the temple of Fudo in the Jungle.“

“From your being Kitsuki did you not think that maybe you should discuss that with someone?” Himaru asked her

“I was unable to exercise my own free will.  I seem to be able to now.”

“Until he comes back.”

“Indeed.”

Gotsu spoke up “Pan Ku is interesting. Once he has had his fun, he doesn’t tend to stick around.”

“You may not know him as well as you used to.” Sairento said.  “He’s known as the mad dragon.  He’s been hanging around in the Ivory Kingdoms. He is not going anywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is in the camp.”

“I can’t see him.”

“Can you see through walls?” Sairento asked sceptically.

“My perception does end at a point. I am not as observant as Hantei and Bayushi. They had the best eyesight.”

“Maybe it best you talk with the lord commander” Himaru said. “Why he hasn’t before is surprising.”

“While you make his acquaintance, I will get you some refreshments and something more fitting to your station.” Himaru said deferentially.

“And I will explain Rokugan’s history to you.” Iwemara said.

“And you master Scorpion have you any plans?” Gotsu asked.

“You say you don’t believe that Pan Ku is capable of causing madness, that he is playful and it is impossible for him to change.  You claim to be one of the Kami.” Sairento said.

“I am, he isn’t and it is impossible.”

“Well in the past 1400 years your parents have been usurped as celestial beings the sun and moon.”

“Incorrect. They both still shine.”

“They are no longer your parents.”

“No you are wrong. They are my parents.”

“Feel free to try to talk to them.”

“If they aren’t my parents, the world would turn to darkness and chaos would reign.” Gotsu said, unable to believe Sairento.

“Sairento perhaps someone more tactful should explain Rokugani history, to Gotsu.” Iwemara said, trying to forestall an explosion.

“It is not your fault.” Gostus said, absolving Sairento of any crime “Bayushi was always the snitch of the family, running to our parents when we were under their protection.  You are only doing what comes naturally.”

“Iwemara feel free to explain our entire history of the past 1400 years to him.” Sairento said sarcastically.

Himaru ordered people to organise a table outside the command tent for when they arrive. “Sairento, that will take several hours, if not several days.” Iwemara said dryly, “but I am not opposed to the task.”

Notes of Isawa Korimi – continued

 

 

The other two monks were still within the temple, being fought off by the Mantis magistrate, though Sairento did not know of this.  The third monk was hot on her trail and it was causing quite a ruckus in the street. The monk was gaining on her rapidly. Wanting to deal with the monk on her own terms, Iwemara sighed, put the burden in her arms on the ground, turned around, and faced the monk using two of the gifts Fudo had granted her, namely Passion and Pride, to make her damage worse, and drew her katana.  As he came into range, she swiped at him disdainfully and scratched him.  He had some sort of gift himself, as the injury she did was far less than it should have been.   He activates a kiho and tried to hit her but missed. He swung again and missed again as she dodged away.

Sairento arrived on the scene to see Iwemara had her tiny toy like katana out, and had drawn blood. The monk kept trying to hit her, but she was very good at dodging.  The monk looked very annoyed, and looked at Sairento briefly, then looked back to her.  On the floor behind Iwemara was a monstrous looking head. It was blue, and was very stern looking, and abnormally large. It resembles an ogres head to Sairento.  The traders had run to alert the authorities, other people looked shocked. It looked quite a lot like the head of Fudo that ‘Sairento’ saw in the native village.  Sairento left Iwemara to it as she seemed to have a good handle on the situation.

Iwemara attacked the monk again, cutting the monk, shifting one of her Fudo gifts to another – Pride to Hatred.  He tried an Atemi strike against her and missed both times.  Sairento continued to observe in a disinterested manner.

“Leave me to my work.” Iwemara told the monk clearly, but the monk ignored it.  She struck him again, and finally brought him down, knocking him to the floor, his leg a crippled mangled mess.  He flailed at her still.  Iwemara nodded to herself and turned to a random passerby who had been observing everything. “Take care of this man, he thought he was doing his duty. I have to do mine and do not have time for this.” Then she turned away, picked up the head and walked off.  She was quick to wrap the head up and put it in her travel pack to avoid further attention from the locals.

The Magistrates the traders called showed up late, after Iwemara had left, so asked around for witness reports and testimony on what occurred.  Iwemara walked straight out of the gates of Kalani’s Landing.  Sairento stayed to give testimony to the magistrates. He told them that the Fudo monk was “Attacking this poor defenceless girl.” Even though he was technically ronin, they took his testimony over the traders as he was still a Samurai. Sairento embellished to explain why the monk was so battered “And then two burly men appeared out of an alleyway and kicked the shit out of him.  They looked like Forest Killers. They ran off in the direction of” and he waved in the general direction of the recruitment bar.  The magistrates thanked him for his testimony and headed in the direction Sairento showed them.

 

Back in Camp, a Matsu scout put his head into the command tent.  “My lord, we have a situation.  There is a man on the outskirts of the camp wielding the Tao of Shinsei.  He does not look like a monk, and he is not moving at our requests.”  From the expression on the man’s face, Toshinou could tell the stranger must have been quite charismatic, as the scout didn’t appear to want to move the man on. Himaru had nothing to say, so remained silent.

 

As Iwemara and Sairento headed towards the camp, Sairento a little behind Iwemara, they saw this man. He was sitting in the lotus position, and there were many Lion and Seppun guards around him, asking questions near some overgrowth.

An arrow came flying from the jungle and hit a Seppun guard.  He keeled over bleeding out rapidly from the neck wound and clawed at his neck.  They heard a roar as 15 Mantis scouts came out kama out charging the Matsu and Seppun. Iwemara immediately sped up to go and aid them in the skirmish as the head was safely stowed in her travelling pack now. Sairento sped up to catch them up too.

Iwemara pulled out her bow, and used her Fudo gifts of Passion and Hatred as she ran, quickly stringing the bow she carried and shot an arrow. It found a chink in the Mantis Bushi who appeared to be in charge’s armour doing some decent damage to his thigh. Sairento disappeared into the trees unnoticed by anyone.  The Mantis leader gashed one of the Seppun.  The other Seppun did very well against the Mantis. Iwemara shot the Leader again after a quick re load and really badly wounded him finding a chink in the neck area.

Nirav took out his tsubute stones and also picked the leader as his target. He threw a pebble at their head and hit his face hard enough to break his nose.  The unexpected shock knocked him to the ground unconcious. The leader down, leadership of the group began to fall apart, and the Mantis started to run.  Sairento, the Seppun and Matsu guards persued the Mantis into the forest. On the ground around the strange man in black were two dead Seppun, some dead Mantis and the unconscious Mantis leader.  The man in black had observed everything that had occurred.  He stood up once the guards had hared off into the forest, and looked very sad to Iwemara’s eyes.  There were tears on his face.  He put his hands in the air, and the Seppun who had had an arrow through his throat and had died from the blood loss sat up.  The wound on his throat healed up and he stood up looking very confused.  His companion also woke and rose, his wounds fully healed.

