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Personal Sutra – Tategami Akai

 

Entry 1

 

“Following a false light only leads you further into darkness” – The Little Master.

 

Fudo is rampant in the city, the Abbot has a lot to answer for but I cannot simply expose his incompetence; it would damage the Brotherhood and our reputation is already fragile enough. I must find a way to repair the damage myself, a task I am less suited to than others but I must try. I had not wanted to put myself at odds with my fellow brothers but I cannot simply ignore what is happening.

 

“When your numbers are superior you must attack without pause, but when you are outnumbered, you must choose your opportunities carefully to find advantage.” – The Little Master.

 

A quick head count at court tells me how far Fudo has spread. Roughly 40% of the court wears the symbol of this cult. It is apparent that I cannot simply silence Miko and let the fascination with Fudo die down. I am going to have to undermine him at every opportunity and show his lies for what they are.

 

New members of court begin to arrive. The first is the representative to the Elemental Masters. Agasha Sanra was patiently waiting for the Miya herald to announce her so she could meet the Governor. While she waited Miko tried to pounce on her and convert her to Fudo, I made sure he was not unopposed. After Sanra-sama arrived there was another arrival, a Scorpion Bushi, Shosuro Nirav. He immediately joined his fellow Scorpion after presenting himself. Then came Daidoji Kanawan who made an impressive entry. Several birds of paradise preceded him and gave an aerial display announcing him. These new arrivals will soon become very important additions to court I suspect.

 

“It is honourable to be accused by those who deserve to be accused” – The Little Master.

 

Miko attempted to convert Kanawan. During the conversation he openly admitted to his blasphemy and called the Brotherhood fools. He was very skittish about the details of Fudo however even when Kanawan pressed him to tell more. I thought at first that the Crane was being lured in but it soon become apparent he was simply giving Miko enough rope to hang himself,.  I helped with a few pointed questions about Fudo’s interpretation of the Tao. Kanawan remains loyal to the Tao, thank Shinsei.

 

 

The Govenor calls us into a meeting, Miko is invited as well. The Scorpion, Crane and Phoenix arrivals are made into Ivory Magistrates. There has to be some subtle politics involved with these appointments for such new arrivals to be chosen.  Miko and I are made spiritual advisors to the group.

 

“Take away your enemies foundation and you will find he is not as threatening as he once was” – The Little Master.

 

The group soon comes to realise that Fudo is nothing more than a blasphemous cult.  Miko will have little power to sway this group with his obscenities. I am beginning to think this representative of Fudo is unsuited to the task, he has certainly posed little challenge for me to discredit so far, but that may be down to fundamental flaws in the philosophy of Fudo itself rather than his ability to represent it.

 

***

 

Morning brings new light and the preparation for the arrival of the Turquoise Champion Shiba Tomo.

 

“A person overwhelmed still lives, a person dishonoured died long before his heart ceases to beat.” – The Little Master.

 

Kanawan tells me he has found Fudo to be prominent in his clan and he asks me to speak with one of his clan mates to try and bring him back around to the way of the Tao. I agree without hesitation of course.

 

When the Turquoise Champion arrives he speaks to me asking about the symbol of Fudo, that so much of the court is wearing. I am diplomatic and simply offer to give him a full explanation in a private meeting at his earliest opportunity. Then Kakita Akinori a Crane representative came over and embraced Tomo as an old friend, Akinori wears the infinity badge of Fudo and offered to explain it to Tomo in private. I do not know how much damage Akinori can cause, but we have both marked each other and there will be a showdown at some point.

 

As the ceremony comes to a head Tomo reveals his latest piece. There is a shock as the veil falls away. His painting depicts the Scorpion in a bad light, specifically two Scorpion present in this court are depicted in dishonourable activity. Tomo seems surprised and not at the reaction of the crowd but at the painting itself.

 

Not surprisingly the Scorpion depicted challenges Tomo to a duel.

 

 

 

Travel Journal of Agasha Sanra

 

Entry 3 – The Turquoise Champion

 

I attended court this morning to see the arrival of the Turquoise Champion Shiba Tomo. I mingled with the other clans trying to see their view on things. I noticed that court was distinctly lacking in Lion representatives. I wonder if that is linked to the absence of the Ivory Champion? There is certainly somethinggoing on. The Spider tell me they are losing people – they called them Conquerors – and they can only be the tainted ones – on the boarders of their territory. That and an absence of Lion clan members from court suggest some threat or another. I shall have to wait and see if my guesses from what little I know prove true.

 

I was introduced to Shiba Tomo after he arrived and was presented to the court. I spoke with him after he had spoken to the court as a whole and presented him with my poor work as a gift. It was only a pair of chopsticks that I crafted. They were made with cream and red clay mingled together and phoenix carved into the heads. Most gratifyingly he says I have real promise and talent, and that in a few years with practice I could become very skilled. It was a great honour. Of course the Crane artisan’s presentation put my small gift completely in the shade, and it wasa truly wonderful piece.

 

Kakita Akinori a Crane representative came over and embraced Tomo-sama as an old friend and they walked off into the crowded court discussing the Fudo cult, of which Tomo-sama is unfamiliar. In all it was an enlightening day, and was supposed to be topped off with the unveiling of Tomo-sama’s latest piece. I thought it would be a great honour to see his newest work, which he says is his greatest work to date. It was instead a massive shock, even to him. It was undoubtedly a work of great mastery, but it was not in his usual style for it wasn’t a landscape. It wasn’t justa landscape I should say. It was a battle scene with Shiba Tomo himself depicted as a glorious hero, a Scorpion man who was present at court dead at his feet and a Scorpion woman, I believe to be the other Scorpion’s wife and apparently once a lover of Tomo-sama. It is without a doubt a massive insult to the Scorpion and unsurprisingly the Scorpion courtier depicted challenged Tomo-sama to a duel. He accepted of course, and Kakita Akinori offered to be his second. The Scorpion chose the Scorpion Clan champion. If I didn’t think it were a ruse by another clan to weaken both Scorpion AND Phoenix (for Tomo-sama would never commit such stupidity as painting such a piece of artwork and revealing it in front of any Scorpion), I would say someone is out to either kill Tomo-sama by underhanded means or re-ignite the war between our clans.

 

Kaitoko-san is furious at the insult to the Phoenix. She believes it to be a Scorpion plot against the Phoenix, I can’t help but agree with her. She has asked me to house Tomo-sama at the estate of the Elemental Masters for safety, which of course I agreed to.

 

Governor Katsuru asked the monks and my fellow Ivory Magistrates to speak with him in private.  He asked us to investigate what has occurred, and try to keep peace in the city. We agreed of course, though keeping peace between the Phoenix and Scorpion will not be an easy task. Not with the way things stand at the moment. I would not be greatly surprised if fighting breaks out despite our best efforts to keep clan members in control, and I doubt the Scorpion will even attempt restraint.

 

We set a guard on the painting, Akai-san offering the monks of his order and Daigotsu Kudo insisting on matching that number with monks of a Spider sect, which I took no issue with. The more guards the better. There was of course a Dragon observer with the spider monks, and that was quite right too. Kanawan-san goes to the artisan district to find out what he can discover about the painting and any possible artisans capable of altering Tomo-sama’s work.

 

I then returned to the estate with the Shosuro to speak with Tomo-sama and see if he has any idea what might have happened. I do not like that I have to invite the Shosuro onto the estate. One Scorpion around the Elemental Masters grounds is one too many in my opinion, and I have already had to send a ciphered note to mother about certain items the masters have hidden in the rooms he has chosen that I think might be better removed to another location; but I cannot do so without the express permission of an Elemental Master. I can’t get rid of Togo either, however much I would love to. He was raging about Tomo-sama being housed on the estate and I had to remind him it was not his estate to choose who was housed there. I lost my temper with him but I also took great pleasure in reminding him that the estate was not his, it is and always will be the elemental masters property, and he was living here by right of myself being their envoy.  I told him that if Tomo-sama was found dead in the morning, I would hold him personally responsible. My only regret is that I had to do this in front of the Shosuro, and it was quite audible to the entire household. But no matter. He was in a rage, and it had to be said, even as I had to tolerate the presence of the Shosuro as an observer to the questioning of Tomo-sama. It was mostly to make the investigation be seen to be honest and conducted in an honourable way to both the Phoenix and the Scorpion (mostly the Scorpion); he did have some useful questions.

 

Tomo-sama was most helpful in answering our questions, though he was clearly very uncomfortable. I told him that I could guarantee his safety on the grounds of the estate, but not off it given the state of affairs, and that it might be wise to take one of the Shiba guards as an escort if he did chose to leave. It was of course an honour to house him, despite the circumstances, and I assured him that I and my fellow magistrates would to our level best to get to the truth of what had happened to his painting. I saw the Shosuro out, and will try to get Togo to see sense when we go to bed.

 

 

Personal Sutra – Tategami Akai

 

Entry 2

 

“When darkness descends, one must find allies in the shadows.” – The Little Master.

 

The Magistrates begin investigating the paintings origins, at my suggestion they appoint guards on the painting… myself and my fellow Osano-wo monks. The Spider insist on sending a group of monks to help. Nothing eventful happens on guard duty.

 

I meet back with the Magistrates. They have a suspect that could have altered the painting. But we have to fetch him from the monastery.

 

“Following a false light only leads you into darkness.” – The Little Master.

 

The abbot is as obtuse as usual but he eventually brings the suspect out and hands him over to the Magistrates.

 

Then he starts to query my actions to undermine the temple. I call him out on everything he has done wrong in dealing with the Second City, publicly in front of the Magistrates. He kicks me out of the temple as though that’s actually a problem for me.

 

We return to the court with the suspect ready to resolve the situation but the interview is interrupted by the head guardsman bursting in. There is rioting in the city between the Scorpion and Phoenix.

 

 

 

A Small Favour

(As scryed by Isawa Korimi.)

 

Soshi Mai, having seen Nirav arrive in court had been watching him, assessing him.  Finally she decided he was exactlywhat she was looking for and approached him, flirting outrageously and asked him to help her with a small favour.

 

She asked him to get her into the Elemental Masters estate to see Shiba Tomo. Initially Nirav was reluctant, but she was verygood at what she did and Nirav was not immune to her charms. Eventually he agreed to help her.  They arranged a time and place to meet, and in the dark of the night after Nirav had returned from the Elemental Masters estate in his professional capacity as an Ivory Magistrate going to question Shiba Tomo over the painting, he met up with her in totally different, totally black garb.

 

The moment she saw the garb, she knew she’d been exactly right in her assessment.  She hadn’t quite been one hundred percent sure.  Using his skills, they snuck past the Shiba bushi on guard, and climbed over one of the walls into the estate.  Mai rushed into Tomo’s arms, and he embraced her, his face lighting up.

 

At Mai’s request, Nirav returned to the Scorpion Embassy leaving her there, and he was easily able to slip out of the estate again but he could hear as he left, the whispered words, the sound of kissing, and Mai’s breathy moans and could well guess what would be happening that night.  But it was her business, and the clan of secrets kept the secrets of their own. Nirav returned safely to the barracks not far from the Scorpion Embassy without anyone being the wiser to where he had been, and turned in for the night.

 

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Personal Sutra – Tategami Akai

 

Entry 0

 

“While you rest, your enemy practices.” – The Little Master

 

Upon arrival at the Second City I was met with the strangest sights and sounds, the culture here is so different from the mainland. Everything from the dress to the architecture. It will take some getting used to but I will prevail.

 

There was a crowd gathering to hear the words of a monk, from an order I had never encountered before. I later found out that he belonged to the order of Fudo, a false path teaching heresy. The crowd was obviously sympathetic to his cause. There are many who would have avoided the confrontation; not so for those of us who follow Osano-wo. I boldly approached the monk (called Miko) and greeted him peacefully. He asked if I was here to receive the blessing of Fudo. After I got him to explain Fudo to me I decided to rock the foundations of his belief. While I had no illusions that my words would sway him, there were many in the crowd who may have benefitted from my teachings. The fact that this man can spout such garbage to the masses unchallenged is a problem that must be addressed. This is a task I will not shy away from.

 

“Take away your enemy’s foundation and you will find he is not as threatening as he once was.” – The Little Master

 

A trip to court is in order. Public opinion of the Tao must be shaky if the Cult of Fudo is at large. This must be reversed quickly before the colonies are lost to blasphemy. There were many faces at court that I took note of. They will be amongst my most ardent supporters and greatest dissenters as I progress the spread of the Tao.

 

 

 

Travel Journal of Agasha Sanra

 

Entry 2 – Introduction at Court.

 

Today I go to court to formally introduce myself to Ikoma Katsuru, the Governor of the Ivory Kingdoms. The name is familiar to me, though I can’t place from where. I have selected an appropriate gift to present him – a lion in full roar that I crafted before I travelled to the Ivory Kingdoms. I have also dressed most carefully to present the best impression to him and the court. I have chosen to wear my favourite kimono, the one in Phoenix Clan colours and my preferred element fire embroidered into it, so that my robes look like a living flame as I move. Of course mother’s staff will come with me and I will be accompanied by my Yojimbo Kobayashi-san.

 

*****

 

The Ivory Court is in a beautiful building in the middle of the Imperial district that mixes both Rokugani and Ivory Kingdom architecture in a most harmonious way. The interior I saw was even more beautiful after I was permitted to enter by the Lion guarding the entrance. There are trophies (only natural in a court headed by the Lion) and beautiful artefacts and tapestries displaying scenes of native life. I would have loved to have spent more time looking at the tapestries and artefacts.

 

The court itself is spacious and, much like Imperial Court, there are thrones. This one has two, one made of an unusual and exotic wood where the Governor was seated looking heartily bored, and another empty one made entirely of Ivory sat to his right. This must be the seat of the Ivory Champion. I noticed that they were decorating the court for the arrival of an honoured dignitary, which I later learned was the Turquoise Champion.

 

A tall man dressed in the finest of black silks with silver streaks in it stood at the Governors side. I later learned he was Daigotsu Kudo, the Ivory Kingdoms ambassador. He was very rude to me when I approached the Governor. He intercepted me, insulted me in thinking I was coming with a complaint about a ‘tussle’ as he put it between the Scorpion and the Phoenix and didn’t even bow.

 

I know well there are tensions between our clans, tensions my marriage to one of the Bayushi was supposed to help ease. That worked reallywell. But surely he would know those who frequent the court well enough to know that an unfamiliar face is more likely to have recently arrived at court to introduce themselves, rather than come to complain? I could tell that Kobayashi-san was furious on my behalf and irritatingly the Scorpion courtiers were giggling. I ignored them and the insult and announced myself. It was quite satisfying to see Kudo go white as he realised his mistake. He bowed to me then!

 

Governor Ikoma it turns out is an old friend of mothers. They fought together against the Destroyer army, so that’s where I know his name from. Mother had sent word ahead of my arrival too, and he paid me the compliment of telling me I was my mother’s daughter. He seemed quite pleased with my gift too, saying he would show it to the Turquoise Champion when he arrived tomorrow. It will be such an honour to have my work seen by such an amazing artisan. I must find an appropriate gift to present him when he arrives. The introduction to the Governor didn’t last long, his time is precious and he has many duties, so I left him dealing with a contingent of Crab and began mingling with the court.

 

There were two monks attending court today. One, called Miko approached me as I began mingling with the court proclaiming the blessings of Shinsei and someone called Fudo on me. He was quite old and was trying to preach his ‘word of Fudo’ to me in court and get me to visit his Temple. He had the most unusual infinity symbol on his robes and was quite presumptuous, unlike Tategami Akai-san, who was most respectful to myself and the court. I thanked them both for welcoming me and told the monk Miko that while I would be interested to learn more of this ‘Fudo’s’ teachings court was not the place for it. I’ve never heard of this ‘Fudo’ before. I would like to learn more of it before I make my decision on whether it is wise to visit the Temple. Besides, I need to find out how matters stand in these lands before I get involved in anything.