 

From all she had learned from Hida Himaru, this was not quite normal for a Maho Tsukai.  Maho Tsukai used blood when they cast their spells, and the dead then came back as zombies, with all of their injuries still intact.  What the man in black had done, required no blood, and the men were clearly not zombies. Their injuries were all healed. Iwemara approached with caution, with sword drawn, just in case she needed to use it.

The two Seppun looked at each other.

The man in black smiled and tiled his head to one side.  “There, isn’t that better?”  Then he sat in the lotus position once more and continued to read the Tao.

The Seppun looked confused. Iwemara explained everything she witnessed.  They looked very concerned  almost frightened, but mostly disbelieving.  “I do not lie to you. The Mantis fled into the forest. The rest are as you see.” She said pointing out the other bodies.

“Into the forest!” The Seppun cried, latching onto something they could understand.  They ran into the forest after their comrades.

 

 

Iwemara was left alone with the stranger reading his book.  He looked very relaxed and was very handsome, something that was not lost on Iwemara.  He had very striking looks with jet black hair and very pale skin. He was of medium size, so still taller than her when stood.  She felt something of a sense of awe to be in his presence.  He was very important looking, though she had no idea who he was, and for the first time in her life, her school skills fail to read anything beyond what she saw in front of her.  She went and sat near him, placing her sword carefully within reach but not where it suggested that she was threatening him. He looked up, smiled and spoke to her.  His voice was powerful but effete enough to be socially acceptable in any walk of life.  “You remind me of somebody.” He said.  “Someone close to my brothers and sisters. It is a delight to see you my friend. How have you been? Has this realm been treating you fairly?”

“There is a lot of chaos at the moment but I am well.” Iwemara said, a little bemused.

“Chaos. You are incredibly chaotic my friend. You gave my father a lot of trouble in the day.” The man said enigmatically.

“May I ask who you are?”

“Who I am?”

“Yes.”

“I am rather fuzzy in that regard my friend.  I can only remember certain details.” He paused thinking “I remember falling, hanging onto the celestial plain, and then falling but then everything goes fuzzy. I remember thunder, the sacrifice of 14 mortals, and guilt.  Much, much guilt, and a little monk whose very voice made my ears ring.”

“Would the monk be called Fudo by any chance?”  Iwemara asked, thinking he might be talking of him.

“I have never heard that name before, it is unfamiliar, no, this Monk was wise, and an ascetic. He always had a black bird with him.

“Could the monk be called Shinsei?”

“I believe that is what they called him. Where is my sister? Where is Shinjo?” He asked changing tacks “I heard that she is around where all my other brothers and sisters are not. It is strange we should co-exist at the same time when all our other siblings are dead.” He said “She was always the kindest of my siblings.  Always kind to me.”

“I know where she resides.” Iwemara said, wonderingly.  The man was either completely deluded, or…it was possible that he might be one of the kami?  Which Kami she could not tell, but it was a possibility…though a very remote one, and Naleesh would probably be able to tell the truth of the matter.  “I can direct you there.  To the Lady Shinjo.”  They spoke some more, and the more he talked, the more she put small bits and snatches and snippets together from history and myth and what she knew of the history of the Kami’s fall. Her heat sinking she finally asked a leading question “Are you Fu Leng?”

“Fu Leng.  I can’t remember. I don’t think so.  My name starts with something beginning with a G. Uhh…Ggg-goma? It is an interesting name, Fu Leng, but it has nothing to do with me.”

“Perhaps you would wait here for a while.” Iwemara said.

“I am catching up with all the history I have missed. I can’t believe I have been asleep for over 1200 years.” The man said.

Iwemara bowed “I will speak with Toshinobu-sama.”

“I am going to stay here and catch up with the little teachers messages. I would have loved to have met this man.”

Iwemara rose, sheathed her katana and went into the camp. She glanced at the downed Mantis to see that he would not wake before she returned with guards to heal and question his actions before he made the three cuts (or whatever Hiro as his Clan Champion wished).

 

Sairento was concealed behind a tree in the forest. He got as close as he could to the Mantis, and tried to stab one from behind, but miscalculated the distance, and missed. The Seppun caught up and skirmished with the Mantis, and failed to notice Sairento’s presence.  He was proving his clan training worked well.  He went to help one of the Seppun who was struggling with his battle. He stabbed the Mantis through the back of his legs. That hamstrung him and the Seppun hit him simultaneously to this, hitting him even harder; then Sairento attacked again.  He hit him again, throwing the bushi off balance and allowing the Seppun a reprieve to take his head off.  He seemed a bit bemused he didn’t notice Sairento’s presence.  He thanked Sairento, and chased after the other Seppun. The Mantis evaded them, but the Seppun managed to take down another three of the attackers, leaving only three to escape. Sairento returned to his tent. He had some robes to try on…

 

Iwemara made her way to Toshinonbu’s Command tent.  “I regret to report that I was unsuccessful in gaining an audience with Yoritomo Hiromi, or in spreading rumours of Toritomo Hiro’s existence.  I believe Sairento may have been more successful.” She said, in her intial report.

“Indeed.” Toshinobu said, sounding displeased.

“As I was returning to camp, I came across the Seppun guards and a strange man.  I observed an attack on the Seppun and the strange man by the Mantis and aided them.  I left the Seppun to deal with the Mantis that fled, as they seemed most competent to do so.” Toshinobu nodded. She paused, a bemused look on her face, not entirely sure how to word what she has to report.

“Two of your dead Seppun guards were… healed… by the stranger.”

“What do you mean healed?” Toshinobu asked sharply.

“They got up, with no injuries on them.”

“This man is a maho tsukai?”

“I’m not sure…” Iwemara says to Toshinobu.

“Did they seem to be zombie like? Did they try to claw out your eyes?” Himaru asked.

“No. They were confused, and hared off after the Mantis after I explained what I had seen.”

“They spoke and you talked back?” Himaru asked, sounding surprised.

“It gets stranger…” She had a very odd look on her face and considered her words carefully.

“Unless they were possessed by an Oni I do not see how what you describe is possible.” Himaru said

“I do not believe they were…” Iwemara said slowly.  “If it helps, their names are…” she named them “I thought it might be best to…observe them…when they return from the forest.”

“Yes they always did seem like they were undead.” Toshinobu quipped dryly.

“It would require the higher celestial being to bring a man back from death like that.” Toshinobu mused.

“The stranger who…healed…the Seppun claimed that…from what he said…” Iwemara paused again. “I suspect he may be one of the Kami” she said tentatively, fully expecting to be laughed out of the tent.

“One of the Kami?  One of the originalKami?” Toshinobu asked, taking her seriously.  As he seemed to be believing her rather strange tale she gave the whole rundown of what passed between them.

“Anyone could claim to be one of the Kami, but we would be fools to believe all who did.  Until he proves he is indeed that powerful, we should treat him as an interesting enigma.  I certainly don’t want to go up against him right now, if he truly is as powerful as you say.” Toshinobu said.

“He spoke of Lady Shinjo as his sister; I believe sending a message to Moto Naleesh-sama may be useful.” Iwemara suggested.  Toshinobu agreed and sent Iwemara to speak to Sonia, who agreed to speak with her Clan Champion, and immediately saddled up.

“I will have a chat with him maybe later.” Toshinobu said to Himaru.  It was getting towards the very late afternoon early evening by this point. “I will take my dinner first. Any messages from the scouts sent to the Crane?”