 

A Crane shugenja arrived and presented himself not long after my arrival. His entrance was showy with pretty birds of paradise flying in a beautiful display. His name is Daidoji Kanawan, and like myself Miko tried to interest him in the teachings of this Fudo. It is obvious the shugenja wasn’t interested, indeed he seemed to be rather scandalised by the teachings. I have to admit, the more I learn of them the more blasphemous they sound.  I believe I will stick to the teachings of Shinsei alone.

 

A young Scorpion arrived after that and presented himself to the Governor. His name is Shosuro Nirav. No doubt he will become a minion of my husband. I will have to be wary of him.

 

Governor Katsuru called the monks, Kanawan-san, the Shosuro and myself into a meeting towards the end of the day. It is obvious there are troubles in the Ivory Kingdoms that the Governor does not wish to become well known among the court. The Ivory Champion is away from court and has been for some time it seems, and he needs assistance in keeping the peace in the city and surroundings. As such he has appointed myself, Kanawan-san and the Shosuro as Ivory Magistrates with the monks as spiritual advisors. There has to be some subtle politics involved with these appointments, possibly because we are new to the Ivory Kingdoms we are not yet embroiled in the deep politics and can keep level heads, or see through the politics to the truth that lies behind it. Time will tell. I do not believe Miko was a wise choice to appoint as spiritual advisor, but it is probably also a political appointment if there are many followers of this Fudo Cult in the court. I’m sure the Governor knows what he is doing.

I spoke with Asako Kaitoko before returning to the estate of the Elemental Masters. She is…well was the head of the Phoenix in the city until I arrived and is the head of the Inquisitors. I reassured her that I did not wish to usurp her position as head of the Phoenix in the city because of my status. As I had thought, there are many tensions in the city of which I am unaware and that she is. Hopefully we can achieve a productive working relationship together. She has asked me to ‘keep an eye’ on the honourable Turquoise Champion. They are friends and apparently he has a reputation with the ladies. I will do my best.

Arrival in the Second City

( Compiled from the Diaries of Tategami Akai, The Fudoist monk Miko and the scrying of Isawa Korimi)

 

Akai entered the Second City on foot, taking in the tapestry of bright and exotic colours, interesting sounds, and the hustle and bustle around him.  As a member of the brotherhood he noticed much.  He found it amazing how so many differently aligned Samurai seemed to be coexisting so well in such a unique place. Even the peasant caste was colourful, wearing a variety of Gaijin inspired attire to compensate for the increased temperature of the continent.  He was surprised too to see Samurai acknowledging and making conversation with the peasantry openly and without the ominous tone of authority.  He put it down to the fact that the Second City was so far away from home that some of the tradition and strict regime of the caste system appeared to be waning slightly.

 

He was pleased to hear an individual quoting the Tao at the top of his lungs with a true tone of enlightened strength. The monk had drawn quite a large crowd consisting of both Samurai and peasants who seemed to be hanging on every word of what he was saying. The monk bore a strange symbol of an Order Akai was unfamiliar with on his robes, a twisting ribbon that looped around, crossed itself, and joined itself to make a second loop. As he approached, he saw the symbol stitched on the robes of one or two of the samurai in attendance.  He noted that there were samurai from all but the Dragon clan in attendance too, a curious absence.  As Akai began to pay closer attention to the words of the monk, he also noticed that the words of the Tao the monk was quoting weren’t quite right…in fact they sounded very different to what would be expected, all centred around the idea of enlightenment through the removal of the chains of tradition, dogma and Rokugan’s past and focusing on the future of the Samurai and the lands that lie “beyond”.

 

Despite the crowd the monk noticed Akai’s arrival. His robes were the plain simple ones wore by the brotherhood, and marked him out from the peasant and samurai castes alike. The Monk stopped partway through his oration to greet him.   “Hello there, Friend of the Brotherhood! How goes your path? Here to receive your blessing from Fudo today?”

 

Akai had never heard of ‘Fudo’ during the time at his monastery.  To Akai, that the subject had never come up, meant it couldn’t be important. He approached the monk. “Greetings brother, my name is Tategami Akai. I am new to the city. Who are you? I see you are sharing the Tao which is good, although you have an unusual style.”

 

As the monk approached Akai the crowd started to mutter amongst themselves. A Crane samurai started to look uncomfortable at the sight of the two monks together. The Monk slapped him on the back, and Akai was aware of a strange and not entirely pleasant odour emanating from the monk. “Welcome to the new world my friend!  My name is Miko, one who was once lost, but can now see. I am quoting from the Writings of Fudo; the trueprophet of Shinsei and the Celestial Order.”

 

“The trueprophet of Shinsei? There seems to be some delay in this news being spread to the mainland. There are ships leaving every day. Join me brother and I will take you back to the Imperial Court where you can spread this gospel. I will gather the heads of the temples together to hear your news. Any enlightening developments in the Tao need to be spread as quickly throughout our orders so that we can all benefit from this wisdom. Of course it will need to be verified first, something I am confident you will be able to do. After all it’s not like you are just hiding here in the colonies teaching a false path where the brotherhood is not numerous enough to dispute you.” Akai said in a deadpan tone.

 

The monk Miko started grinning, showing a couple of his teeth were missing, “I’m afraid my new friend Akai that that would be impossible.  I have been sent here from my Order in mainland Rokugan to spread the word of the Fudo’s interpretation of the Tao to the natives of this fair continent to help with their Kharmic path. I’m sure you can understand the pressure of helping to maintain the spiritual balance of the universe. But I would happily walk with you to Ivory Court to discuss the subject with the people and monks therein.” His arm was still wrapped around Akai’s shoulders like he was embracing an old friend…but he wasn’t letting go just yet… Akai noticed the Crane Clan samurai standing barely a few paces away watching them both carefully as the crowd dispersed around them.

 

“I do indeed need to visit the Ivory Court; however I would be in remiss if I neglected to visit my Order and inform them I have arrived.” Akai said, standing his ground.

 

Miko’s fingers dug in a touch deeper before he let Akai go. “Very well my brother, I will let you go about your business. Please pay visit to the shrine of Fudo just north of the Second City if you go that way. You will receive a warm welcome, I’m sure. Take care; outside of the city can prove very dangerous…but then inside is not much better…” He smiled another toothless grin then walked away. The Crane samurai joined the monk, walking beside him as he walked away and soon both were in deep discussion.

 

Akai shook his head, thinking that the Crane samurai could be a potential problem, and went to find a Temple of Shinsei, preferably Osano-wo if there was one.  He was directed to the temple district, and immediately he entered he felt a sense of peace not found in the main city, though it was still a very busy area. He found quite a sizeable brotherhood Temple… he noted that attendance could be better for such a big city as he entered, but he found many of the brotherhood monks inside meditating or praying to the various fortunes.  The temple seemed to be sectioned out for each Order with a little jade statue indicating the relevant Order’s Kami or Fortune.  He soon found the section dedicated to Osano-wo. A monk was inside cleaning the area of ash and offerings, and lighting fresh incense sticks. He spoke briefly with the monk, who guided him to the Abbot of the Temple.

 

After introductions had been performed in a proper manner Akai informed the Abbot of his intention to stay in the city.  The Abbot greeted Akai warmly and offered quarters if he should require them.  The abbot told him that the attendance of the Temple had dropped off of late but he is happy to see a new brother to swell the temple’s numbers.  None of the Monks he had seen in the temple shared Miko’s Order’s symbol on their robes, and there was no reference to Fudo anywhere that he had seen. Akai asked the Abbot about Fudo to see what he could tell him. The Abbot rolled his eyes and looked at him a bit worryingly “You’re not a member are you?”

 

“No, but I encountered one preaching to a crowd as I entered the city. We had a chat, and then he left.”

 

“Thanks be to the fortunes,” the abbot muttered before speaking more directly to Akai “Ah…yes. The Cult of Fudo seems to be picking up a fair few supporters in the city and in the process taking away the attendees of our own brotherhood. From what I can gather, The Cult of Fudo base their teachings around a supposed Prophet of Shinsei named Fudo. The teachings keep the Tao at its core but update many aspects of it to suit the cultists and its worshippers needs at any given time. Many self-serving samurai appear to be drawn to it.  However and it is hard for us to preach the trueTao openly without challenge from the cults supporters…and according to many supporters the founder Fudo still lives and rules over the organisation, but this must be a lie as his age according to his texts would give him the lifespan of over 8 generations, which is not possible.”

 

“It may be that we need to take a firmer action to remove this sect from the colonies. The preacher today indicated that the cult originated in the Empire. It would be prudent to let the temples back there know that detail so they can keep an eye out for it, assuming they are not aware of it already. In the meantime, we will continue as normal and combat this false path at every turn.” Akai said responded.

 

“That sounds like a wise move my brother.  I will prepare a message to send back to Rokugan with our findings. Let us hope this Fudo brushfire doesn’t spread too far.” The Abbot said, nodding respectfully at Akai’s sensible advice

 

“It will not escape our vigilance I assure you of this brother.” Akai said, a determined tone in his voice.  The abbot bowed and retreated to his quarters. Akai took part in temple duties, paying his respect at each shrine, meditating on each one before he made his way to the Ivory Court to pay his respects to the Governor.

 

*****

 

Akai made his way to the Imperial District in the centre of the great city where Ivory court was managed near to the governor’s estate. The court looked beautiful even to Akai’s untrained eye with intricately carved wooden rather than paper screens only half resembling a normal Rokugan court and with many building elements that he didn’t not recognise.  He’d never seen a dome before, yet this court had one as its ceiling.  He’d seen similar structures on his walk through the Imperial district, and had had to conclude they were of native Ivory Kingdom design. Lion and Seppun guards lined the entrances to Ivory Court and Akai nodded to them when he arrived.

 

“I’m afraid we cannot allow you in the presence of the Governor and Ivory Champion so armed for a non-Samurai caste member; Please leave your weapons here” One of the Seppun said as he was barred from progressing further in.

 

“Of course my friends.”  Akai told them, disarming himself.

 

They nodded and allowed him to pass inside.  Akai entered the court proper and bowed respectfully to those assembled, planning if it was busy to take a seat and wait for a more opportune moment, but he found court to be reasonably quiet, though he saw at least one representative from each of the clans present.  Here seemed to be an argument on going between a Mantis and a Crane courtier. Miko was also in attendance and smiled as Akai walked in. Apart from that the court seemed to be more interested the Mantis-Crane argument, which seemed to have degenerated into throwing slander and accusation at one another without facts to back up their claims. The Governor presided over all on his seat of command next to the empty Ivory throne,

 

Akai approached the governor’s throne, but before he reached the governor a man in a black kimono approached Akai, and asked him to wait until after the issue had been resolved. Akai, seeing that the Governor was fixated angrily on the two members of the bickering clans nodded agreement. The man in black introduced himself as Daigotsu Kudo the Governors Advisor and asked Akai about his intentions at court. “I am here to offer my services to any who would have need of them.”

 

Kudo narrowed his eyes slightly. “Indeed…Well please do not disturb the Governor while he is brooding on Clan issues…and please stay out of my way…” With that he returned to his position at the governor’s side, smiling as the two clans argument got louder. He was more than close enough to hear them but chose to not get involved at that point in time.  The discussion was getting veryheated and from what Akai heard, essentially boiled down to the Crane claiming that the Mantis were attacking their shipping ports without good cause and the Mantis claiming that it was in self-defence.

 

Miko approached while Akai waited for the governor to be free and slapped Akai on the back again giving him a very toothy grin. “I missed you at the shrine of Fudo brother, tell me did you get lost in this new land by any chance?”

 

“My path was never destined to lead there brother.”

 

“Really? well I’m sure your path will lead there one day. I can see it in your eyes.”

 

“I expect you only see your own reflection in my eyes.” Akai said, trying to tactfully disengage from the conversation.

 

Miko started to put his arm around his shoulder again in a grip of a brotherly contact… “I did, as our paths apparently started out the same, do try to keep up.”

 

 

“There is no race to enlightenment my friend, it finds all at its own pace.” Akai replied.

 

“You do have to make it though…and we only have so long…” Miko told him.

 

“Is there some time constraint that I should now of?” Akai asked.

 

“Only if you trip and fall along your path and fall by the way.” Miko started grinning again.

 

Suddenly the governor rose from his seat and roared out “THAT IS ENOUGH! DESIST YOUR PETTY SQUABBLING. I DECLARE THIS MATTER CLOSED. THE MANTIS SHALL REURN TO KALANI’S LANDING AND THE CRANE SHALL LICK THEIR WOUNDS AND CARRY ON TRADING AS NORMAL. YOU TWO SHALL REPORT TO YOUR RESPECTIVE FAMILY DAIMYO TO BE DISCIPLINED FOR YOUR INABILITY TO RESOLVE THIS MATTER WITH DIPLOMACY. He then slumped back into his seat, looking exhausted.

 

Daigotsu Kudo moved forward to discuss matters with the two erring courtiers his face is lit up like he’d been given a great gift.  Akai noted for future reference that Kudo was manipulative as he saw this but as the governor was now free, stepped forward to present himself ignoring the outburst as though the governor had not gotten angry in front of court.

 

The governor, seeing his approach was about to shout “WHAT NOW?…” And lose his temper again, but saw Akai’s robes, and calmed. “…Oh, a man of the brotherhood…Welcome to my Ivory Court. What brings you to new world monk?”

 

“I have come here to offer my spiritual guidance to any who would listen. I sense great opportunity to spread the word of the Tao in the new world.” Akai responded, bowing respectfully.

 

“Ah I see, well if that is the case I welcome you to the Ivory Kingdoms. Please, feel free to advise my court accordingly” he paused thoughtfully “I may have a request to ask of you…”

 

As he was about to elaborate, Daigotsu Kudo approached from behind and cleared his throat to get the governor’s attention  “Excuse my interruption Katsuru-sama, but the Scorpion and the Phoenix are here to discuss the arrival of the Turquoise Champion. Will you take their audience?”

 

A slight grimace appeared on Katsuru’s face “…Very well Kudo-san, send them in.”  He turned to Akai “Farewell Monk.  You are always welcome at Ivory Court.”

 

Kudo’s eyes get narrowed again as Katsuru said this Akai noted before he made his farewell. “Thank you Katsuru-sama” Akai bowed and moved away.

 

 

 

Travel Journal of Agasha Sanra

 

Entry 1 – Journey & Arrival

 

I have finally arrived in the Second City. The people and culture of the Ivory Kingdoms seem strange to me, but I have seen much strangeness among the Phoenix clan, so will soon get used to it I expect. I can’t say I like how the social structure is less rigid than in Rokugan or how the gaijin wander around freely but again, it is a different culture here. There are so many strange sights and smells and noises to get used to as well, and the city is just beautiful.  I must learn more of the culture so I do not bring dishonour to my family or my clan by making a mistake in my duties here. I must acquire robes suitable to the climate as well; it’s so much warmerthan at home!  I can borrow some of those owned by my mother until then.

 

The journey here was for the most part uneventful. Mother had arranged for comfortable passage on one of the Crane Clan’s kobune ships. It was quite comfortable for me though my husband Togo was sea sick for most of the journey. What a pity.

 

Mother was away in the mountains with the other Masters and busy with her duties, so we were seen off by Isawa Hotori, who presented me with a gift from mother. It was the staff she used to carry when I was young. It is a beautiful coal black colour swirling with a creamy bone shade. It feels like a wooden stave, though I know it is not made from wood. The Ring of Void is etched onto the top, so I suspect it is an item of magical significance, though I do not know how it might work. I will carry it with me always as a mark of her trust that I can perform the duties I have been assigned.

 

Kakita Suburo, the captain of the ship was a most pleasant person, though Togo seemed a little uncomfortable to be around so many Crane. There must be some Scorpion Clan-Crane Clan tension I am unaware of. The crew of the ship were very polite when I spoke with them, though they seemed to be quite concerned with actions of the Mantis Clan. The Mantis have been raiding their fleet in a most dishonourable way. Togo spent most of the trip in his cabin. I believe he did not wish to show weakness in front of the Crane. I can’t decide whether this is honourable or cowardly.  Either way I was left alone, so I took the opportunity to read as much as I could about the Ivory Kingdoms, the known political situation and try to learn some more of the language of the natives, for I feel I may have need of it.

 

We stopped at a small fishing port on an Island on the outskirts of the Isles of Silk and Spice. I took the opportunity to stretch my legs on solid ground. The captain suggested I visit a tea house in the Port. Togo refused to go. I think he still feels ill. I was accompanied by the captain and a small entourage of the crew instead which was much pleasanter company.

 

On the way to the tea house I met a curious person sitting in the lotus position by the side of the path and stopped to speak with him. For all that I have seen in the Phoenix lands I have never seen such an ancient person before. He was very, very old, and wore dark green robes with no visible Mon on them. It intrigued me. His face looked other-worldly, his features seemed just slightly off, slightly…insect like. He couldn’t have been a monk because his hair was not shaved…yet he had the demeanour of one. I sat next to him for a while and he opened his eyes. They were very large in his face. I’ve never seen such large eyes. I asked him why he sat there.

 

He smiled at me and said “I was waiting…. beware the shadows young Sanra. They are not only the home of the Arachnids…as the purest of white birds sometimes bear dark feathers…” As cryptic a statement as I have ever heard. I will have to think on the meaning of it.

 

He also answered my question “I once waited for a young man born of thunder and stone…I then waited for a man not of this world who became what he was born to be, and now I have waited for a young lady with fires burning in her heart with the ocean on her skin.” I have no idea who the first two are but the last person he refers to has to be myself. I have an affinity for fire magic, and wear the Isezumi tattoo of the ocean on my shoulders. I asked him why he waited.

 

He replied “To give them insight into the past, present and future…so they forge a new destiny for themselves and find the true potential locked within them…” Again, a very cryptic answer I will have to think on, though it was gratifying to know that a stranger thinks I have potential as a shugenja. How he knew of me, and named me by first name I do not know. I had kept the Crane waiting long enough and had to leave, though I would gladly have spent more time questioning this enigmatic man.   It was good of them to be as patient as they had been. He was gone when I returned to the ship. I should have asked his name.

 

We went to the Tea house. It wasn’t the most respectable of places. The place was quite crass in fact, but it was a tea house. We were planning to discuss poetry and take tea in the cultured way of the Crane, but it was not to be. There was a pair of very drunk Mantis in the tea house. They had a large number of possessions, including a helmet in Crane colours. Knowing what I did about the tensions between Mantis and Crane, my heart sank. I watched the Mantis as I ordered my tea. One of the Mantis observed my party.  He looked afraid, and then both the Captain and I saw the mon on the helmet. It was indeed Crane.

 

Not surprisingly, Kakita Saburo was furious. I tried to calm the tensions down. It would not do to have a brawl in a tea house. I certainly wouldn’t want to witness such violence. I asked the Mantis if there was a problem. He spun a story about being on the last leg of a trade journey, and explained the helmet, which had belonged to kin of Saburo-san had been found on the beach. I could see that it was a blatant pack of lies. I did not accuse him outright of piracy though that is what it must have been, and asked them to return the helmet to the owner’s kinsman and I asked to see his papers. They were a very cleverforgery, but I still detected it. So I doubt that his true name was Yoritomo Nori. When I revealed this he threatened me.  Me! Not the most sensible of things when I had five very well trained and veryangry Crane at my back. The Mantis pair didn’t listen to my warning and died for their folly by the hand of Saburo-san, who stepped forward to defend me.

 

He apologised for beheading them in front of me in such a way, and we left the tea house. I was very glad to get away from the bodies. I can’t stand the sight of bodies. They frighten me after what happened when I was a child. I did however retain enough of my face to suggest taking the belongings of the Mantis to help the Crane prove their claims of dishonourable conduct either in the Imperial or Second City. But I was glad to escape that place.  It completely spoiled what would have been a lovely afternoon.

 

Togo was most unsympathetic about the unpleasantness I experienced when I returned to the ship. I did not tell him about the strange old man I met. I was glad when the ship left the port and his illness returned to him. The captain and crew seemed to be very busy after we left the port so I spent the rest of the journey studying the language of the Ivory kingdoms.  Saburo-san escorted us to the Estate we will stay at while we are in this city. Togo was very rude and went off exploring as soon as he could get away. I hope he gets lost.

 

I really wanted to tour the estate, but I had duties to perform and family honour to uphold. After all, now I am here I represent the Masters until such time as one of them arrives. I must act as befits such a station. As such I was requested to choose a Yojimbo from among the Shiba guards posted to the estate. I asked Shiba Saburo who he would recommend as I did not wish to take a young promising bushi who might be over faced or one so old they would find guard duty an insult. Saburo–san recommended Shiba Kobayashi, a good looking man about my age with a stern expression. I believe we shall work well together. I shall certainly strive to make it so.

 

Now I must prepare to present myself to the Governor of the City and visit Asako Kaitoko who until my arrival was the highest ranking of the Phoenix in the city. I hope we can establish a mutually beneficial working relationship. Whatever happens, this should be an interesting and challenging assignment.

The Topaz Tournament – A Seeing by Isawa Korimi while compiling the Biography of Kitsuki Iwemara, (correlated with journal entries and official records).

 

 

Iwemara was ecstatic when her iaijutsu sensei Mirumoto Yozo told her she’d been picked as one of the Dragon representatives to attend the Topaz Championship at Tsuma. The rest of the students in the dojo could hear her excited squeals through the paper walls.

 

“I’d get to meet the Empress?”

 

“If you win…yes.”

 

“I will not fail the clan Master Yozo.”

 

“I have no doubt of that, neither does Buretsu-san. Go and prepare. We leave in two days, and I have other students to inform.”

 

“Yes master Yozo, thank you master Yozo!” She bounced from her kneeling position to give the master a big hug before racing off to do just that, a huge grin splitting her face, eyes sparkling with excitement.

 

Kitsuki Buretsu grinned too. From where he was instructing one of his slower students he had seen the entire exchange. Iwemara was one of his brighter students, picking things up quickly, and with energy and zeal when it involved something the girl had known the Empress to have done well in her Kitsuki days. Her broad range of skills was partly the reason she had been chosen; well, that and her iaijutsu skill, which was on a par with the better Mirumoto bushi students that would be travelling with her. It had been worth losing the game of Go to Yozo-san to see him give her the news and watch him deal with the tiny hyperactive ball of excitement he knew she would become on being told the decision of the masters, and the slim possibility that she might once more meet the Empress, and this time officially. That possibility alone would spur her on to greater things at the tournament.

 

The Mirumoto guards at the shiro had always indulged her for having won them a considerable amount of koku from the Seppun guards at the winter court the Empress had attended. What had that been over? Ah yes, that she couldn’t get past them to see the Empress a second time. Wonder of wonders she had, and it had caused quite the scandal among the Seppun and Imperial families. So she had become Buretsu’s student to keep her out of doing even more mischief at Togashi Satsu’s suggestion. He’d not approved of that. She’d been considerably younger than he liked training, but he could not refuse a direct request from both his Daimyo and the Voice of the Empress, so he had done his duty, initially grudgingly. She had proved herself an able student however, quickly melting his dislike with her positive attitude and dedication to her studies. With some deft guidance of ‘Kitsuki Iweko did this…’ she had become more than capable and earned his approval.

 

She had often been found hanging out at the duelling field watching the Mirumoto sparring after her lessons in the dojo were ended. It had been good of Yozo-san to indulge the child in showing her the iaijutsu moves and forms. It had kept her out of the mischief she had been so constantly getting into, and occupied. Yozo-san had come to him when the girl had shown real talent at iaijutsu.  Between them they had agreed that she was to be taught the skill on an official basis as part of her Dojo training, which was rare among the Kitsuki. They of course learned to handle weapons to protect themselves, but they were a courtier school first and foremost, and had the Mirumoto to call on as seconds should a duel be called in challenge. But Yozo-san thought such potential was worth cultivating, and skilled duellists were always an asset to the clan, so with Buretsu handling the rest of her tuition in the skills traditional for the Kitsuki and a good deal of others besides, her talent had been encouraged.

 

Iwemara was almost impossible to live with after she was told she would be travelling to Tsuma, and while her parents were proud of her, they were exasperated too. She alternated between bouts of hyperactivity in preparing what she needed to take with her, and silence, eyes shining as she imagined seeing her Empress-not quite great aunt again. She couldn’t stop talking about it either. She settled down a little though when the morning came to leave. She’d never been so far away from the Shiro or her parents, and went quiet on them at breakfast. They bathed her with love and affection and encouragement, and sent her off with the Masters that were accompanying the five students the Shiro were sending to the Tournament with her favourite sweets in her travel pack, and the knowledge that she had their confidence that she would do well and had their full approval whatever happened.

 

It was a long journey to Tsuma. They travelled first through the mountains Shiro Kitsuki was set in and into the dragonfly lands of the Tonbo valley. The conical tower in the centre of the estate at Kyduen Tonbo was visible for miles before they arrived, and she was impressed to discover it rose eight floors or more into the air. The view from the top was incredible. They spent a night there, and she made instant friends with the Daimyo’s Daughter Tonbo Tsurumi, a tall slender girl with very elegant manners. The friendship was made even stronger when others of the Tonbo family overheard her reciting her ancestry back to Yozo as practice for the Gempukku ceremony. Her ancestor Kitsuki Koichi had been quite prominent at the battle of Kyuden Tonbo, and such assistance was remembered by them.

 

The next day they travelled south to the Drowned Merchant River, taking a ferry boat across into the Lion lands and travelled onwards to the Castle of Swift Swords. They stayed a night and joined the band of confident, boastful young Lion students and their masters that were also journeying to Tsuma for the Topaz Championship. They had trained at the famed Akodo dojo, so Iwemara had no doubt of their martial prowess, but she doubted their courtliness was as up to scratch as their bugei skills were. A friendly rivalry sprang up between the Mirumoto members and the Akodo and Matsu. She stayed out of it, refusing to be drawn in beyond siding with her fellow clan members, and occasionally showing the others her skills. The masters were watching and they should behave as the adults they were being tested to become. She saw no reason not to start now rather than when they arrived at Tsuma.

 

They travelled on to the home of the Ikoma, and the great hall of records. They had arranged for lodgings in the town, but were invited to spend the evening at the castle by the welcoming Ikoma daimyo. He was hosting the Akodo and Matsu students along with the Ikoma that were travelling to Tsuma, so a few more were little trouble.  Iwemara was greatly impressed by the castle with it’s all but impregnable defences. Akodo Hotaka a handsome young lion she had been impressed with early on during the journey for his poise, and his skill with a blade had enthusiastically explained all the new defences that had been incorporated into the castle when it had been rebuilt when she had asked. She could see one person getting in…maybe… if they wereverygood, but an army had small chance…if any at all. It was a fun evening, with moderate amounts of sake, which the students were permitted in limited amounts and an abundance of tea and sweets which they were allowed in unlimited quantities. The Ikoma bards regaled all with tales of derring-do and glorious battles past. There were several interested glances her way in the evening from the Ikoma that were travelling to Tsuma with them. They couldn’t believe that the tiny little Kitsuki was old enough for her gempukku ceremony, let alone skilled enough at iaijutsu to warrant her competing. It had been the same with the Akodo and Matsu on their journey there, the little Kitsuki seemed to be completely out of place among the taller more muscular Mirumoto bushi that she travelled with, but she’d shown them one evening when practicing sparring with Akodo-Yasujiro, darting around to nick him before he knew what had happened. They’d stopped teasing her after that.

 

They travelled on to Tonfajutsen city next, the storehouse of the Lion Clan, and stayed in Crossroads Castle, which was simple, and unadorned. It was almost Dragon in its austerity. Iwemara had never seen so many storehouses in one place before. The city seemed to be entirely comprised of them. They moved on the next day to travel to Toshi Ranbo. The Ikoma kept them all entertained with the stories of battles around that infamous boarder city as they travelled, making out the Crane as the villains of course. Now it was Empress Iweko’s Imperial City and Iwemara longed to see it. She longed to see her beautiful Empress again too, but she understood now, as she hadn’t as a child just how improper her actions            then had been. Her best chance now was to win the Topaz Championship if she could. If not, she’d have to be content with serving her as faithfully as she planned to serve her clan in the hopes that one day her service would be recognised and that she might see her again. They stayed in the Dragon embassy while they were there. She wished she could have slipped away to see the palace, but her Sensei had her practicing her skills relentlessly now. They were only a few days journey away from Tsuma. They stayed in Toshi Ranbo several days to recover from the long journey and to make final preparations for the tournament and Gempukku ceremonies. Iwemara and the Mirumoto were in a fine state of anticipation by the time they set off on the final leg of the journey, in high spirits, all eagerness and determination to not bring dishonour on their clan.

 

Iwemara’s first impressions when Tsuma came into view was of a sea of multicoloured tents of varying degrees of richness, in all the clan colours on the fields outside a large bustling town. At first they seemed to be scattered randomly across the great fields, but as she rode closer she could see a method to the layout, with accommodation tents grouped by clan, separated by practice areas and stabling for the horses used to travel across the empire to get here. There were great tents for communal meals, and to house some of the competitions, rings and arenas for other events, and a multitude of fluttering banners with the mons of the clans and families that were already in residence. It was all very exciting, even though they had to line up to register their names against the list of those submitted to the Crane and declare the skills they were going to compete in. Then they were given their billets and welcomed to the Topaz Championship.

 

They made their way to the tents in the section assigned to the Dragon. Already there were several Kitsuki, Mirumoto, Togashi and Tamori there, having travelled separately from the different holdings of the clan and arrived sooner than they had. Not all were competitors, many were either here to judge a contest or to officiate in other ways. Some of the higher status individuals were simply here to watch the event, and were billeted there because the accommodation in Tsuma proper was already full to overflowing. Iwemara soaked it all in, barely managing to keep her bubbling excitement at beingthere and seeing what she was seeing from overflowing. The masters sent them all to settle into their tents, and to wash and change into fresh clothing before re-joining them for a meal and a walk around the tournament grounds. The walk included a lecture, one they’d all heard multiple times on the trip, about how this tournament was a celebration of all things Samurai, and was designed to display the best and brightest candidates in the empire in displays of skill in the fields of culture, and bushido. Those who proved versatile and worthy would have the chance to participate in the Iaijutsu duel on the final day of the tournament and have the chance of becoming the year’s Topaz Champion and meet the empress herself. Those words made Iwemara’s heart lift. To see the empress again! It would be a dream come-true. But she continued to pay attention to the spiel about how they would be being judged on their conduct both on and off the competitor’s field and responded in the appropriate manner. After a hearty meal in the communal tent, where Iwemara and the other students could barely keep their attention on what they were eating for trying to look at the other competitors and masters that surrounded them, they attended the opening ceremony. It was a brilliant display of the best of the Crane performing arts, including pieces by those who had come top in the artistic and performance fields the previous year. That was followed by a stunning fireworks display, and the Topaz Champion who had won the previous year formally opened the event, and resigned their position, and the stunning Topaz armour that went with it, to the winner of this year’s event.

 

Iwemara had given serious thought to which competitions she was going to enter in the Topaz Championship. She’d been told it needed to be a mix of her high and bugei skills and if she’d had any, commerce skills too. She had a good selection of them to choose from having been active and interested in a great many things while studying. Her sensei had encouraged her to keep herself active and occupied. In the end she’d opted for a rounded selection that showed the best of her training. Investigation of course given her roots as a Kitsuki, was a must. The examiners would think it odd if she didn’t take that, though she’d seriously considered Etiquette too. The lore of heraldry was her next option. What was the point of being an investigator if you didn’t recognise the mon of the many families of Rokugan? The final High skill she chose was the game of Go. It demonstrated a flexible mind, open to different strategies and an ability to be adaptable. Plus she really enjoyed playing the game.