“No my lord.” Toshinobu had his meal and went to speak to the young Yoritomo Hiro to discuss the situation.  Hiro didn’t want any harm to happen to the citizens of Kalani’s Landing, as many innocents would die in the process.

 

“If we move first, we are no better than Hiromi.” Toshinobu agreed. “We may be sitting ducks here, but we hold the moral high ground.  We will start doing drills, if they attack us, we will counter attack immediately, but otherwise, we will wait on Hiromi’s actions.”

Hiro agreed this was a good idea, and after wishing the boy a pleasant evening, he returned to his command tent, where Iwemara had returned and was waiting to report.  She gave her report and mentioned the injured Mantis might be able to give more information on the motives of the attack.  i.e. was it an assassination attempt on Hiromi’s part, or was he trying to lure Toshinobu into attacking the city? Guards were sent to pick up the unconscious man.  They soon returned “What injured Mantis?”  They asked Iwemara, confused. “There are no bodies near the man living or dead.”

“How can that be?” She said, and decided to investigate. She returned to where the man who claimed to be a Kami still sat in the lotus position, calmly reading his copy of the Tao.

Toshinobu ordered, as a response to the Mantis attack, that any and all taxes etc that were meant to go into Kalani’s Landing would be diverted to the Legion’s use in the name of the Empress and on behalf of the Mantis Clan Champion.  This meant all the food stuffs, other supplies, as well as all the koku.

Iwemara’s investigation revealed the outlines of where the bodies had lain, along with stains that could only be blood. There were rough scuffs from where the men got up, and walked away back towards Kalani’s Landing.  Iwemara observed all and took copious notes.

The man looked up at her and smiled quite sweetly. “Are you well, child of Togashi?  He was a very interesting brother; I hear he lived far longer than the rest of my siblings.  Quite enigmatic to say the least. What seems to be troubling your soul?”

“The men that were here…” Iwemara said slowly

“Yes, I didn’t recognise them. They didn’t bear the mark of my brothers and sisters.  I have no idea who they were, presumably bandits, but I am not here to second guess. I let them go on their business.”

“But they were dead.” She said, startled. “Well two of them were.” She added.

“You ask me that after you saw what I did with your Seppun guards?” The man said.

“Good point.  I wasn’t quite sure I believed what I saw last time though.”

“Can no mortals do that on your plain?”

“Uh…No.”

“Oh, interesting.”

“Well they can..sort of…but they turn into zombies.”

“Why? Death is a perfect part of the life cycle.”

“Because they can only come back as mindless zombies. It’s considered very evil. The dead should stay dead, their souls should travel on.” Iwemara said, quoting from her student days something one of her Sensei’s had told her and her fellow students.

“Why? They will just end up in Yomi again.  They were not old, they were still young, they probably still have work to do.”

“Very well.” Iwemara said, seeing she was not going to win the argument. “Do you require anything?” She asked out of politeness.

“Some tea would be nice. My sister did bring some culture to this plain.  I have yet to truly sample the delights of the empire.  Some tea would be wonderful.”

“I will return shortly, I apologise if I am not as practiced and smooth in this as others are.”  She went back to her tent to get her personal blend of tea, and her Go board and got the items to do tea ceremony from the mess. She reported what she had found to Toshinobu and told him she was keeping her eye on him/watching him.

When she returned she brewed the tea.  It is quite unskilled and though she does not spill any it is not in any way the smooth practiced dance her sensei had shown her it was meant to be while in Crane lands. She did her best however and he made no comment over her clumsiness.  He also noted the Go board, and enquired after it.  “I thought you might like some simple diversion and company to talk of things that may not be covered in the Tao.” Iwemara said, far more practiced in the ways of Etiquette than Tea Ceremony.

“I have never played it before, it would be interesting to learn.” He said, sounding interested.  She explained the rules as she set the small travel board up. He commented that the games were more suited to his more brash brothers, but that he would give it a shot.

 

Despite having never played before, he picked the game up remarkably quickly.  At first as he got used to the game, he made a few wrong moves, but then he got the hang of it and started annihilating her.  Throughout the discourse he followed all of the social mores of someone of his status.

“That was a well played game.” Iwemara said, having learned several innovative and quite frankly – to her mind at least – genius moves that she would never have thought of.

“Indeed you played very well.  Like I said I don’t hold a candle to my brothers Hida or Akodo, you will have to settle for my tactical head.”

“Your tactics are far in advance of my own.”

“Thank you, I was just doing what comes naturally to my mind.  It is so strange. I have a lot of catching up to do.  I have only been awake for about 20 years or so.”

“I am also about that age.”

“No. I am about 1200 years old. I have only been awake these past 20 years.”

“I’m 1241 years old, though technically I have lived for thousands of years beforehand in the Celestial Court.”

“You don’t look a day over twenty.” Iwemara said blandly.

“You do surprise me my friend.  You seemed to be very good at games when you were younger.” The man says.

“In what way?” Iwemara asked, confused.

“You always used to hang around Shiba and Togashi. Bayushi was a little affronted and so was Hida.” Iwemara was a bit confused at what he was saying, and didn’t understand at all.  “When you wanted to change your name, you changed. You had a different name my father gave you before…defender of hak..fu or something.”

Now Iwemara was completely at sea.

“I’m sorry my friend, I don’t remember the exact name. You used to be one of my favourite Celestial beings.”

“I…still don’t understand…do you have a name I can call you by?” Iwemara asked. “It seems rude to just call you ‘you’.”  He didn’t replay, merely began to meditate, and continued to meditate for quite some time. Iwemara meditated with him. It lasts all night.

 

Hida Himaru watched Iwemara and the strange man, observing and staying on the sidelines.  It all appeared mundane, playing go, drinking tea, chatting and meditating.  He decided to remain however and was thoroughly bored watching them both, but remained at his self imposed duty.

 

In the morning the man opened his eyes. “Ah I have remembered.  You may call me Gotsu…I believe that is my name.  I’m not completely sure. There’s another name at the back of my mind. But I can’t quite put my finger on it for some reason.”

“Gotsu. Very well.” She put the Dai and the Gotsu together very quickly like Dai and Doji were paired, and came to the logical conclusion.  “A message has been sent to the Lady Naleesh who is the Lady Shinjo.”

Gotsu, unfamiliar with the name began to question Iwemara on Shinjo’s name, and the connection with the Lady Naleesh – was she another Kami? Who were the Moto?” Iwemara explained as best she could about the Unicorn returning to Rokugan, and how Naleesh had only recently discovered that she was the Lady Shinjo reborn.

“Ah so Shinjo did return from her trip. Intriguing. I did wonder…”

“I can update you on our history, as poor as my knowledge of it is.” Iwemara offered.  They continued talking, Iwemara still thoroughly confusedas to why Gots thought she was an old friend from the celestial court, and Gotsu politely enquiring about things Iwemara couldn’t explain or understand.

“I don’t understand child of Togashi.” He finally said, changing the line of enquiry.  “What is your name?”

“Iwemara.”

“Togashi Iwemara.”

“Kitsuki Iwemara.”