 

 

Of the Bugei skills, she had first chosen defence. Because she was poorly equipped to deal with a battle, her best option was to have a strong defence. Even if she did have the skills to fight in a duel she was sensible enough to know that a duel was a far cry from a skirmish or fight, and her weeks travelling with the Akodo, and her discussions with Akodo Hotaka had strengthened that knowledge to a certainty. For her offensive skill she had chosen Kyujutsu. She may be no good with a katana in a skirmish, but ranged in the reserves with the Archers? …oh yes she could pose a real threat to an enemy. One well aimed arrow to the eye, and she could drop a target. It didn’t need strength, well, not much. She knew she would never be a very strong person with her stature, but she could shoot with great accuracy…most of the time at least. Horsemanship was always a useful skill for a magistrate, and she planned to become a magistrate if she could – just as Kitsuki Iweko had been. They travelled so much throughout Rokugan and the Ivory Kingdoms that being able to control a horse was almost an essential. Her final choice had been athletics. You never knew when swimming or climbing, or running or any number of other athletic abilities might be needed in the line of duty. She wanted to be prepared for anything.

 

She didn’t sleep well, for all she was sent to bed early, as were all the other students of the Dragon contingent. The unfamiliar sounds and smells, the excitement of the events of the day and the anticipation of what was to come on the next meant it took a long time to drift off. She woke early as was her custom, was one of the first awake, and had a chance to bathe and dress in the accoutrements of a Topaz competitor. They were in Dragon colours of course, green and gold, but instead of wearing the traditional robes of a Kitsuki, today she wore the clothing and ashigaru armour of a bushi in training. She tied her hair back from her face so it wouldn’t get in the way during the bugei tests, and started with some limbering warm up stretches to ease her nerves until the others were ready for their breakfast. They ate together, some of the Mirumoto and Tamori only picking at theirs, but Iwemara was starving, despite her nerves, and knew that if she had a large number of Bugei trials that day, she’d need the energy.

 

Mirumoto Yozo came up to the table with the other masters and they presented their students with their schedules for the following few days. Iwemara’s first competition was investigation. She went to the tent, presented herself to the scribe and waited her turn. It wasn’t long before she was called to perform her investigative task. Her judges were an old grey-haired Kitsuki Magistrate she had met in Toshi Ranbo who smiled kindly at her as she entered, a middle aged Tsuruchi with an impassive look on his face and a young, very good looking Bayushi courtier, with an intense look on his face that unnerved her slightly. She bowed politely to her superiors who nodded back.

 

She was presented with several pieces of evidence with documents accompanying them. She studied them carefully, matching up evidence with the documentation and found several discrepancies between the puzzle she had been given as evidence and the description of it that had been given. It had an intricate design so she could understand that the description might have been off, but she decided to ask the judges about it.

 

She looked up, a bit confused

 

“I’m sorry, but there seems to be a bit of a discrepancy between the description of the puzzle and the pattern on it?”

 

Immediately the Kitsuki Judge’s expression became a beaming smile, the Tsuruchi nodded and the Bayushi blinked and made a mark on a piece of parchment.

 

“Congratulations for passing the investigation test Kitsuki Iwemara-san” The Bayushi said, in a smooth, cool voice revealing no emotion. “You are free to move onto the next test on your schedule for today.”

 

“Really, that was the test?” She said surprised.

 

“Yes. You may leave now.” He said coolly.

 

“Oh.  Of course.” She bowed again, and left, completely missing the smug look the Kitsuki flung at the Scorpion at how easy it had been for her to solve. She continued on to the tent her next test was being held in. Because she was not the first she had to wait longer as other candidates were called in before her. Some were in there only a short while, some were in there much, much longer. When she was finally called, and entered the tent she saw another three judges and a large piece of beautifully executed calligraphy work on display on the wall displaying many clan mons. She bowed to the young Doji, serene looking Isawa and elderly Ikoma judges.

 

“Kitsuki Iwemara is it?” Ikoma Ando said. Not waiting for her to reply he continued “If you could please identify the families depicted on the display and who founded them?”

 

She bowed. “Of course.” She walked over to the display. Working methodically from top to bottom, left to right, she gave an accurate account of over 30 samurai families and their histories. All the judges looked impressed when she finished and turned to see if she’d done enough to pass.

 

“Well done Iwemara-san. You were quite thorough.” Doji Jurin said to her, dismissing her from the tent with a regal wave of his hand as the Isawa made a note and handed it to a scribe in Phoenix robes standing behind her. Iwemara bowed neatly and left. There was quite some time before her next event, the test of horsemanship. As she wandered around she saw an old Akodo sensei sitting at an empty Go table. She smiled at him.

 

“Are you waiting for your student to return?”

 

“I am waiting for a student.” He said, gesturing to the seat, a tacit invitation to join him.

 

She sat down. “I could do with a little practice before my test in the game. Do you play?”

 

He grinned toothily. “I do.”

 

“I’m Iwemara Akodo-sama.”

 

“I’m Akodo Gendro young Iwemara of the Kitsuki. Shall we play?” he said gesturing for her to make the first move.

 

For an hour they played. It was perfect, and great good fun and she managed to out manoeuvre him several times with daring moves Buretsu-sama had taught her. She could tell the old sensei was surprised, but he grinned at her fiendishly when she beat him.

 

“Excellent! Excellent! Well done young Kitsuki. I have rarely enjoyed being beaten more. And playing against such a prettyyoung thing too, quite enjoyable! You have been taught some very original moves by your sensei. Congratulations on passing the Test of Go.”

 

She blinked, stared. “You’re the judge of Go?…”

 

He grinned wolfishly. “I am one of them, and you passed with flying colours. You have even taught me a move or two to use on my usual adversaries. I shall enjoy surprising them. I waswaiting for a student, but he was injured in the Sumi contest so I had some free time on my hands. He can take your position later Iwemara-san.”

 

“Oh! Thank you Gendro-sama.” She bowed deeply to him as another student appeared, apparently the next contestant and she was dismissed. She made her way to the race track where she was to compete next. Of course the Unicorn, being the premier horsemen and women in the empire were running this event and there were many fine looking Unicorn horses ranged in display along the picket lines. She couldn’t help but admire the fine looking animals. When it came her turn to race, she was mounted on a feisty copper coloured animal that the groom called Mikkoku-sha, certainly he squealed enough in Iwemara’s presence to have earned the name.

 

She mounted up, and took Mikkoku-sha in hand, making him circle the paddock, until he settled and began listening to her commands, though he still tossed his head and squealed at the other horses and threw in the occasional buck. She sat through it though and when called lined up with the other contestants at the bottom of the racing flat. There was a very pretty Unicorn girl of the Moto family that was riding a flashy grey stallion with ornate saddle and bridle in the Unicorn style. She was showing off to the crowd gathered to watch the racing, and had the attention of most of the crowds for her beauty and skill at riding her steed. She was also riding against a Bayushi lad, a slender Hiruma girl, a Kakita boy, two Shiba, boy and girl, a Matsu girl who seemed to very confident too, and two nervous looking Tsuruchi boys.

 

Mikkoku-sha shot off at the starting bell peal, immediately taking the lead. They thundered along, and she was aware of little beyond the course ahead of her and the area immediately to either side. She saw the buff and tan colours of the Matsu beside her at one point, and a constant presence of purple to her left. Twice she saw Phoenix orange and the green of the Tsuruchi, but as they rounded the final bend, it was obvious it was between her and the Moto Girl. She pushed her mount with every trick she knew to win the race, but the grey’s ground eating strides took its rider ahead by a nose…then a head, and she could feel her own mount tiring. As they flashed past the finish line, the Moto girl was ahead by a neck. Iwemara drew her gasping mount to a walk.

 

She was very disappointed to not have won the point, but the Unicorn werethe masters of horsemanship, and the girl was probably riding her own mount, which she had trained and so it trusted her in a way her own mount couldn’t.  Her mount was unfamiliar, though a valiant steed, she had been riding him for bare minutes, it showed. She grinned at the Moto girl having thoroughly enjoyed the exhilarating ride at speed, and bowed to her as victor. The girl bowed back, but she was soaking in the glory of the whole event, making her tired mount prance and caper and show off her skill, and Iwemara heard several in the crowd calling ‘Glory to Naleesh!” which she acknowledged.

 

So, she had been beaten by Moto Naleesh, the daughter of the Unicorn Clan Champion. There was certainly no disgrace or dishonour in that! She walked her mount until his breathing eased, and returned him to his groom, who was very praiseworthy of her efforts, and praised and rewarded his charge for his hard work. Already the creature was snorting and snuffling at what he saw around him again. A very talkative creature that. It amused her and she walked away with a grin on her face to find something to eat. She was getting hungry.

 

Her next events weren’t until the next day, so she rested and practiced and meditated to keep her calm and focus. She needed to pass two of the three if she were to get into the iaijustu duel and be in with the chance of seeing the Empress once more. She did not dare get her hopes up yet. She slept well, having voluntarily retired early and rose early again, washing and dressing and working through the stretches of the previous morning before the others rose. She breakfasted with her clan mates. Two were already out of the running for the duel, having failed too many of the tests, though they would still pass their gempukku if they did well today.

 

Her first event was the test of athletics, but it wasn’t being held until mid-morning so she spent her time repeating the stretching exercises and getting in some target practice. When she got onto the athletics field, she saw an obstacle course set up that she had to get around in good time. It involved climbing over obstacles and up a rope to a platform, shimmying under other obstacles, even crossing a small river that wended its way around one edge of the field. It was a complete snap compared with the obstacles she had faced at home. She was small enough to have no problems with crawling under things, and she had had to climb far more difficult things in the mountains around Shiro Kitsuki than they had laid out here. She quickly darted around the course, receiving a nod of approval from the judge at the end, she may not have been the fastest contestant, but she had gotten around cleanly, and that was the important thing.

 

As it happened, her final event of the day ended up being archery. The Tsuruchi judge had her shoot targets at varying distances to check her accuracy with the Han-kyu, as it had become obvious early in her training that the more powerful Yari would be beyond her strength to wield. She hit every target, though the closer they were the more accurate her aim was. On the furthest target her arrow was almost hanging off the edge when the judge went to retrieve it, but it was still on the target, and was allowed, so she passed the test. It meant that she did not need to show off her defensive skills to the judges. Mirumoto Yozo was very pleased with her, and told her so. She spent the rest of the day practicing with him, and those students who had not passed through to the duel on focus and assessment in preparation for the duels of the final day of the tournament. It was quite a shock to discover that evening that she was ranked among the top eight contestants at the tournament, along with Moto Naleesh, one of the Doji, a Hida, a Bayushi, a Yoritomo, one of her Mirumoto companions and a Shiba.

 

In the morning she took extra care with her appearance, bathing and pinning her hair carefully so that it was in the courtier style preferred by her family for display, yet up and out of the way of her face so she would not be distracted by wisps of hair breaking her concentration. She debated wearing her Kitsuki robes, but opted instead for the competitors ashigaru armour in the colour of her clan, the family mon sewn to her shoulder. The day was bright, and warm and sunny, a little too sunny for her liking for duelling, but it would mean more crowds came to watch. Master Yozo approved of her choice, though his smile suggested she still looked like a little girl playing dress-up as she had so often when she had been a child; imitating the Empress when she had been a Kitsuki magistrate.

 

He led her and Mirumoto Makei, the other Dragon competitor to the duelling field. There were so many people crowded around to watch the duelling. There must have been hundreds of samurai alone! More than any Iwemara had ever seen before and she was a little unnerved, but she swallowed it and raised her head high, striding out to keep beside her master with every appearance of confidence. She couldn’t fail her sensei now, not at the final test, not when she had a chance to win and meet the empress once more.

 

They all stood in a line as they were announced to the crowd, who cheered lustily. The rules were explained to them. It was to be a duel to the first blood, a scratch only and the loser was knocked out.

 

Iwemara was the first to be called to the duelling circle to face a young, handsome Hida who, compared to her small delicate looking frame resembled the Zo of the Ivory Kingdoms with his tall muscular one. There was quite a lot of murmuring among the crowd discussing the contrast before they quietened for the assessment phase of the duel. They stood there observing each other’s form for some minutes, Iwemara cocking her head and smiling before she made her move. Before he knew what was happening she had darted around him and stung him in the way of a wasp, and a roar of approval rose from the spectators. Iwemara bowed to Hida Watari, who grinned at her, absently rubbing his am where she had struck him. Then she bowed to where Mirumoto Yozo stood watching and the crowd roared their approval.

 

Next to compete were Mirumoto Makei and Shiba Tsudaro. The sun was shining brightly, and the glint of the katana threw Makei off form, allowing Tsudaro to nick his leg. Moto Naleesh and Bayushi Takada were called next, Takada and Naleesh both looking confident going in. They struck at the same moment, but it was Takada that came away with a long scratch to his arm. Doji Hakuseki faced Yoritomo Naomi, who looked very nervous to be facing off against a Crane duellist, and Hakuseki quickly won her round to secure her place in the semi-finals.

 

Iwemara was paired up against Doji Hakuseki for the next round of duelling. The girl looked very confident and beautiful, though unusually for a Doji, her hair was not white. Assessing the girl Iwemara recognised that Hakuseki’s skills were far superior to her own, and was very tempted to honourably bow out… but the possibility of meeting the empress once more egged her on, and she was as surprised as anyone else when she beat her to the strike. Doji Hakuseki seemed as stunned by her leap out of nowhere. It managed to break her concentration and the crowd murmured in shock. As the young Doji bowed to Iwemara she couldn’t help but notice a small tear drop on the other girls cheek, and she left the arena with her head hung low… the crowd roared with applause for Iwemara’s victory.

 

She was ecstatic to have advanced to the finals. She was one step away from meeting the Empress! But she couldn’t help but feel she was out of her depth slightly, and honour now prevented her from bowing out of the final…especially when she was so close to winning. She had no idea how she had managed to defeat Hakuseki-san. She was preparing for her final duel of the day while Moto Naleesh faced off Shiba Tsudaro. She heard the roars of the crowd, but had no idea who had won the bout. It must have been an impressive performance though, and her nerves returned.

 

Finally she was called up for the finals and her opponent entered the grounds from the opposite direction… she almost strode onto the duelling fields, and Iwemara’s heart sunk further. She recognised her immediately as Moto Naleesh…seemingly rather glutted by the glory of the event and she was playing up to the crowd… while Iwemara was standing waiting with grace and dignity. When Naleesh finally looked at her opponent she seemed to be very surprised that Iwemara was still in the running, let alone in the final.

 

Iwemara bowed respectfully to her opponent, and Naleesh bowed back, but not as low as Iwemara did. It was a studied insult, and Iwemara thought it very arrogant of her, daughter of a clan champion or not. She at least was making an honourable and respectable showing of herself and her skills. They stood facing one another assessing each other’s stance, strengths and weaknesses. A smile curved Iwemara’s lips at the shock she could read in Naleesh’s face at her assessment of Iwemara’s skill, which mirrored the overconfident Unicorns perfectly. Iwmara hesitated a brief second longer than she should have before striking, and the Moto girl took her chance, nicking Iwemara’s wrist neatly with her sword.

 

Naleesh grinned a little afterwards, barely containing her excitement at having won. She did take the time to bow to Iwemara briefly, and Iwemara, valiantly holding back her crushing disappointment bowed back before Naleesh threw her arm up into the air. The crowd stood up for her and screamed their admiration and applause on her victory. Fighting hard to keep her face and not burst into tears as she so dearly wanted to do, Iwemara took a deep breath.

 

“Congratulations Naleesh-san.”

 

The girl barely acknowledged her before charging over to the Unicorn contingent that were already flooding the duelling field from the stands.