“I’m sorry. I am not familiar with that name.”  Iwemara explained as much as she could about Togashi, his followers and the families that looked to him.

“Your companion is a son of Hida” He said when she finished, indicating Himaru.  “His stance is reminiscent of my older brother.  I never got on well with him, he was always too gruff. It seems his sons and daughters take after him. He may join us if he wishes.”  Iwemaara nodded, and went to make the offer to him.

“I am happy to observe for now.” Himaru told her.  Iwemara bowed and returned to Gotsu.

“He wishes to observe.”

Gotsu nodded. “Whatever became of the Hida family? What did Hantei ask them to do?” Iwemara explained as best she could about the constant threat of the Shadowlands that the Crab had spent centuries defending Rokugan from. “Fighting against what? And where did these creatures of darkness come from?” He asked.

“A festering pit.”

“A festering pit, that is interesting.  A festering pit. Wow.”

Iwemara used the name Fu Leng, not openly wanting to tie Gotsu directly to the Shadowlands as she suspected he might be.

 

“The limitations of a mortals mind is distinct. I have never had a brother or sister called Fu Leng.”

“That is what our histories call him.” Iwemara says.

“Your histories must be incorrect my friend.  And you know that my friend you were with us at celestial court.  There were my nine brothers and sisters.”

“I have never been blessed with being invited to celestial court.” Iwemara said.

“You were always the rouser of your brothers and sisters at court.  They got quite worried about you at one point.  Tell me have you been in contact with them since?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Granted the Thunder dragon a beautiful being and probably hasn’t time for that. But the Earth and Fire dragons should have…” Iwemara’s eyes widened as understanding slowly began to filter through. “But never mind.”

“Are you thinking I am Pan ku?” She asked slowly

“You are speaking to me, you are Pan Ku.  Every element of you is Pan Ku. Your mortal form is apparently of a Kitsuki woman.  I don’t know what that is about, but I can see you coiled inside of your host. Don’t play games my friend…but then you always played games at celestial court…”

-Fudo?-Iwemara asked hesitantly.

There was a resounding silence before a silky smooth voice entered her head. -That was rather fun… Was it not? Tell my gifts were at least original-

Iwemara was shocked at the revelation that ‘Fudo’ had been Pan Ku all the time. Her face reflected it, and she responded very brusquely.

-They have been useful. Why have you done this to me? Am I still myself? Of am I lost as you claimed Shibatsu is?-  The voice ignored the questions, and instead issued an order.-Now I want you to burn those pieces of Fudo…. Destroy them utterly and I may leave you alone-

She could feel the dragon building his force of willpower against her to force her to do as it wished, and she fought against it with her entire being, or whatever she was right then.  She was apparently successful, as the voice went silent, and her will, as far as she could tell was her own once more.

 

Hida Himaru heard the entire conversation, and then Iwemara talking to herself.  He backed away slightly and headed for the command tent.

Notes of Isawa Korimi – continued

 

 

That afternoon the army came within sight of Kalani’s Landing.  The breeze blowing from the coast smelt salty and of the sea. Iwemara had never seen Kalani’s Landing before, and was impressed with its size, comparable with the Second City itself.  There was a lot of activity near and in the port and harbour that they could see from their vantage point.  It looked like the Mantis were preparing for war – the harbour was full of ships, there were more ships being built along the strand, and woodland had been cleared way back from the city to accomplish this.

 

Toshinobu decided to set the army to encampment outside the city, and invited the Mantis Storm Legion to raise the banner of the Mantis Clan Champion – Yoritomo’s personal mon – next to the banner of the eighth legion.  He then waited to see what Hiromi would do.

Shortly after the camp was made, a party of Mantis Bushi arrived at the camp entrance demanding to speak with the commander.  The Seppun that reported their presence also added that they were very pissed off. Toshinobu decided to make them wait until hewas ready to see them. While they were cooling their heels, he sent a Seppun guard to fetch Unmei, young Hiro and the Storm Legionnaires and invited them to the audience tent before the other Mantis and appraised them of the situation.  He then sent the Seppun back to invite the Mantis bushi in.  Two Mantis bushi entered, and aw Unmei in the tent.  They stopped, then looked at Toshinobu.

 

“Noble samurai what business do you have in Kalani’s Landing?” They did not bow, and showed only the barest civility to Toshinobu.

“My business is my own.” He replied.

The bushi nodded, and one of them spoke. “I have a message from Hiromi-sama.  The presence of your army is disconcerting.  That you also bear the Yoritomo Mon is as intriguing as it is insulting.”  He then caught sight of Hiro.  “Who is that? Why s he wearing the armour of Yoritomo?” He demanded, hand on his katana. The other guards in the tent prepared theirs too.

“I will defer to Unmei to answer that question.” Toshinobu said, bowing slightly to the old man.

“This is Yoritomo Hiro, true Clan Champion of the Mantis” Unmei told the Bushi.

The one that hadn’t as yet spoken spat on the ground.  “Excuse me. The Mantis Clan Champion is Hiromi. Who is this gaijin filth?” before Toshinobu came up very close and personal to him in a very threatening manner, the Seppun Guards and Himaru ready to draw their swords at a seconds notice.

“I will explain something you may not be aware of.  As Commander of the 8thLegion I expect better etiquette from you Samurai. The next bodily fluid you will see will be your blood if you do anything like that in my presence again.”

“I do not accept  him…“ the Mantis pointed disdainfully at the boy. “As the Clan Champion.”

 

“However the Empress does.” Toshinobu said in a dangerously smooth voice. “Are you someone who has the authority to decree such?”

“I will speak to Hiromi here, he will have to accept the truth when he does.”

“You don’t have the authority to summon him.”

“Yes he does” Iwemara said.

“He will do so on my orders.” Toshinobu said firmly. “I take orders only from the Empress and Imperial Champion.  They aren’t here.”

“I’m afraid you will be waiting a long time.”

“Go tell your master, report back if you wish.  You are dismissed.” Toshinobu said regally.  The Mantis Bushi walked off in a huff.

 

Toshinobu turned to Unmei “This will not go easily. Knowledge of the change in leadership will attract members of your clan, but possibly not enough to sway things.”

“There is one test that could establish legitimacy of my friend’s right to rule.” Unmei told Toshinobu. “A nemurani.  Currently in the possession of Hiromi.”

“He won’t give it up.” Toshinobu predicted.

“No, but if he tries to use it, it won’t work.” Unmei sayid.

Toshinobu requested volunteers to infiltrate Kalani’s Landing to spread rumours of the ‘true’ clan champion starting a propaganda war. “If we spread the truth that you are here, we can force Hiromi to prove his leadership, which would bring things to a peaceful end. If not, the matter can only be resolved in bloodshed.” He said to the young Clan Champion and Unmei.  Iwemara and Sairento volunteered.  Iwmara had a legitimate reason to enter Kalani’s Landing as a magistrate, and Sairento could pose as someone in her employ.  She and Sairento walked through the main gates un opposed.

 

As they entered, one of the Mantis saw Sairento, and didn’t appear to connect him to his proximity to a Kitsuki Magistrate who had also just entered through the gates, and approached “Ah! another wave man, brilliant. Go down the street, sake house “The Son of the Storms”.  We are conscripting ronin for a great manner of adventure and wanders. Please, you must go and have a look.” He said.  Sairento turned to Iwemara a warning look indicating she should ‘play along’ on his face.

 

“Well if he’s offering more money than you are, I’m going to have to take it” He winked at her.

Accepting Sairento’s cues and lead, she responded appropriately “You ronin you are all the same. You always go to the highest bidder” She said sounding peevish and irritated, an amused twinkle in her eyes

“I think I will.” He said, turning his back on her deliberately and waking in the direction the Mantis pointed.

“Well don’t expect to come back into my employ afterwards!” She called after him and storms away a look of mock ferocity on her face.

 

Sairento left Iwemara and went to explore.  He found himself neat the port.  He approaches a sake tavern on the port side.  It was very loud, with lots of howling and laughing sounds coming from inside as he approached and had many rough looking ronin that were scarred with the wounds of their fights in and around the building.  There were drunks in the street on their backs, sipping out of bottles.  Sairento noticed a Yoritomo bushi handing out pieces of transcript and acting as a cryer. “The Crane fleet is on the move.  Yoritomo Hiromi is offering a considerable reward for those that will join his fleet.  Apply to the conscriptor within for more information.  A large group of passing Forest Killers thought aligning with Hiromi was a great idea and entered the tavern.

Sairento approached and chatted with one as they entered.  He pretended that he had bumped into them before and that they were a pleasure to work with.  “What brings you into Kalani’s landing?”

“We have come from along coast, and saw the Crane fleet.  There will be rich pickings so why on earth stay in Kalani territory when other armies are elsewhere?”

“A valid point.” Sairento remarked as he entered the tavern, and left the conversation there.  When he entered it was a typical rough and rowdy sailor’s tavern.  Everyone had the same social level as the ashigaru, but were treated well above their social level by the Mantis samurai due to the nature of sailing and how close the samurai and sailors had to work while on ship.  He saw a man wearing rough green robes, covered in sake stains, though his blade looked like something a Crane would wield.  Sairento made a comment under his breath, but the man heard and confronted him.

“Who are you? You are new. Show me your stance young boy. You look barely old enough to have hair on your balls.” The man stood with difficulty and swayed there, hiccoughing and smelling strongly of stale sake.

“You’re barely sober enough to stand up straight.” Sairento said, refusing.

“You obviously don’t know my clan very well boy.  Show me your stance boy you look like you can duel.”  He paused an peered at Sairento briefly.  “You don’t have the look of a ronin.  Who are you?” Some men at the bar looked over at the words.

Sairento introduced himself as Loretsu.

“That’s an interesting name samurai, but it’s not your true name.” the ronin samurai said.  “Now show me your stance before I lose patience.” He looked and sounded impatient too, and it was drawing more attention from customers in the sake house. ‘Loretsu’ showed him his stance and the ronin laughed at him. “That’s incredibly sloppy young samurai. Lower your back, straighten your hands. Duel like you mean it!”

“I am on a Musha Shugyo, I am here to learn.”

“You have muchto learn apparently.”  The ronin got up, drew his blade in a perfect arc, and cut the table in half with little or no effort.  People slopped their drinks and looked pissed off by what he’d done.  The way he stood and his stance suggested he was in a totally abstract mind state and acted without thinking, he didn’t look like he’d been drinking while his blade was in his hands though.  He re-sheathed the blade then fell over apparently drunk again. “Now THAT’S a stance!  Now be a good student and fetch me a drink.”

“Who am I fetching for?”

“From one ronin to another, don’t ask too many questions, now go fetch a drink.”

Sairento/ Loretsu went over to the bar.  There was a recruiter there and they got talking.

“I hear you are hiring men to fight against the Crane?”

“Indeed I am, take a seat.” The man said, gesturing to one.

“Join Hiromi’s Legion, and you will have 2 square meals of rice and fish and 11bu a day. Already we have an alliance of Forest Killers signed up. What ronin organisation do you represent my friend?”

“I represent myself.”

“Do you indeed.” The man said with a raised eyebrow. “Sorry that’s 6 bu a day then.”

“You are offering 6 bu to fight against the Crane?”

“They are steady fees, better than most wave men can get.” He told Sairento.

“Well my current employer is paying 10 bu a day and I get three meals, so why should I fight for you?”

“For the glory of fighting against those that have spat in your face, and trampled over your honour and dignity your whole life.  The Mantis are better than the other great clans on top of the fee we offer respect.”

“Where would this fighting be? Where are you going?”

“We intend to bring the fighting to the Crane port town the Eyrie. They have lost all connection to Twin Forks and think we are responsible. We have let them think we are, even though we are not. If they think they have lost that too, they lose all foot hold in the Ivory Kingdoms.”

“That sounds like a fine plan! I shall tell my current employer I’m leaving her, and will be back shortly.”  Sairento got the drunk samurai his drink, and then left.

 

 

 

 

 

Notes of Isawa Korimi, Imperial Archivist.

 

 

Once she was far enough away from the Mantis and Sairento, Iwemara allowed her look of fury to fade into an amused grin, slowed her pace to an amble and had a good look around where she was.  She wouldn’t want to do that often, it was a bit deceitful, but it had been fun play acting that way.  She hoped she had been convincing.  The streets were alive with trade, and she saw many interesting and incomprehensible articles being bought, sold and traded among the stalls that lined the main road. Soon after she entered the city she noticed she was being trailed by a young man dressed in Mantis green, a wasp mon on the shoulder and with a rather lovely straw hat that slightly obscuring his face.

 

She turned around and greeted him after a suitable period of walking.

 

He looked quite stoic, and coughed slightly “It’s dangerous to walk these streets alone fellow magistrate, I presume you are a member of that rather impressive looking Legion outside….may I ask what you are doing at Kalanni’s Landing? I was not made aware of new magistrates attending our beloved port.”

 

“I travelled with them from the Second City, yes” Iwemara said, nodding respectfully.  “My superiors have set me the task of locating the Governess of the Ivory Kingdoms, as the Second City is in some disarray, and requires its appointed head.  Rumour has it she is in this port town.  It was only rumour, but I have precious little else to go on.” she smiled and shrugged implying no insult was meant to the Mantis.

 

“Ah, The mystery regarding Suikihime Sama… well… I’m afraid she has not been in the city for quite some time… then again she may be. I have deliberately turned a blind eye to my Clan Champion’s actions since his political conquest of the Second City. Alas my clan’s founder swore an oath to Yoritomo over two hundred years ago that we would remain loyal to the cause of independence and Yoritomo…a shame it has come to this…I shouldbe arresting you right now but destiny I feel is pulling me in another direction…. besides…something about you… seems so familiar… yet not… what path do you walk my lady?

 

-HE HAS MY HEAD!-Fudo said loudly in her own.

 

 

“I was hoping to gain an audience with Yoritomo Hiromi in the hopes he knew where she was currently located.”  She tilted her head, paused, considering, and looking at the Mantis with assessing eyes.

 

“Hiromi-sama is taking court at the moment… I could announce you if you wish? Good Luck little Kitsuki the years have done nothing to calm my Lords temper… The growing storm indeed…quite an appropriate title.”