 

She turned away and left the field, barely noticed by those intent on the victor of the day, head high, back straight and dry eyed. More than one pair of eyes watched her leave the field with her dignity intact however, and it did not lessen her in their eyes at her conduct. A man wearing rich robes that did not conceal the chrysanthemum on his chest and only partially concealed his dragon tattoo watched her leave the field and nodded to himself. The girl was getting on well, as he had suspected she would. Iweko-sama had wanted to know how the bold little Kitsuki she had met at Shiro Kitsuki had been progressing. He did not know quite what had piqued her lasting interest in the girl but he had obligingly dropped small snippets on her progress through training over the years. A pity the girl had not won, but the fates had decreed that it be the Moto girl that would meet the Empress and not the object of her interest. Perhaps it was better that way, to observe at a distance. He went to discuss arranging the meeting with Khan Moto Chen.

 

Iwemara made it back to her tent before her she lost face, and burst into tears. She cried quietly into the blanket of her bedroll, rocking back and forward in her deep disappointment at not getting to see the empress after having gotten her hopes so high. Either she didn’t cry quietly enough, or Yozo knew her better than she realised, but he came to her tent after she had been crying for some minutes. He pulled her into a hug and let her cry herself out while he smoothed her hair soothingly, speaking quietly and calmly that she had done wonderfully well, and had brought honour to the clan and her family, that they were all proud of her achievement.  He told her that she should not be disappointed at not seeing the empress, very few ever did. He brought her out of her tears, joking that she’d already seen her twice already, and shouldn’t be greedy. She laughed, hiccuping through her tears, and scrubbed the tears away.

 

“I’m sorry Yozo-sama…I have…” she said, beginning to apologise

 

“No, don’t say anything. You have done wonderfully well and I am proud of you; the whole clan is. We will say nothing of this, you were disappointed, and it’s a natural reaction. You do not lose any honour for it. You have kept your face in public.” He said soothingly, reaching to the side where he had placed a small box and handing it to her.  “This will not compare with the Topaz armour and seeing the Child of Heavens Iwemara, but your parents, Buretsu-san and I have all agreed you were the appropriate person to have this.”  He handed it to her.  She took the box, and opened it, curious.  Inside was a delicate necklace of golden links, threading between discs that decreased in size from the largest central one, the size of a zeni, each with a tiny dragon image in the lacquer with different stones set in each for the tiny dragon eyes, a tiny emerald on the main one, that looked like a celestial dragon, a topaz on the blue one, ruby on the red one. “Wear it always. It will be very useful to a young Kitsuki investigator like yourself” he said teasingly before becoming more business-like. “Now, your Gempukku ceremony begins in an hour. I expect you to be ready for it.” He rose silently and left the tent, leaving Iwemara to wash away the sweat of duelling exertion, and the spot of blood from the cut on her wrist. The cut had already stopped bleeding, so she did not need a healer. She changed into the fine robes traditional to the Kitsuki that her mother had sent with her for the Gempukku, made sure her face was clear of any traces of her disappointment and put on the beautiful necklace that she had been given before making her way out of her tent.

 

She stood with the rest of her clan, in pride of place at the front since she had had the honour of being the highest ranking contestant in the clan as they watched the other great clans, in order of the clan that had achieved the fewest points to the clan that had achieved the next greatest, performed the Gempukku ceremonies for their newest young samurai in front of the massed crowds. The dragon, having the second highest number of points were the second to last. Yozo guided her through the ceremony. He was very proud of her, and it was obvious to everyone how delighted he was at how she had done. He beamed. He presented her with a Katana of office and the wakizashi that represented her honour. They were small, almost child sized and looked like toys compared with the katana her fellow Mirumoto were being presented with, but they were very elegantly designed blades, perfectly balanced and specifically made for someone her size. She loved them from the moment she set eyes on them.

 

Disregarding protocol, Yozo hugged her after after the ceremony had been completed, and sent her back to the ranks of newly gazetted samurai. He stepped back into his place so that the Unicorn could perform their gempukku ceremonies, culminating in the gempukku of the Topaz Champion, resplendent in her new armour of office and drinking in the glory. Afterwards there was an enormous feast, and entertainment put on by all the clans combined. Iwemara was surprised to find herself so popular with her peers, as many sought her out to congratulate her on her skills, and she suspected at least some hoped to make themselves favourable to her sensei and herself as suitors, though she did not plan to marry yet. The next morning, almost everyone nursing a considerable hangover; the Dragon contingent packed up and prepared for the long journey back to Dragon lands and their new duties as samurai. Yozo was not among them. A request had come from the Ivory Kingdoms, and he was being posted there as one of the Spider clan ‘watchers’ along with several of the newly created bushi. She would miss him, but looked forward to her new duties, which were as she had hoped acting as a magistrate in training among villages in Dragon territory. She was determined to perform them perfectly…as Kitsuki Iweko would have done

 

The Thoughts and Whims of The Rani Sita

 

So Malacin wants to meet with me does he?  What does he want now?  It had better not be to wed me to some ancient boor to preserve some irreplaceable bloodline. I’m a warrior, not a brood mare, and I’m /really/ enjoying my studies with these Crane samurai people who have overrun the lands that used to belong to my family before the Destroyers came.  They have refinement…for barbarians.  They allow their women to become warriors even as our people do.  Some of their customs are strange, like their reluctance to eat meat, or touch it, as if it’s soiled, but I like them.

 

Note:  Rani Sita while Ivindra by birth was nominally of the Crane clan, as she was studying Rokugani culture with them at this time. – Isawa Korimi

 

 

The Tale of Daidoji Kanawan – Written by a Relative

 

 

Young Samurai, you may not have heard of this man, but let me tell you of him, so you may better understand yourself. The tale is of Daidoji Kanawan the boy, and his father the mighty Daidoji Kinawan.

 

He was a modest boy of noble heritage. His family had great standing in the Empire, and his family was known as some of the finest warriors, not only of the Crane, but of the Empire. They were from strong stock, those known as the Iron Crane.

 

Whenever called upon, his father and his retinue would heed the empires call. They stood beside the Crab at the wall, and the Lion in defence of the Throne. However as with all people, if you make strong allies, it comes at the cost of making strong enemies.

 

I will tell you of the battle another time, for that is another story. Of it only will I say, his father was called by his allies to the War of the Twins and he answered. During this mighty battle, his enemies in the Scorpion saw an opening, and although it cost them a strong footing in the battle, they ambushed Kinawan and his entire family (as they fought as one unit), and by weight of numbers killed them to the last. But as with all battles Kinawan fought in, the battle was won, even at such a terrible cost.

 

The only surviving member of his line, Kanawan was not due for Gempukku for another 3 years, and so when news came of what had happened, his nurse did what she thought best, and took him to his aunt, an Asahina married to Iweko Seiken.

 

In court, as part of his aunts retinue he flourised, the ways of court seemed to suit him, and all seemed well. Until one day a Scorpion came to court. During his visit all was well…until after the Scorpion had left, he overheard his aunt thanking some Seppun guards for keeping all information away from Kanawan about the man who killed his father. This may not be true, but it is the only way to explain what happened next.

 

A scene was caused in court where it became known he was the surviving air to the Noble Daidoji Family. Up until the point his aunt had kept all knowledge of his survival and heritage secret. However the young boy, not knowing the true ways of things in court destroyed his armour of anonymity.  He was sent to an Asahina shugenja school to train, and hopefully to teach him temperance.

 

Five years passed.

 

The young boy is now a man, and although only 19 years old has embraced his true heritage.

 

With the empire in a semblance of stability, his nobility has taught him he cannot go out for revenge on the Scorpion that destroyed his family. Instead he will honour his family and his aunt by action, and show what is in his blood by doing what others are afraid to do, and embracing the nature of the world.

 

Therefore this young boy, instead of falling into despair, intends to be one of those few to claim the Ivory Kingdoms in the name of the Empire. So leaving his wife behind in the Empire under the protection of his aunt, he has left these lands to honour his ancestors.

 

The lesson of this, is that true courage is not just from fighting. It is in knowing when to fight, when not to, and when fighting is necessary, to win the battle, no matter the cost.

 

And thus sends the lesson today children, now go back to your writing classes.

 

 

 

From: The Letters of Shosuro Nirav

 

Dear Father,

 

The Unicorn are not understood, they do not hide their faces, rather they wear them proudly. But there is something, something they are hiding. Something they brought back with them over the mountains…

 

It has been an interesting few days. I still do not understand why Kintao-sama insisted that I travel with the Unicorn caravans. At least on a Mantis ship there are shadows to sit in, but amongst the Ki-Rin I stand out like a tree in a field of corn. Regardless, I am here now, and I shall have to learn to tolerate my companions and my exposure.

 

My first surprise at my arrival was the Unicorn’s complete lack of response to anything about me. In my journeys from home to here (please thank Uncle Taoshi for the escorts) our robes and mon were given a wide berth, but here the Unicorn did not bat an eye at me…So much for our clan’s reputation. Not even their leader, Shinjo Salladin, had any reaction… though at the same time he did not question my name, which made for a refreshing change, and he even got the pronunciation correct. I suppose that with their frequent travelling and trading the Unicorn are not unused to strange guests.

 

My second surprise was that apart from the Unicorn I only have one travelling companion: a Shugenja by the name of Daidoji Kanawan. Salladin-Sama lent me the use of a horse, but the Crane has his own and felt it his duty to instruct me on how to ride correctly. It is so hard to glare with contempt from behind a mask, which I suppose is quite fortunate, so I let him rattle on while I reattached the saddle. When I was done he proclaimed that he had spoken to my horse for me. He is a strange one.

 

More strange was his outfit. His robes are ornate, even for a Shugenja, but he carried a Yumi bow, and in his saddle bags was a suit of old and battered heavy weight armour. I think he has aspirations to follow in an ancestor’s footsteps, but at some point I might be inclined to advise him to stick to his books and scrolls. Like all Crane he carries an air of entitlement, and I have the very strong suspicion that regardless of his skills with his bow his first response in battle will be to hide behind the nearest Bushi and pray.

 

Speaking of prayer, the Unicorns are sensible enough to set up camp before sunset and not break it until after sunrise. Perhaps it does make the journey longer, but it does mean I have time for my prayers without causing a disturbance. I still cannot help but curse Hametsu for his teachings in this regard, but at least I can pray with the satisfaction that the bastard is dead.

 

I shall write more later. Tomorrow we enter Dragon lands. I doubt much will come of the day, but I am keeping my blade to hand.

 

Your son,

 

Nirav

 

This chronicle begins in the year 1198 with The Destroyer War of a quarter of a century ago long past. Peace reigns throughout Rokugan and the Ivory Kingdoms thanks to the wise guidance of Empress Iweko I, Child of the Heavens, Champion of Ningen-do.  It was never a peace that could last.  This is the chronicle of events in the Second City in the Ivory Kingdoms, culled from journals, letters, reports and events that have been scryed out by myself and other diviners and compiled by myself so that future generations might remember.

 

– Isawa Korimi, Archivist – Izaku Library.

 

 

From: Memories of the Life of Shosuro Nirav

 

“Father, where is Nirav?”

 

The old man interrupted his meditation and opened his one good eye to look at his son.

 

“I do not know, Toshiro. That is the point of hide and seek, no?”

 

Shosuro Toshiro stood opposite his father, arms crossed. The family house was not large, but large enough that he had been able to provide a sizable room for his father to live in his retirement. Shosuro Taisa was sat on a mat in the middle of the room, his bedroll rolled up against the wall, and his meagre possessions placed sparsely around on tables or in chests and drawers. Like most men of his age he had many wrinkles, a long wispy white beard, and no hair on his head. The only giveaway that Taisa was anything other than an old harmless monk was his exquisitely carved, black and red handled daisho, standing proudly on a small stand below an exquisite painting of the Shosuro mon.

 

Toshiro raised an eyebrow.

 

“It is always games, father,” he said with exasperation. “Nirav needs his schooling, his training. He has had enough playtime.”

 

“There is no such thing as enough playtime,” came the reply. Taisa stretched and stood up slowly, his bones creaking with age. “Do you really believe that history and writing and lore are the most useful skills that a member of our family can possess?” He raised his hand to his head and slowly, absentmindedly, ran his fingers along the burn marks that signified the loss of his eye. “Hmmm? Or would you have that Soshi harlot dictate to you everything that your son may or may not do?”

 

Toshiro wished he was wearing his mask at that moment, as he could not prevent anger from flashing across his face. “Akane is not a harlot, father,” he snapped. “Whatever your… misconceptions of her are, she is a wonderful woman and the mother of your grandchildren. At least show her some modicum of respect in my house.”

 

Taisa rolled his meditation mat up and placed it carefully beside his daisho.

 

“I will show her respect when she earns it,” replied Taisa calmly. “Nirav and Sayaka are already showing great promise of following in our footsteps, and she would ruin that by forcing them to become something that they are not.”

 

“It is unfair of you to tar my wife with the same brush you use for all Shugenja, father.” Toshiro was impatient now. “Akane did not lose you your eye.”

 

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” said Taisa, turning to pace the room. “Even without it, however, I can see that my grandchildren are not receiving the education they need. They need the right Dojo, the right Sensei. The Brother’s Gift would gladly accept Nirav right now, a year early.” He turned back and caught his son’s gaze. “You agree with me, no?”

 

Toshiro matched his father’s glare briefly, before rolling his eyes and letting out a deep sigh. “You are right,” he conceded dejectedly. “But even so, even if I were to enrol him tomorrow, he would need to be there. I doubt the Dojo would accept a boy who cannot be found.”

 

Taisa smiled widely at his son. “It is the school of Ninjas, Toshiro. Think about what you said.”

 

Toshiro’s eyebrows furrowed briefly before he too smiled and laughed quietly to himself. Taisa raised a finger to his lips signalling quiet, before pointing subtly at the ceiling.

 

Toshiro looked up at the rafters. Nirav waved.

 

“You found me! Your turn!”

 

 

 

The Little Kitsuki – A Winter Court Tale.

 

They’d been threatening for weeks that if she didn’t behave she’d not get to see the Empress that was her great, great aunt…but nother great, great aunt. She’d done her best, keeping out from under the feet of the servants cleaning the rooms in preparation for herarrival, and the guards practicing manoeuvres and everything. She’d even stopped pretending to be Kitsuki Iweko-sama the magistrate rooting out the Kolat, or investigating the blood speakers or helping to defend Shiro Kitsuki from the Lion and Crane! She’d been really good too, learning her lessons and studying diligently. They’d let her watch from a window as shearrived as a result….but Iwemara had been very disappointed. All she had seen in the end was a very elaborate palanquin surrounded by Imperial Seppun guards with gauzy white curtains hiding the figure within. So in the end she’d not seen her idol at all!

 

She’d watched the servants preparing herrooms though. She was in those normally reserved for the daimyo so Iwemara knew exactly where she was staying, but the child had no hope of getting to see herthe normal ways. The castle was very busy with people from all the great clans come to stay, and the Dragon bushi wouldn’t let her get close. When she managed to get past them, the Seppun guards turned her back. It was frustrating! She settled down to think the problem over. She wondered what Kitsuki Iweko-sama would do in such a situation.

 

It finally hit her when she was taking her reading lesson in the library. The lesson was right opposite the map of the castle, but she’d been all over the castle, playing Magistrate Iweko-sama and she couldn’t understand why the map left out certain passages and tunnels. One of them led from the daimyo’s quarters. It wasn’t an easy one to find, she’d only stumbled across it by pure chance. Watching carefully she realised that the guards AND the Seppun guards weren’t guarding any of the ways that people could get into the entrances…Was it possible they didn’t know about them? She decided to try it out the next time she didn’t have lessons.

 

It was very dusty in there. She’d forgotten that, and how dark it was. She got turned around several times, but found her way eventually, and the mechanism was as quiet as she remembered it to be for all it was so old. Well-made given it must have been made when the castle was built. She slipped through. By the luck of the fortunes The Empress Iweko-sama, the great,-great aunt who wasn’t her great-great aunt for some strange reason was there, apparently asleep on the bed. Iwemara tiptoed over to look at her in the quiet peace of the room. She was verybeautiful, almost luminous in her beauty and Iwemara stared at her a good while. She looked around at the room. So many things of beauty and elegance. It was almost overwhelming. She went and stood on the mat in the middle of the room and turned around drinking it in, trying to remember every detail.

 

The sound of movement from the bed made her freeze. Wide eyed, she turned slowly to see the Empress sitting there looking at her. Iwemara blinked. She stared at her, She was so much more beautiful awake. Iwemara drank it in. She was about to make her bow say hello when the door opened and a woman walked in. The woman cried out and guards were called. Suddenly the serene quiet was shattered by shouts and the thundering of boots, the sound of metal on scabbard. She was pulled away from the vision of beauty in front of her, lifted by one of the guards to be taken from the room. The moment her feet left the floor she began to struggle.

 

“Let me go! Let me go!” she shouted kicking at the guard who held her and hitting his armour with her tiny ineffectual fists.   Another man was begging the pardon of the shining Lady she had been looking at, asking permission to commit seppuku for failing to guard her divine person.

 

That annoyed the Kitsuki in her. She struggled even harder in the arms of the guard who held her, twisting and squirming like an eel-fish around to look at the man. He looked important, was flat on the ground in front of the shining Lady she had come to see in a deep obeisance. “What kind of guards are you? Don’t you want to know how I got inbefore killing yourself?” Iwemara yelled.  Everyone stopped to look at her. The shining Lady looked like she might have been faintly amused on lip quirked up slightly, but Iwemara wasn’t sure, her face was so serene looking. She looked at the guard holding Iwemara and he put her back on her feet, but he kept a tight bruising hold of her arm in case she tried anything. Iwemara looked expectantly at the other guard. He raised his head, looked at her then the shining Lady, who nodded and then he looked back at her, rising slowly to his feet.

 

“How did you get into the sleeping chamber of her most revered Imperial Highness Iweko the First, Light of Heaven and Champion of Ningen-do?” he asked her sternly glowering at her threateningly. Iwemara stared back defiantly completely unafraid. Her eyebrow quirked and she cocked her head as she looked as if she were assessing him. “That’s a lot of names for one person to have. I’m Iwemara. What’s yours?”

 

He stared at her lips pursed in annoyance. “Seppun Jineki. Answer the question!”.

 

Iwemara grinned at him. “It’s a Kitsuki secret…” She said in her high pitched childish voice. She looked adoringly over at the Empress, “…but I could show you I guess…if it would help you keephersafe…does he have to die because I came to see you? I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.” She said, saying the last directly to the Empress.

 

Iweko did not respond though she kept her eyes on Iwemara, but another voice, a male voice came from behind. “No. He doesn’t have to die child.” This voice definitely sounded amused.

 

Iwemara smiled, relieved. “Oh, that’s all right then…in which case…” She gave her best deep bow to the Empress and reached for Seppun Jineki -sama’s hand. He took it looking faintly bemused, obviously unused to dealing with children. The other guard let her go. She started to pull him after her towards one of the walls, chattering in her childish way about Kitsuki and Investigation, and how she wanted to take after Kitsuki Iweko-sama who was her great-great aunt only nother great-great aunt and how she didn’t understand that part atall.Why she couldn’tbe her great-great aunt? She told of how she’d been pretending to be Iweko the magistrate investigating the Kolat when she’d discovered the opening. She told the tale with great relish just as her father had told her the tales of Kitsuki Iweko’s youthful exploits, explaining how she’d stumbled across the entrance to a passageway in the castle. It was very, very old and she thought people had forgotten all about it. She did not see the growing amusement on the face of the old man who had spoken out, or the bemusement, surprise and chagrin of the guards, including the one whose hand she was holding so fearlessly. She was in her element, having an adventure and talking about Kitsuki Iweko-sama, her favourite subject  of al time and as such was oblivious to other externals.  As she spoke, her hands were moving across the stone outer wall, searching for the all but invisible trace marking where the mechanism was.

 

“There it is!” she declared as she felt the tiny indentations, and pressed them. A small panel of the wall slid open a small way, revealing the dark narrow tunnel she had come by. Seppun Jineki was too big to get in the tunnel in all his armour and he called for other guards to search it and seal the entrances for the empress’s safety. It got a lot less fun after that, and she began to regret showing them her secret place. Carted off by Jineki, and handed over to her parents who were mortified and furious at her breach of etiquette she got the worst telling off she’d had ever. It hadbeen worth it though. She’d seen her.The Empress. Kitsuki Iweko-sama, who was Kitsuki no longer…and she still didn’t understand that any more than why she wasn’t her great-great aunt either.

 

She didn’t get to hear any of the fallout from her little adventure, because she was kept in her rooms as punishment, not permitted to attend any of the winter court festivities. So she didn’t know that the Seppun guards had been thoroughly shaken up that someone had gotten past them to the Empress or that security had been considerably tightened around her. She did not know that the Dragon guards in the castle were amused at her little adventure, well aware of how fearless she was and how much she looked up to, and wanted to emulate “Kitsuki Iweko”. The rest of the court were unaware of the exact events, but there was talk of one of the Scorpion or Spider sneaking into the Empresses rooms, a story both clan’s flatly denied in public, while they quietly tried to discover who among their clan haddone the deed, and more importantly whyin private.  Nor was she aware of the talks her parents had had with the Kitsuki daimyo over her behaviour, their handling of her and the fact a heretofore unknown series of tunnels had been discovered running through the entire castle – by a child! She did know a little about the tunnel explorations, because one of the Dragon scholars, a nice lady called Tamori Aki came to ask her about them, so she got to re-tell her story, but for the most part she was unaware, shut in her room and not permitted to leave.

 

When she was finally allowed out of her rooms under dire threats from her parents to behave herself and not to get into trouble, she went on her way wandering the castle once more in her free time. She noticed more guards about the castle, and where they stood. They were guarding the secret entrances to the tunnels. One of them recognised her as she approached. He looked familiar, and then she realised he was the one who had picked her up that day.

 

“Not going to be able to sneak past us to visit the Empress now are you little Kitsuki?” he said, an amused smirk on his face.

 

She stood there staring at him for a few minutes pouting. That was a challenge. No good samurai everignored a challenge. Kitsuki Iweko-sama wouldn’t have. Only how to do it? She’d promised she wouldn’t get into trouble again. Perhaps if she had a gift for the Empress they’d let her see her again? No, they’d made it pretty clear that no one got to see the Empress.  She really couldn’t understand why.  She was sobeautiful.  It must be very lonely not being allowed to see anyone she concluded. She wondered if she’d like one of Nanshi’s puppies for company? That would be a good reason for visiting her again, to give her a gift! Only puppies were squirmy and noisy, and they’d hear that if she went theotherway…

 

She shrugged at the Seppun guard and went on her way, going to the gardens since it was one of those rare crisp sunny days when it wasn’t too cold to be outside to think it all over. She didn’t see the shrewd look on the face of the Mirumoto Bushi who was guarding the entrance with the Seppun, nor heard the comment he made to his fellow guard as she left “That child’s got something in her head. She’s obsessed with the Empress from before she was elevated. Just look at the outfit she’s wearing, it’s a mini emerald magistrates costume, or as close as the child can get to one! I’ll bet you a Koku, she finds a way back into that room…”

 

“You’re on Yozo-san. That’ll be easy money. It’s not going to happen, she was lucky she knew about the tunnels that’s all, it’s the onlyreason she got past us.”

 

“Deal.”

 

They shook on it.

 

Iwemara sat and walked in the walled inner gardens of the Shiro. There were lots of courtiers here walking and talking in pairs and groups, all warmly clothed against the crisp winter air. She listened to the snippets disinterestedly as she looked at the green winter plants, and the starkly beautiful leafless trees, trying to figure out how to answer the challenge without getting into trouble with her parents. Perhaps if she spoke to the Empress? She had power over everyone. And if she brought her a gift she might see her way to stopping her being in trouble. There was a feast coming up in a few days time. Perhaps it might be worth trying then?

 

She made sure to wear her prettiest green kimono and hair slides that day, trying to emulate the beautiful empress she was going to try and see again. She put on her outdoor robe too, because it was very, very cold the way she needed to take to avoid the guards. She had her gift ready, a small box of sweets she’d saved – the first she’d had since her last visit to the empress – a huge sacrifice on her part – and wrapped carefully in a piece of rice paper she’d drawn a chrysanthemum surrounding the Kitsuki mon on in her inexpert hand. She hoped the empress would like them. They were her favourites.

 

While everyone was busy with the feast, she trotted out of the castle. The guards didn’t stop her. She was going away from the festivities after all, what trouble could she cause outside? Their only warning was that she wasn’t to go too far and to be back before nightfall.  She knew these rules and the guards, and readily agreed her mind already on her mission.  This tunnel was even more tricky to find than the last and difficult to get to besides. She had to catch herself from slipping twice on the icy path, but she made it, and got into the relative warmth of the tunnel as it began to snow lightly. This was a much easier trip, through a – to her – broad tunnel under the castle to the spiral stone staircase and she padded along, the only sounds her breathing and the quiet pitter patter of her fleecy winter boots. She listened quietly for some time, but she didn’t hearany guards. She climbed and climbed and climbed up the steps, she got tired, but persevered. Kitsuki Iweko-sama wouldn’t have gotten tired and stopped when she had a mission to complete after all.

 

She listened again at the exit to the tunnel, all was quiet and she slipped through to the mirrored hall. There were no guards posted here, they seemed to guard the outer rooms and prevent anyone entering these ones, or that’s what she thought had happened in the brief time she had had to see the last time she had gotten here. It had taken the guards a few seconds to arrive in Iweko-sama’s rooms. It wasn’t far to her rooms from here. She hesitated outside the beautiful room though, a little frightened what would happen if she did get into trouble, but she pushed the fear away. No good samurai let fear over take them!

 

She stepped into the room. Iweko was sat at a desk, writing something when she slipped in. Iwemara waited until she had finished as was only polite, wondering if she was doing the right thing. It was too late to turn back now though.

 

“Hello” she said politely, bowing as deeply as she knew how as Iweko turned and noticed her. She was even more stunningly beautiful in all her finery. “I wanted to give you this.” She said offering her the small inexpertly wrapped package “They’re my favourite sweets. I hope you like them. I saved them for you especially since you’re my great-great aunt.”

 

Iweko’s eyebrow twitched and she silently took the proffered package, placing it on the desk beside her. Emboldened by this acceptance Iwemara continued. “I know I’m not supposed to be here, and I’ll get in trouble for it, but I sowanted to meet you. You won’t let the guards get in trouble will you? They don’t know all the secret passages in the castle. They don’t live here. But you did. I used the big outside tunnel to visit you today, because it comes right into the inner rooms, and goes down that rocky path through the mountains that’s so hard to get to?… and there aren’t guards here to turn me back, and… I hope you don’t mind. I know that for some reason you aren’t my great-great aunt because you are empress now, but one of your guards said I couldn’t get past them and a good samurai nevergives up a challenge. My parents said younever did and I really want to take after you when you were Kitsuki Iweko-sama instead of Empress Iweko-sama. They’ve told me all the stories about you. Did you really go against blood speakers and the Kolat and everything else?” Iwemara rattled on for several minutes about how she’d been trying to emulate her, idol not noticing the assessing quality in the Empresses eyes, nor the amused interest there.

 

With her connection to Togahi Satsu, Iweko summoned him. A child outwitting her guards twice? Unheard of. She was a perceptive, and inquisitive little thing too…and was her late brother’s great grandchild.  It intrigued her.  She wanted to know more about the girl. What had she said her name was?  Iwemara? Partly named for herself of course, and the child was fearless, prattling on about her devotion to her and how she wanted to take after her.

 

It almost made her wish for a daughter. There was a spirit hovering around the child too she saw, also interested, assessing her potential.  Kitsuki himself! That the child was precocious was obvious, that Kitsuki was interested in her suggested that such talent should be carefully nurtured…in the right directions. For that she needed her Voice.

 

Togashi Satsu arrived not long after Iweko sent her summons, never being too far away from her. He took one look at the scene of the empress sitting at her desk in all her finery and the little Kitsuki child that had, wonder of wonders snuck past the guards a second time, and was quite happily chattering away to the Empress and smiled, greatly amused. So the child hadgotten past the guards again! He knew that bets had been being laid between the Mirumoto who served at Shiro Kitsuki and thought she wouldtry again and the Seppun who were adamant that it was impossible with their heightened guard.  The Seppun were going to get another knock to their overconfidence. It would be good for them and they would be better guards for it. He could feel Iweko’s amusement, and her interest in the child too, though she could not show it in openly. They both understood the child’s motivations and thoughts even though she was so lacking in etiquette. That could be taught her in time. The very young did not always do as they were told, and she did not yet understand just what she was doing.

 

Eventually Iwemara came to the end of her rambled explanations and hero worship stories. Only then did she notice there was now another in the room. Iwemara jumped when she noticed him, blushed and looked briefly at Iweko before looking at the floor and bowing very low. Satsu smiled kindly at her, approaching and bowing to Iweko himself, before crouching in front of the bold little Kitsuki. “Do you know who I am child?” he said in a gentle voice, tinged with his inner amusement, an indulgent smile tugging at his lips.

 

When he spoke she looked up and looked at him properly, noting his fine robes in Dragon colours, the Mon of the Togashi, the Imperial chrysanthemum tattooed to his chest, and the head of the dragon tattoo she could see tattooed to his head, and tracing to the neck of his robes. She looked at his wrists, seeing the tracings of the dragon’s forepaws and her eyes widened as she looked back into his eyes. “You’re the grandson of Togashi.” she said awed and wondering. “Togashi Satsu, the Voice of the Empress…” She hesitated for a moment staring at him considering. “Could I see you turn into a Dragon Satsu-sama?”

 

Satsu roared with laughter. Iweko’s lips twitched as she watched the interaction between the child and her Voice. Satsu put his hand to Iwemara’s chin. “You are a very bold little Kitsuki aren’t you?” he said, a broad smile on his face showing he wasn’t angry, and Iwemara smiled back, “But I cannot grant you your wish little Kitsuki.  I take that form only when Rokugan is in greatest danger, and you wouldn’t want that to happen would you?”

 

“Oh, no…no I wouldn’t want that. Not if the empress was put in danger!” she said, glancing at Iweko adoringly. “Am I going to get into trouble?” she asked, darting glances between her idol the empress and the legend of her clan “I only wanted to see her, and give her a gift.”

 

Satsu glanced at the empress, and Iwemara could have sworn they were having some kind of private communication between each other…without even speaking. Eventually Satsu looked back at Iwemara and smiled gently “You will not get into trouble little Kitsuki, and nor will the guards you have outwitted once again be punished for their failure to guard the empress, but you must promisenot to come unless you are summoned. A good samurai follows the rules.”

 

Iwemara chewed her lip her eyes wide and so innocent looking as she took in his words, and bowed very low again. “I’m sorry Satsu-sama. I’ll do my best. I just wanted to…to see her.” She turned to Iweko “You’re very beautiful Empress Iweko-sama.”

 

Iweko nodded, accepting the compliment. Iwemara could hear footsteps coming from the outer rooms, and knew her time was short. “What can I do? To be more like you Empress?” She asked quickly. The door opened, and Iweko Setai stood in the doorway. Iweko raised her hand to stay his surprised words. She placed a hand on Satsu’s shoulder before rising gracefully and going to her consort. Satsu spoke gently to the child “The empress bids me to give you this advice little Kitsuki: Work hard, leave no stone un-turned and no avenue of investigation unexplored. Be just and fair to all, follow the tenets of bushido and protect those who are lesser than you.”

 

Iwemara looked over at Iweko and Setai standing in the doorway and bowed very low. “Thank you Empress-sama. I will do as you bid me.” She said in a small voice. Setai nodded, a slightly confused look on his face at why his wife was holding an audience with a child and they left the room to attend the feast.

 

“It’s time I attended the feast, little Kitsuki and I must speak with your daimyo.” He stood, ruffling the child’s silky hair. “Come, you can wait with the Seppun guards on duty in the corridor. You will not get into trouble for seeing your Empress un asked…this time.”