 

“I walk my own path, but I am guided by the teachings of one who is not welcome in the Second City right now.  It may interest you to know that many of the Mantis Storm Legionnaires, and the Moshi priestesses look to a new Clan Champion now, one that they claim is the trueClan Champion of the Mantis.”

 

She discerned that this man meant well and was incredibly devoted to the principles of the Mantis although his like of Hiromi was wavering if not already non-existent. He seemed like a good man although his clan did not have the best reputation at the moment. He smelt faintly of incense, so spent a vast amount of time in a temple of some sort. Quite pious from a member of clan that were apparently mealy pirates.

 

“I thought you did… so do I my lady. We have a temple dedicated to the path of the individual in this city… and that does interest me a great deal! Hiromi claimed that the storm legion were sent back home to guard the Isles of Silk and Spice… very odd considering their roles as body guards to the Clan Champion. Who is this person I wonder? Is there any other evidence to support his claims?”

 

“He and the Storm Legionnaires travel with the VIIIth Legion, if you wish to meet him,  He’s a nice boy, though oddly accoutred.” She described him to the magistrate – “When I return to the Legion, I can introduce you if you wish to learn more for yourself. And…I would be very interested in attending the temple at a convenient time…perhaps before I brave the storm of Hiromi’s temper.  I don’t imagine my quest will make it any better.”

 

“Mmmmmm… half Gaijin… but who was his father? or mother for that matter. I shall be very interested in meeting with this boy indeed…we have much to discuss if his claims are true and the Mantis may have direction once more. Of course you may attend our temple whenever you prefer… it is kept quite tidy by three Fudo acolytes that guard it.”

 

“Shall we go now? It has been too dangerous to approach the Second City temple for some time.”

 

“Of course, follow me…”  He took her down a few side streets and she got a few peculiar looks from some local merchants, he then knocked on a door of a rather innocent looking building. A portly monk answered the door. He explained that she would like to see the temple. The monk nodded and showed them in. Immediately the inside, the place looked nothing like its external image… where she expected wood she saw stone and a pathway that lead underground.

Iwemara kept a bland face for the merchants, nodded to the acolyte, and followed.  The smell of rich incense filled her lungs and she noticed many torches leading the way down, etchings of the kami and dragons were engraved into the stone.

 

The monk he lead her down into the belly of the earth, her ears started to pop as she noticed she must have been descending the stairs for nearly 10 minutes…eventually the stairs stopped and a room bigger than the Governors court came into view… the space looked endless and the torches barley scraped the surface and illuminated the darkness of the room. At the end however, she could make out a perfectly preserved and very very large statue of Fudo himself wielding a mighty flaming sword and grim expression on his face. At his feet close to the size of one of his big toes was a lovely crafted wooden box.

 

-Impressive. How do you suggest I acquire your head for you?-She asked as she approached the statue.

-Indeed. I do inspire many great artisans. Simply take it. It is mine after all-He told her

 

She bowed respectfully to the statue, and opened the box.  There as expected was the Head of Fudo himself…. Stern faced and angry looking his head appeared to have been severed at one time or another. It was twice the size of a normal head and had tinges of blue in his skin tone.

 

The Monks screamed at her “What is she doing? She is a blasphemer! A heretic of the true path!”  The Mantis magistrate that had brought her here looked at her concerned… and confused…

 

“I am no heretic or blasphemer” Iwemara said evenly.

 

Iwemara made a rousing speech about how she’d had a vision from Fudo himself at his great temple in the jungle and that he had shown her her true path, the path that led to saving the Second City and its occupants from the mad dragon Pan Ku and how she required the sacred and most holy artefacts that Fudo himself left for the faithful to guard and protect until the time came for their use.  The monksignored the speech, and the Mantis magistrate stood in front of her, protectively.  He looked quite concerned, and the monks looked very aggressive.  They would not budge from their stance.

“I do not have time for this.  I am on a mission.”  Iwemara took Fudo’s head from its box, and marched determinedly towards the entrance. The Mantis magistrate stood between her and the Monks and covered the door as Iwemara made her escape.  The Monks shouted and called after her, and Iwemara heard the clash of steel and the sound of a fight, and began to run, as her hands were fully occupied with holding the huge head.  As she dashed through the passageway and onto the streets, she heard one pair of footsteps behind her in the hallway.

 

On leaving the tavern Sairento looked for a market.  It was not very difficult as Kalani’s Landing was (and still is) one of the biggest trading areas in the Ivory Kingdoms.  He was interested in acquiring Mantis robes, and easily found a tailor nearby.  He started up a conversation with the tailor as he looked over them man’s wares. He told the Yoritomo trader that he needed robes fast, as his Lord had an important meeting and had spilt sake down his robes.  The trader brightened and nodded pulling out a lovely Kimono outfit made of the finest silks.  “This outfit will be 2 Koku” he stated.

Sairento tried to talk him down, saying he only needed a robe for a single wearing, but he had no real knowledge of matters of commerce and made a hash of it. The trader tempted him with a smooth spiel, saying it’s a very fine, exquisite product “…and that at threekoku it was a bargain product.”

Sairento thought this wasa bargain after the spiel, despite the fact that the price had not only risen but Kimono’s normally cost less than a koku and bought.  Sairento took the package from the trader, neatly wrapped and tied with string, and thanked the merchant gracefully, saying his ‘master’ would be pleased, and he wandered off looking for Iwemara.  He was heading towards the Mantis court, since he knew that was where she had intended to go when he heard a scuffle in a side street and decided to investigate.  He saw at a distance Iwemara running full out, and being chased by a monk.  Her arms were filled with something that was obscured by her Kimono robes.

Notes of Isawa Korimi – continued

 

The young Mantis was now wearing some very interesting armour. The helmet looked Mantis, and the armour was a direct replication of what Yoritomo wore in the clan war as far as Iwemara could tell.  The helmet was a signature piece of his with the Mantis mandibles.  He had the Kama in his saya still and the Storm Legionnares followed him as well as Moshi priestesses and the very old man she had seen before. She tried to approach.

“Back away, noble samurai, this is the Clan Champion here.  e are the Storm Legion and his personal yojimbo, please do not get in his way.”

Iwemara bowed. “I wish to speak with the Mantis Clan Champion” She said, standing her ground. With firm politeness she stated she had been sent as an emissary from General Toshinobu-sama of the Eighth Imperial Legion, and that he was interested in meeting up with the new clan champion, possibly allying with him if he was amenable.

 

“I will allow that. You may speak with Yoritomo Hiro.  Keep it as quick as possible. Your friends must wait here.”  Iwemara nodded to her men who had all re assembled.  The Seppun looked quite uncomfortable at the situation, but stood to attention waiting for her.  The Storm Legionnaire led Iwemara to the centre of the entourage.  She saw the Clan Champion more closely now.  He was very gangly, still only a boy really, though he wore the impressive armour she earlier noted that denoted his station. She was pretty sure that the Asahina or Kaiu made the armour he wore, and it fit him very well.

He nodded to her and greeted her very warmly. “Noble samurai what brings you here?”  Iwemara explained her mission, mentioning the possibility that the Legion might possibly aid in the taking of Kalani’s Landing if it came to a conflict, though this was a point of last resort.