 

Iwemara bowed as low as she could without falling over “Of course Togashi Satsu-sama, thank you Togashi Satsu-sama.” He smiled, and offered her his hand “And I really can’tsee you turn into a dragon?” she said hopefully as she took it.  He chuckled. “No little Kitsuki, you can’t.” He led her out to where the guards stood at attention. He left them with orders to watch her, but to treat her kindly and a few other things she could not hear, and swept off in the wake of the empress and her consort.

 

She waited some time with the guards. Whatever Satsu-sama had said to them, meant they weren’t angry with her. In fact they were quite nice in their own way once she got them talking and told them of her adventures, one of the younger ones unbent enough to relate some of his own childhood tales. When someone did come it was her mother, who swept her into big a hug, before telling her off roundly. She was ushered back to her rooms and sent to bed. The next day she was visited by Buretsu, master of the Kitsuki Dojo who was very nice to her. She was kept very busy after that, studying things, doing small tasks for the master of the dojo and his students. She took in all she could about the training they were doing in the hopes that one day she could be one of his students.

 

She treasured the memory of seeing Empress Iweko and the words Togashi Satsu-sama had said were the empresses own, and kept repeating the words over and over in her head. When the winter court ended she got her dearest wish, to train to become a Kitsuki Investigator just like Kitsuki Iweko-sama had been. Remembering the words, Iwemara worked very hard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From: The Letters of Shosuro Nirav

 

Dear Father,

 

You will understand why I write to you of such covert and secretive operations at the end of this letter, but for now know that nothing is secret.

 

Sensei Ichigo’s final test was not as I envisaged. His assignment was simple: sneak into Sensei Hametsu’s chambers, kill the “guards”, and slip some “poison” into Hametsu’s cup. Infiltration, Assassination, Exfiltration. Simple.

 

My first order of business was to swap the poison. Hametsu has, as you are very well aware, been a continuous source of pain and contention through my training. Ichigo gave me a vial of strongly spiced sake, and it took little work to mix in a very potent poison I had taken from the stores. I was not going to refuse the opportunity I had been given.

 

The climb up to Hametsu’s chambers was fairly trivial. There were guards patrolling the rooftops, students filling in the roll as Phoenix or Lion or Crab, just as I had done for Misao’s test last week. I followed my training, followed my instinct, and as always I could see them and they could not see me. Mother named me well.

 

After a gentle stroll up the wall to his tower – I don’t mean to brag, but I am a very good throw with the grapple – I was on the roof overlooking his balcony. There was a single guard looking over the parapet, and from Ichigo’s instructions I knew him to be a simple straw dummy.

 

I hope you will understand and forgive my surprise as I heard the crunch of bone as I crept up behind the “dummy” and snapped its neck. The guard fell lifeless at my feet. I paused in panic, and in doing so I heard a footstep behind me. I was acting automatically at that moment, dodging the inevitable downward swing to the right, relieving my foe of his Katana, and decapitating him with it. It took me a short moment to realise that my test of fake assassination had quickly turned into at least three real ones.

 

It took me another short moment to realise that I had just killed two Phoenix bushi. Five minutes later, I had killed another three in their sleep. Hametsu had a lot to answer for, allowing Phoenix into our dojo, into his own private chambers.

 

I didn’t use the poison, and in a rage I forgot my professionalism, and left Hametsu-sama to bleed a slow death, pinned to the floor by his own Katana, his Wakizashi out of reach, his Phoenix guards silenced.

 

In the morning, Ichigo-sama summoned me. I had passed his test; not of sneaking in and poisoning Hametsu, but of uncovering his links to the Phoenix and ending it with my own judgment. I was expecting admonishment, punishment, death, but instead I received his highest praise. He brought me before the entire assembled Dojo and praised my actions and tenacity, before bowing to me and presenting me with my own Bayushi Blade.

 

As of today, Ichigo-sama has been promoted to Sensei of the Dojo, and his first order of business will be to write to you tomorrow to confirm moving my Gempukku ceremony ahead by a month.

 

I look forwards to seeing you soon Father.

 

I am the shadow

I am the night

I am death

Now that my first novel has finished posting (I hope you all enjoyed it) I’m going to start sharing a project I worked on during and after I played the campaign with my friends.  We started playing a Legend of the Five Rings role playing game based loosely on the Second City story Arc, though of course our Games Master had his own unique flair on it.

This is less a chapterised story, and more excerpts from the lives of the various different characters that were played during the course of the campaign.  Only one character survived the entire campaign, and it was not mine :). I played two significant characters, but one died for reasons, and I had to create a new one.

I would one day like to file the serials off this particular piece, and refine it into something publishable elsewhere.  My thoughts on this so far are to have the Rokugani be from a fictional middle eastern culture (Kingdom of Heaven heavily influenced this decision though originally I was going to have the second City be the Middle eastern rather than India inspired site), I thought it would be more original to have the Rockugani to be the middle eastern inspired culture, and they have colonised the Second City set in a post plague mediaeval European culture.

 

I’m going to Split the chronicle into short chunks that can be easily digested, but they won’t be separate coherent chapters due to the nature of how I created this Chronicle.

 

Nevertheless I hope you enjoy this.

 

The first Post will be up Shortly.

31 – Home.

 

She was in Irradin City, which, oddly, didn’t scare her half as much as it should have.  That was what first tipped her off that she was, once again, dreaming.  She wasn’t at home however, but walking along one of the broad public roads towards the Palace of the Justiciars.  She felt drawn to it somehow, and as it was a dream, and no harm could come to her she went where she was drawn.

 

Up the broad marble steps she went, through the chequerboard atrium with its black and white tiles, and through to the forum.

 

The court was in session.  She’d seen it this way several times before, the difference being that Malken was where her father usually stood and where the defending person tried as being a mage usually stood, was her father. She noticed that he had guards either end of the stand as well as his dishevelled appearance.  He looked as if he hadn’t slept well or shaved in several days, nor changed his clothes, which were rumpled. He was speaking with passion to the surrounding paladins, whose blank faces revealed nothing of their thoughts.  Malken appeared to be goading her father with taunts or accusations of some kind; She couldn’t hear what was said, but certainly his gesticulations suggested that.  She could well guess what they were.  That Lord Blackwood was a Mage Sympathiser, that he’ known she Sybilla was  mage from the start and had raised her anyway, had concealed it all from the paladinate, even when she had awoken.  That he, Malken had discovered it and raised the alarm.  Lord Blackwood seemed to be defending himself quite ably however, until one of Malken’s questions elicited an unexpected response. Lord Blackwoods face contorted into a sneer and he said something that clearly shocked the members of the court. Whispereing and muttered conversations sprang up in the stands, though she couldn’t hear the words in response to something that one of the members said. Her father gesticulated to the seat where her mother always sat.  It was empty.

 

That was unusual.  Her mother always attended court meetings, especially when her father was there.  Sybilla felt a tugging again; it was trying to pull her away from the courtroom. With a final glance at her father, who was still defending himself with what looked like great verve and fervor, his arms gesticulating all over the place, she left following the insistent tugging. It pulled her through the courtroom and down into the depths of the Palace to where the cells of the convicted criminals were kept.

 

The cells were dank and dark and, from experience, Sybilla knew that they smelt horrendous.  They were rarely cleaned, and the facilities were primitive at best.  This was a place of punishment her father had told her once, when he’d brought her down here, and she’d questioned him about it, with scented handkerchif to her nose to block the smell.  The criminals had been convicted; they weren’t there to be cosseted.  At the time she had agreed with him.  Convicted criminals certainly shouldn’t be cosseted she’d been told.  It was indeed punishment, but now, as her dream carried her into one of the cells, her heart ached with the cruelty of it, for there was her mother, huddled in a cloak in the corner.  Dishevelled, and dirty, with tears, fresh and old streaking her once beautiful face.  Now it looked haggard with care, and harsh treatment.   Sybilla suddenly realise just why her father had been gesticulating at her mother’s empty yet favoured seat.  She’d grown up knowing how pitiless he was to mages.  He was defending himself against her mother’s actions!  He’d actually turned her in.  Bastard, she thought.  But then the dream pulled her away again, to different places and more pleasant dreamscapes and she dreamt no more of the people she had once called mother and father.

 

She woke slowly, in a comfortable bed, in a brightly lit room.  The air was cool, but not cold, and it took her a little while to figure out what the difference was.  The sheets, which at home had been cotton and wool, were silken, and satiny.  She opened her eyes.  This was definitely NOT her room, nor was it outside, as she’d half expected to find herself, yet still it was familiar.  The décor was rich, if not lavish all white with dashes of spring green, sky blue and lavender.  She sat up, and saw, through an opposing window, a vista she had only ever seen in her dreams.

 

“The cloud topped city,” she whispered to herself in awe.  How had she gotten here?  She’d been running with Asterion and Jace and his Tressym….Asterion had leapt the gorge…there’d been a fight and then…there was nothing.  She couldn’t remember anything else.  Was she still dreaming?  It felt real.  Her muscles were stiff and sore, and she’d felt dizzy as she’d sat up.  Her head ached a little too.  Had she been ill?

 

She was getting ready to stand when the door to her room opened, and in walked her maid, Merylla. “Ah you’re awake! At last.” The maid said, grinning from ear to ear, and giving Sybilla a big hug.  “We’ve been that worried about you.”

 

“Where are we?” Sybilla asked, carefully moving as she realised just how stiff and sore her body was.

 

“Spires City in Ashkelon my lady.  Let me help you.”  She added, reaching the bed as Sybilla wobbled to an upright position.  It was a good thing she did help her, or Sybilla would have ended in a heap on the floor.

 

“How did I get here?  What’s been happening.  What are you doing here?  Have I been ill?”  The questions tumbled out of her as they carefully made their way over to an elaborate toilette table.

 

“Ah miss, you’ve been sore ill this past week.  Lord Jace’s companion brought you here after you did something called a weirding.  At least that’s what I think they said it was.  Very dangerous for an untrained mage.  It’s dangerous even for trained ones.”  The maid said in a more serious tone, as she brushed out Sybilla’s hair.  “Lord Jace has barely left your side since he arrived.”

 

Sybilla’s lips quirked upwards, “He has, has he?”

 

“Yes miss.  I think he likes you.”

 

“I don’t think.”  Sybilla said. Commas, not periods “I know he likes me.  He seems to think that there’s some form of a bond between us.  I begin to believe he is right.  Not that I’d ever tell him that you understand.”

 

Merylla chuckled “I understand you miss.  Very sure of himself isn’t he?”

 

“Exactly.” Sybilla said with a wicked grin.  Then she sobered up.  “He wouldn’t have done half of what he’s done for me if he didn’t believe there was something worth saving.”

 

“Miss don’t be upset.  You’ve had a hard time, and you’re still not recovered.  Eat something, have a bath and sleep some more, and everything will seem better.”

 

“Yes, food and sleep always help.  And I am starving.” Sybilla admitted.

 

“Good, you should be after how long you’ve been out, and by rights you shouldn’t even be out of bed yet.” Merylla said tartly.

 

“I’m only sore and achy…and a little bit wobbly, but if I’ve been out as long as a week, that’s understandable.  A hot bath should sort that out.”

 

“Aye.  I’ll run you one, and get you some food.  The Lord and Lady will be pleased you’ve awakened.  They’ve been worried about you too.”

 

“Who are the Lord and Lady?” Sybilla asked “And you still haven’t told me how you came to be here Merry.”

 

“I’ll get to that soon enough miss, I’ll tell you when I get back. “ Merylla threw over her shoulder as she hastened from the room, and Sybilla had to be contented to wait.  There was little else she could do.  She leaned back in the chair, her energy sapped by the short walk across the chamber.  She hated being so weak; it made her feel vulnerable.  But she didn’t have too long to ponder before Merylla returned with a large bowl of broth which she set before her.

 

“Eat.  It’s full of restoratives and all those herbs and tonics the healers said you were to have.  Smells better than what they serve to the convalescents at the hospitals in back in Irradin too.” She said before bustling off to arrange the bath.

 

Sybilla was more than happy to follow the order.  The smells that reached her nose had awoken her appetite, and were causing her mouth to water.  She dug in, though was sensible and paced herself, knowing from past experience that to eat too much rich food too soon after an illness could be worse than being ill. The cook whoever they were, must have had experience with sick people, for the food wasn’t over spiced and, while delicious, was easily digestible. By the time she reached the bottom of the bowl, she was beginning to feel full.

 

“So, you wanted to know how I came to be here.” Merylla chattered to her as she aided her mistress into the bath.  “Well, after you’d gone, there wasn’t much point in staying.  Lady Sangra has her own maid, and I didn’t like the thought of being hauled over the coals by his Lordship or that young man who made so bold with you, so I wasn’t long in following you out of the city; though I’ll wager my journey was smoother than yours.  I went down to the port and took ship to the Inch Cape.  It’s not all that far from there to the border.  I knew my uncle would welcome me, and I certainly wouldn’t be safe with both your father and that young man out for your blood.”
That triggered a memory, the dream she had had…had it been real? But Merylla rattled on breaking her train of thought “Anyway, a day or so after I arrived, you were brought in my lady and my uncle bless his soul brought my employment to the attention of Lord Kesaban.  He took me on immediately, and I’ve been helping with the healers ever since.

 

“Who is this Lord Kesaban?”

 

“He’s your father my lady.  Your real father I mean.  He and your sister dearly wish to speak to you…if you feel well enough.”

 

She had a father….and a sister. That was more than she could have hoped for. She wondered what they were like. They wanted to speak her. She wanted to see them…but would they like her?  She’d been raised in Irradin after all. Her adoptive parents had killed her real mother.  Would her sister resent her for that?  And her father?  What about him?  She was feared they’d reject her, and she had nowhere else to go. “I… I do want to see them. Is…this bedroom in my…my father’s house?

 

“Yes my lady, this is his wing of the palace.” Merylla said.

 

Palace?” Sybilla gaped at the maid.

 

“Um..well..I wasn’t supposed to tell you… so soon…the shock and all…your father…” the maid said,
“Merylla, please?”  Sybilla asked in a wheedling tone.

 

“He’s half brother to the king.” She admitted.

 

“Oh.”  There was a pause as Sybilla digested this nugget of information.  “I had…better get dressed then and see him.” She said, finally making up her mind.  It’s not as if putting it off would ease the meeting.  It was going to be awkward whichever way it was cut.  She just hoped her father liked her.

 

Merylla went to the wardrobe and pulled out one of the lush gowns in a pale spring green that complemented Sybilla’s eyes with wonderful embroidery in an intricate pattern of vines and leaves.  The dress was a familiar one from her dreams in a fashion which was less constricting and formal than in Irradin. There were no buttons, or ruffles or lace or hooped skirt.  She almost felt naked in the flowing fabric which was laced up the sides making it hug her contours. It was very comfortable, but Sybilla felt very self-conscious. It felt like she was wearing a night dress.

 

Merylla noticed.  “You’ll get used to the fashions here my lady.  They are a lot less formal here than back there.”

 

“And if I wore the style that we wore in the city?” Sybilla asked, finally noticing Merylla’s similar, if less elaborately embroidered dress “We’d stick out like a sore thumb here.” She guessed.

 

“Very much so. The clothes you were wearing when Lord Jace’s companion brought you in weren’t fit for repair, let alone cleaning. I can’t imagine what you have been doing to be wearing boys clothing.  What happened to your riding habit?”

 

“It’s a long story Merylla. Do you know if Asterion made it safely here?”

 

“The unicorn?” Merylla said.  “Oh he’s here, he comes with Lord Jace, as you could not come to him.  He’s magnificent.  Everyone in the palace is talking about him.  Something about black unicorns being so rare.”

 

“So he’s well? And we are safe here?”

 

“He was slightly injured at the rift, but the wounds have been healed.  He’s just fine, and you’re perfectly safe here. The safest place in the city is the palace.”

 

“But will I be welcome? I mean, I’ve never even met my father, or my sister.  What must they think of me growing up as the daughter of the people who killed their wife and mother?”