“I find myself in a world I never thought possible.” He said, “Your friend and leader sounds interesting to say least.  My friend Unmei here has been explaining what I should be doing.  I need to help my brothers and sisters here.  My Gaijin brothers should benefit from my elevation.”

“With the recent actions of Yoritomo Hiromi, the throne no longer sees him as an ally.  The Empress would be much happier with the trueClan Champion in charge. To show his true allegiance to the throne, on hearing of your existence, Toshinobu plans to give you his Imperial Sanction as Clan Champion until such time as it can be confirmed by the Empress herself.”

Unmei took all of this in, and then spoke up. “Greetings young Kitsuki-san, may I speak with my young charge?”

“Of course.” Iwemars said, bowing with respect to the man who was obviously the young man’s sensei and advisor.  He took the boy aside and they whispered for some time.  The boy then straightened up looking taller, prouder.  He returned to Iwemara.

“Very well.  I will be pleased to speak with your Lord and General. Battle plans need to be arranged.  When would be a good time to appear?”

“As soon as possible, while I would not wish to interrupt any of your important plans.  The Legion plans to move within the next day or so.”

“Then I shall summon my Mantis Comrades, and come to your camp.  I am looking forward to meeting your lord.”  Iwemara thanked him, bowed deeply, treating him with the utmost respect and returned to her scouts.  The Seppun was much happier when she was back among them.  She briefly debated speaking with Tamori Kanto but decided it was far too risky, and their mission had been completed. They returned the way they had come so they could leave.  They saw more investigators and Steel Magistrates in the Temple District, but for some reason they were more interested in a murder that had lately occurred.  One of the Steel Magistrates was screaming for a shugenja to come to see what was going on, and what happened.  The made it to the tunnel, and passed through undetected. Iwemara was absolutely fuming again after having gotten a second sight of Mirumoto Joben’s head on the pike outside the Dragon Embassy.

 

Sairento was put to work helping the scouts while this was going on.  He was not in charge, Toshinobu did not trust him enough for that; he had a Seppun commander over him. Saireto talked with the Seppun who accepted him as his general had told to do so and out of respect for his Musha Shugyo pilgrimage.  He overheard the conversation with Toshinobu about the Gaijin scouts and Toshinobu’s order to approach them, and kill them if they run away.  He offered to accompany them, it was only over a ridge, not too far from camp to investigate.

They came across two young gaijin men, who did not run. They stepped forward.  “In the name of Iweko the First, Daughter of Heaven, Champion of Ningen-do, who goes there?” The Seppun demanded.

“We are envoys of Mala Singh. Your interesting stance in the current political climate is intriguing. Mala Singh wishes an audience with your Lord.  He has not totally mobilised his people out of the city, he but intends to do so, I can send my lord a message if your lord will see him.”

The Seppun return3e to the others who watched the gaijin.  He told Sairento to take the message to Toshinobu.

“Toshinobu-sama yes.” Sairento nodded and walked in the direction of the tent. He requested entrance of the guards, who allowed him to pass him after a few moments speaking with Toshinobu.

“You are making more friends Toshinobu-sama.  Mala Singh requests an audience with you.”

“What does he want? Does he want me to go to him?  I’m happy to receive him here, but I’m not going back into the city.” Toshinobu said.

“He implied he was coming here.”

“I have no problem with that.  Depending on the success of Iwemara’s mission, we may be marching on Kalani’s Landing however, so he will have to be quick.” Toshinobu said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iwemara returned to the camp, thanked the scouts and dismissed them, and making a beeline for the command tent.  She was shown in immediately when the guards saw the look on her face.  She noticed the new member in the commanders tent and automatically assessed him with her school skills.  He seemed quite smug and cocky, very sure of himself, yet also fuming with a cold anger.  She saw he is on a warrior;s pilgrimage, and could narrow down his affiliation to either the Scorpion, Crane or Phoenix clans from his stance, but that is only a hunch, as he was now obviously identified as a ronin.

He smiled and nodded to her, she nodded back.  She then turned her attention to Toshinobu and in as calm a manner possible made her report in full and unadulterated detail.  She didn’t quite succeed in maintaining an even voice when it came to reporting the fate of Mirumoto Joben.  She was still too furious about it having happened at all, let alone in the circumstances as related gleefully by the dead Steel Magistrate.

“I expected the defences.” Toshinobu said when she finally concluded. “Nor am I surprised that the Spider are in charge.  They were already doing it.  That they did it to such a high ranking Dragon member makes it all the more obvious that what we are doing is the right thing.  We are waiting on the Mantis then?”  Iwemara nodded.

A Seppun guard poked her head through the tent just then “A Contingent of Mantis  are approaching My Lord.”

“Let them in” Toshinobu said regally. “We will meet them outside.  Set up a pavilion for me to receive visitors.” Toshinobu ordered the guards. “I don’t want everyone able to just enter my tent thank you very much.”

Toshinobu had a tent set up for meting any further people who did not belong to the legion, as he did not wish them to see the paperwork and maps in his command tent.  The Mantis boy was shown there with his bodyguard and mentor. Toshinobu noticed that the boy had a very interesting daisho as well as very ornate jewelled kama that he carried everywhere.

“Mantis-san.” Toshinobu said in greeting.

The boy looked Toshinobu up and down and was quite formal.  He stepped forward. So did the Storm Legion.  “Marvellous camp you have here, and my thanks to your scout who braved her life in the city to find me.  I have been thinking on it myself, and believe that I need to go to Kalani’s Landing.  Your scout said you might be traveling in that direction.”

“What, you mean to go to Kalani’s landing?”  Toshinobu asked.

“Only with support.” The boy replied.

“There are many goals I wish to accomplish.  The Divine Empress sent me to investigate the city and colonies, and bring order to chaos. Hiromi leading your clan was of great concern to her especially the conflict he escalated between the Mantis and Crane.  It is one of the things I came here to try and resolve.  With your assistance this may be an easier task.”

“Hiromi has fallen into madness my lord, this is the true champion. Kalanis people will flock to his banner when they discover the truth.” Unmei said.  “They were not to know of Pan-Ku’s influence in the Ivory Kingdoms”

“No one knew, so there will be no repercussions brought against the clan as a whole” Toshinobu assured Unmei and the young Mantis.  “The Empress merely wishes to bring the clan back into the fold, and back to its rightful status.  I don’t know how solve problem with the Crane as yet.  I have high hopes that you can help.”

The boy looked to Unmei briefly before nodding.

“I hope for peace talks, or at the very least a cease fire. The Empress is keen for her left hand to get back to its rightful duties. What they are doing now is distracting them from the big picture. I can’t guarantee they will see it my way, but I hope they will.” He said.  “The Empress is also keen to find a Mantis Champion she can endorse.”

“If this fails and Shibatsu catches up we will all be executed by dawn” The head of the Storm Legion cautions them all.

“Let us get moving then.” The young Mantis Clan Champion replied.

“Indeed.”  The storm legionnaires bowed, and left to make camp within the camp of the eighth Legion.  The skies over head began to get muggy after they made camp, and the weather appeared to be taking a turn, not in a dramatic way, just slowly and steadily, suggesting rain in the night. The scouts of the eighth legion told Toshinobu that it will take a week of marching to get to Kalani’s Landing.

 

While Toshinobu spoke with the Mantis, Iwemara made the acquaintance of Sairento.

“You seem to be quite angry ronin-san” Iwemara said to Sairento.

“And you seem to be quite nosey, Iwemara san. It is good to see a young Kitsuki following in the family traditions.”

“It is my job to investigate.  And I like to know things.  Do you have a name I can call you by?”

 

“You can call me Sairento. I am on my Musha Shugyo pilgrimage. I am here to give advice to Toshinobo-sama whether he likes it or not.”

She smiled and nodded. “Well met Sairento-san.  My question still holds.  Why are you so angry?”

Now now, Iwemara-san, I’m sure you have more pressing matters to attend to than question me” He smiled sweetly, “Don’t make me try to make you leave me alone.  You might not like the results.”

“Very well Sairento-san. Have your secret. I would not wish to cause disharmony with another of the general’s people.” Iwemara said to him.

 

With only 6 hours left of the day, the army remained in camp for the day and prepared for a first light departure. Sairento set up his tent, and prayed to his ancestor.

The Seppun were amused by the old man.  He kept wandering around, not settling down to camp.  He was very interested in the atmosphere.

 

In the night there was a rattle on Toshinobu’s tent flap to wake him, and a guard entered.  “My Lord! My Lord there’s been an attack in the night.” The guard reported. “The Seppun saw them coming.  We took 18 of the enemy down and lost 20 of our own to them. Toshinobu rose, dressed and went to inspect the scene of battle.  The corpses of the assassins did not go far into the camp, and when they were killed, instead of leaving a body, they had left a sticky black goo on the floor as they melted into nothing.  A Seppun also woke Iwemara, and she hurried to the scene.

Himaru came with Toshinobu and easily identified the remains of the assassins.  They were remnants of the Goju Family.  “We had thought we had wiped them out, but they have appeared here and there along the Wall attacking Crab commanders on wall and Samurai in the empire.  They are usually faceless, and lack a true identity of their own, as they came from the nothingness that was the lying darkness.”  Iwemara came up as he was explaining this to Toshinobu, and found it fascinating.  “The same people controlling the Second City – the clan of corruption, took in the remnants of what these people are when that was finally named and destroyed.” Himaru finished

“That is to be expected. We must take precautions, and I would welcome any advice Himaru-san” Toshinobu said.

“You already have good guard procedures, you always have someone to watch.” He said.  “The best people to see them are your Seppun guard realistically. They are the best at seeing that which wants to be hidden.  I would recommend that there is at least one Seppun guard on duty of protecting others in camp such as the Mantis in case any do slip by.”

“Agreed,” Toshinobu sent one of his Seppun to discuss the arrangement with the Storm Legion, who were happy with the minor alteration to their guards for the greater safety of their Clan Champion.

“The goo does not have any inherent danger but it never harms to burn it.” Himaru continued after the Seppun left to speak with the Mantis Storm Legionnaires.

“I bow to your expertise on that.  See it is done.  We will be leaving this place in the morning.  If it is not solved by then, we will leave it.”  Himaru bowed and went to find oil and a taper to light it.  It was the principle of the thing to him, any sign of corruption – which the goo was – should be burned or destroyed.  Iwemara, since she was up now and awake asked questions to tease out his knowledge of these creatures.  He told her what he told Toshinobu.  When she encouraged him further while assisting him with burning the patches of goo, he regaled her with tales of the things he had done since his Gempukku, hunting rogue maho tsukai and oni that found their way into the Empire.  Tales of the exploits of his hunting crew, and how he came to be the last survivor.

Iwemara in return told him of wanting to follow in Iweko’s footsteps.

“It is good when people’s goals are aligned.  It makes for much greater efficiency and determination.” Himaru said.  They continued chatting, mostly Himaru talking about the shadowlands and Iwemara filing the information away for possible use at a later date. She quickly realised that while Himaru was not smart, and had trouble recalling information. When he remembered something he ended up telling her of something else.  She realised that while he had a lot of knowledge, he couldn’t always work it out the link ups between it the way she could with her deductive mind. So she listened to his meandering stories of life with the Crab and in the shadowlands and learned all kinds shadowlands lore from him.

 

The army spents an uneventful week marching through jungle and glade towards Kalani’s Landing and the coast.  Three to four days in Seppun scouts began to report and the army began to come across the bodies of Mantis riddled with arrows. Only one on the fourth day, four bodies on the fifth, seven to eight on the sixth day and twenty or so on the seventh day of marching.  The scouts did not know what to do, and they brought it to the attention of Yoritomo Hiro and Unmei who said that the Moshi would deal with the burial rites for their fallen clan members.  During the course of the journey, the weather began to get increasingly stormy at night. This posed no problem for the camp, there might have been lots of lightning around it, but didn’t strike the camp ever.  There were some complaints from the Seppun to Toshinobu, but the Mantis seemed happy, and Toshinobu told the Seppun to man up.  Some of the Mantis appeared to be troubled.  This became more obvious on the fifth and sixth days when more and more Mantis corpses were discovered with arrows still in them with high quality plumage in subtle blue and white hints.

 

On the seventh day of marching, the Seppun guards spotted someone in blue samurai amour in the jungle surrounding the path. They reported that they did’t appear to be militant. Toshinobu halted the column and went forward to deal with them.

“Show yourselves samurai” He shouted. A white haired, blue armoured samurai carrying a bow and full fletch of arrows emerged and bows respectfully to Toshinobu.

“I have approached so far, but will approach no farther.  You are bearing the enemies of my clan. I cannot let you pass with them among you without potential action occurring.”

“This is the banner of the Imperial Legion.  We are here on the direct orders of the Empress.  I understand that you have issues of politics with other clans, but unless you wish to go against the empire, I suggest you be a little more accommodating.”

“We are Daidoji, defenders of Doji.  You bear enemies of our Clan among you, including the Storm Legion.  They have no association to the Imperial Legion.  They are not members.”

“Are you implying the Legions do not serve the Empress?”

“They are not conscripted to it, so have no ties to neutrality.”

“I am well aware of that, and do not need reminding.”

“Despite that I must only approach so far.”

“Do you plan to impede or attack any of the members of my group including the storm legions?”

“We have no intention of attacking the Imperial Legion. But we will attack the Storm Legion and will follow our commander’s orders to the death.”

“Would your Lord want to start a battle with the Imperial Legion?”

“You have Hiromi with you.”

“No, we have true Clan Champion Yoritomo Hiro, and are escorting him to Kalani’s landing. Any attack on any of them, and you declare war on the Legion and your safety cannot be guaranteed. And we outnumber you.”

“Very well what message should I take to my lord?”

“I wish to speak to him regarding the conflict between the Mantis and the Crane.  I would have both sides meet.  The Empress wishes for peace.”

“I will see it done. I will allow safe passage for your companions. The details are intriguing at least, and a matter of honour is at stake.”  He bowed and disappeared into the jungle, as did the rest of the blue clad samurai – as reported by Seppun guards who had perceived their hiding places.  The Army continued on its path.