 

They are your family. They have only ever wanted you to be returned here safe. They will understand.  It will take time to get to know them and for them to get to know you, and for you to settle in to the ways up here.  It’s a big change, and a lot to take in.  Be patient.  The surprising thing would be if you weren’t overwhelmed.” Merylla said, squeezing Sybilla’s arm encouragingly.

 

“I never said I was overwhelmed.” Sybilla shot back.  “But… it is a lot to take in.” She admitted.

 

“There.” Merylla said tying the last knot on the gown and slipping a beautifully patterned shawl around her shoulders.  “Now, do you think you are well enough for a walk?  Your father’s room isn’t far.  Or do you want to see him here?”

 

Sybilla thought about this for a moment.  “I’ll go to him, the bath has loosened off most of the aches and pains, and I don’t feel quite as weak and dizzy now I’ve eaten. If I could have your arm though, I’d be grateful,” she said rising unsteadily to her feet.

 

Merylla immediately took her arm. “Always my lady.”

 

Merylla was right in saying it wasn’t far to walk, though Sybilla was exhausted by the end of it, and regretted her impulsive action, and the pride that prevented her from seeing her real father in a state of indisposition.  Walking the corridors gave her a very eery sense of déjà-vu.  She’d never been here before, but everything was so familiar.  The corridors were exactly like the ones in her dreams, all baroque mouldings and romantic paintings of landscapes, and people who were probably her relations and ancestors in various styles of historical dress.

 

Merylla led her to a small room with three doors.  It looked like an office, though it was comfortably furnished. From behind one door she could hear a lot of voices and music; the other was silent. She sat wearily in one of the four chairs comfortably padded with brightly patterned cusions arrayed around the fireplace.  Merylla left her there saying she’d be back shortly with Lord Kesaban.

 

The door to the noisy room opened, and briefly she heard laughter and music and the clink of fine cutlery and china and glass.  It could only be a party.  The noise masked the entrance of the person until the door closed.  Alone as she thought she was Sybilla looked around the room in curiosity and jumped when she saw a very familiar face.

 

“Lady Evelyn!” Sybilla struggled to rise, but the woman came to her.

 

She smiled in genuine delight at seeing her up, and looking so well and hugged her.  “I’m so glad to see you here my dear.”

 

“How come you’re here?  What’s happening back in the city?”

 

Lady Evelyn grimaced.  “I’m on something of a holiday away from the Republic, as is my husband Alisdair.  The Paladinate are cracking down on all mages and sorcery in a big way right now and we thought it best to… absent ourselves until the furore dies down.  But I’m also here because of you.”

 

“I never meant to cause such havoc in the city.” Sybilla said, abashed.

 

“I don’t mean the chaos in the city, child, I mean I’m here for you.”

 

Lady Evelyn smiled at the look of confusion that passed over the girls face.  “I’ve been trying to get you out from the clutches of the Paladinate since your mother was killed.  Lord Kesaban thought a familiar face to explain a few things might make it a little less overwhelming for you.”

 

“My mother?” Sybilla looked surprised, she could feel a lump in her throat remembering the dream. “Lady S…Sangra’s…dead?” She hadn’t been her true daughter, but Sangra had loved her, and raised her as her own, and Sybillla had loved her back.  How was she supposed to react to such news?  They must hate Sangra here, but all Sybilla wanted to do was cry.

 

“No. Not Sangra” Evelyn said gently, seeing the distress on the girls face. She couldn’t really blame Sybilla for being upset. The woman had raised the girl as her own; of course Sybilla would have deep feelings for her. “Sangra has been imprisoned for failing to turn you in, and possibly abetting your escape, but as far as I know she is not in danger of her life.  Even the Paladinate have to acknowledge that mothers will do strange things to protect their children. She had a stellar record with them before this, it’s helped her. They are treating her as mentally unstable, which while unpleasant, is better than the alternative. I was actually talking about your birth mother Eleithiya.”

 

“Oh.” Sybilla paused, not quite sure why she was so relieved. “Did you know her?”

 

Evelyn smiled warmly.  “We were best friends.  She was a wonderful person, kind, beautiful, and when she spoke everyone listened.  She always did the right thing. When the war broke out, we both volunteered to help those trapped in the disintegrating kingdom that’s now the Republic.  We both had pretty strong magical affinities suited more to the diplomat and spy so that’s what we trained for.  She was a very skilled healer too. She never turned someone in need away, friend or enemy.  She and I went on many missions both together and separately.  We met our spouses on one.” Again she smiled, in memory of missions shared, loves won.

 

“We were like twins, we could finish each other’s sentences, we got married together, even fell pregnant at the same time. It was nearing the end of the war then, those mages that hadn’t died had pretty much all fled the lowlands.  The mission that took Eleithiya and I to the newly formed Republic wasn’t meant to be of long duration, so even pregnant as we were, we were sent out. Every mage was needed, there just weren’t enough of us and everyone was needed to prepare for the wyrding that made the rift.  It was the only way we could stop their assassins infiltrating the kingdom and killing us.  There’d been word of a powerful mage just awakened in the lowlands, and families that had hidden through the worst of it in need of an escape before the Paladin’s found them.  Our mission was to get them out.  We had no idea that it was a trap, not until it was too late.” She paused and Sybilla saw the shadow pass over her face at the painful memories the explanation was evoking.

 

“We were split up in the ambush. I was captured, but ransomed after I lost my child.  Your mother…she must have escaped to a safe haven and given birth to you not long after.  I only heard that she had been killed, and assumed at first that you had died with her.  But before I was ransomed, I also had the luck, for good or for ill to meet Lady Sangra.  She tended me during the sickness brought on by losing the baby.  She knew how I felt, and confessed that she had recently suffered her own loss, probably to try and sympathise with me.  We comforted each other with words to some extent I think.  So it came as a surprise when I heard guards talking about how happy the blackwoods were that Lady Sangra had given birth to a healthy baby girl.  Lord Blackwood was ecstatic, and being a prisoner no one listened to me, a filthy little mage.  I was returned to the Ashkelon at the same time as your mother’s body.  I only discovered the truth later.  That it had been Sangra that had killed Eleithiya.  It didn’t take me long to figure out the rest.”  She had to stop there and took a delicate slip of linen from her sleeve to gently dab the tears that had sprung to her lovely eyes.  Sybilla waited silently, not sure of her feelings at the revelation that the only mother she had ever known had indeed killed the mother who had borne her.  It was all so tangled and messy.

 

Evelyn regained her composure then, and continued.  “I volunteered to return as ambassador once peace was declared, but the Paladinate would only accept a male diplomat. My husband is very skilled, and agreed we needed to protect you, so we moved to the city.  I have kept a close watch on you and Sangra, hoping against hope that if you showed any signs of your heritage, I could rescue you if the need arose.  No one in Ashkelon believed that you’d survived.  Not until you started visiting the dreamlands did they start to believe me.  You can’t lie in dreams. You knew who your father was and you kept appearing in Eleithiya’s rooms even though you were so young.  It was uncanny.  As you grew it became even more obvious. You are like her in so many ways.  When I saw you at the ball…well.  It was like seeing Eleithiya again.”  Evelyn sniffed. “So I was ordered to keep an eye on you and to help you if I could.  My husband and I work tirelessly to help emergent mages escape the Paladinate.  There was nothing else we could do but watch and wait with you though.  The Lord Paladin was too powerful even then to go against and to try and get you back through diplomatic channels would have led to your death.”

 

“Is that why you lived so close? My m…Lady Sangra did wonder.”

 

“Yes.  I was so annoyed when Jace awakened you.  Relieved too.  There was only one thing left to do then, help you escape.  He’s been waiting for you to come home his whole life.  He’s loved you ever since he was a little boy and you first came to the dreamlands.” She said with an indulgent smile for her favourite nephew. “I don’t really blame him for wanting to kiss you in person.”

 

“You sent Jace to me? After I’d gotten away?”

 

Evelyn smiled and nodded.  “I’m a mirrormance, I can communicate over long distances and see anything that is reflected in a surface.”

 

“That would be useful in a spy.  Undetectable too, pretty much.  No wonder fa…Lord Blackwood could never catch you at it.”

 

Evelyn’s grin widened.

 

“Exactly, dear daughter.”  The voice was deeper, male, and Sybilla had had no idea another person had entered the room.  She spun around to face the person behind the voice, startled.

 

Her father.  Her real father.  He was tall, and slim, in rich robes of midnight blue and a chain of silver stars encircling his shoulders. His face was long and thin too, trimmed with a neat beard patchy with grey, a long healed scar on his chin creating an irregularity that made him look distinguished.  The face was tanned from long hours spent outside; she could see paler skin in the crows feet at the eyes, which suggested humour.  His salt and pepper hair, like his beard neatly trimmed, was pulled back in a neat pony tail.  His fingers were bare of all but one ring, a platinum signet ring on his right hand a dark sapphire as its gem.  What caught her eye most though was the welcoming smile on his face and in his eyes, eyes the same shape and colour as her own.  He was a complete stranger to her, familiar from the dreams, but she felt no emotional tie to him.  He was just a man, with features like her own, and yet…he was her father.   She wanted to feel something for him though.  Wanted to get to know him better, wanted be accepted.

 

“Don’t think we ever forgot you child, or ever ceased hoping that you would one day to be restored to us when we realised you lived.  It won’t be easy for you, having such a change, I know that, but we will do all we can to ease the transition.”

 

He walked over and embraced her and as simple as that she knew it would be all right.  It would be hard to change the learning of a lifetime so she could fit in.  This land was new to her, it would have different rules, different customs. She’d barely set foot in it and the dresses made her feel naked.  It would take time to get to know the family she’d never met, but she’d already made a start. In time she’d get to know them, and hopefully come to love them as she had loved Sangra and Lord Blackwood.  She didn’t fear her magic any more. She had met her real father, and he wanted her.  It would be all right.  She could do this.

 

“Welcome home.”

 

 

And that’s it.  That’s the end of The Runaway Mage’s story.

 

Many thanks go to Katherine Inskip ( @chesneycat on the Twitters) For beta reading this and making it SO MUCH better than it was originally!

 

I did have ideas for a prequel and a sequel, but they probably won’t happen.

 

The sequel would have been Sybilla taking her place at the Askelon court, getting more comfortable with being a mage, getting to know her family and having to deal with the palace politics as well as some very disturbing dreams that she eventually tells Jace about – They aren’t dreams.  She’s seeing the present at a remove, and Lady Sangra is in prison – accused by her husband of being a sorceress, and she was – once upon a time before an accident burned her out.  Sybilla still cares for the only mother she’s ever known.  She returns to Irradin to rescue her confronting Malken and her Father in the process.

 

The Prequel would then have been about Sybilla’s mothers – Eleithiya her birth mother, and Sangra, her adopted one – formerly best friends.

 

There is revolution in the air.  The Irradin crown (a line of mages) has fallen, the Magic hating and magicless rising up against their poor rule.  A murderous Askelonian water weaver escapes prison in Askelon.  Sangra who escaped Irradin before the revolution and Eleithia a dukes daughter are sent to investigate and hunt him down. Sangra ends up burned out as the water weaver takes her on.  It leaves her bitter and she remains in Irradin when Eleitiya returns to Ashkelon – after all, she’s no longer a mage, so not at risk any more.

 

Lord Blackwood’s family were slaughtered by a rogue Mage who had lost Control.  He and Sangra become close after her return. Tey work together to stamp out rogue Magic (and then ALL magic in Irradin).  Eleithiya helps Iradininan mages escape to Ashkelon and in this capacity, she and Sangra meet again over the body of a woman clutching a child.  Sangra, thinking Eleithiya has gone rogue, kills her, but can’t bring herself to kill the baby, having so recently suffered a miscarriage of her own.  She takes the child as her own, not realising until much later as Sybilla grows and comes to resemble her mother, who’s child she really was.

But it’s unlikely they will ever get written now.  I’ve moved on to other stories, other worlds, different characters.  But it was fun living in it for a short while and I hope you enjoyed being in that world too.

Thanks ever so much for reading!

 

I appreciate feedback of the commentary kind – I am still wanting to improve my craft.

 

If you /really/ enjoyed this and want to contribute more (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

 

It’s taken a while (apologies! Life got busy). but I have finally got the presentation and accompanying notes sorted out :D. So here they are:

 

9 Worlds Worldbuilding Presentation

 

SLIDE 1

 

Presentation Header

 

SLIDE 2

 

In which we introduce ourselves:

 

Amy Butt, a Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Reading and an academic researcher in representations of the City in Science Fiction.

 

Amy Brennan, A Master of Geoscience from Keele University with an abiding interest in Geology in fantasy and science fiction, Associate Editor of the Escape Artists Podcast Cast of Wonders and an errant scribbler of art and jotter of fiction

 

SLIDE 3

 

The Presentation has been split into three sections:

 

Good Foundations:

 

In which I provide a quick introduction to Geology, rock types and how they form with a speedy trip through geological time (so basically my degree in five minutes flat)

 

A Solid Framework:

 

In which I explore the geomorphology of landscape and how this can affect the Plot including different ground conditions and of course, because I’m British – the weather and how this can be affected by the landscape around it.

 

The Finishing Touches: Sexy little bits like Volcanoes and Earthquakes

 

 

SLIDES 4&5 – these were discussed by Amy Butt

 

We are all here to discuss world building, so I thought we would start with an image of the factory floor from Hitchhikers, to frame a thought by Samuel Delany

  • The setting defines the constraints of the possible within this new world, providing the literal premises for narrative action
  • Samuel Delany

 

When we consider our setting, the fabric of the world we imagine, its physical structure and the imagined settlements frame what is possible .  In world building we need to construct a believable world for the reader, and aid the suspension of disbelief. For this we need to have a world where we have created its own consistent internal logics. To do so we need to understand the limits of our existing world and how this has shaped the way we live, to unpick their workings. We also need to remember that in fiction the world is both site and symbol:  As a symbol – what associations do you intend for the reader, common cultural references, does it act as a metaphor?

As a site for narrative experience – responses depend on your inhabitants, personal influence they have on a character, impact on emotional state

 

We will be talking about earth and humans as a common point of reference, but wil be happy to expand the discussion after the talk!

 

SLIDE 6

 

To build a solid structure you need a good foundation so I’ll be giving you a super speedy intro to Geological basics such as how different rocks are formed from a ball of homogenous magma and a bit of geological history which could be useful to pull analogues from for fantasy and sci fi creatures. My colleague Amy Butt will be introducing how these rocks are used by us humans for architectural purposes.

 

SLIDE 7

 

I’m not gonna lie – I did ask the audience if there were any flat earthers out there (thankfully none!) – because if there had been any – they’d have hated me! (and if you are a flat earther you maaay want to stop reading here unless you want to understand how the real world actually evolved ;) )

 

So, we start with a homogenous ball (oblate spheroid) of molten rock revolving around the sun. How do we get the many and varied rocks metals and minerals of the world from that?

 

The major categories, in likely order of formation are:

 

Igneous Rocks

Sedimentary Rocks

Metamorphic Rocks

Hydrothermal Rocks

Organic Rocks

 

 

SLIDE 8

 

The diagram in this slide is known as Bowen’s Reaction Series.  It is a combination of mineral type and chemical composition and the cooling curve along which each major rock forming mineral cools into solid crystalline form.  The percentage of each mineral cooled at that temperature determines the base type of Igneous rock:

 

At higher temperatures minerals such as green olivine, pyroxines and feldspar crystallise into Ultra Mafic rocks

 

As the temperature cools the olivines will have all crystallised out and this is replaced by Amphibole resulting in Mafic rocks.  This is the composition of a typical Basalt and Gabbro

 

Because geologists are super innovative in their naming conventions there is an intermediate group that sits between the Mafic and the Felsic rocks which are rich in Mica, quartz and feldspar that create Rhyolite and Granite.

 

 

SLIDE 9

 

What determines which rock is a Rhyolite and which is a Granite, or a Basalt and a Gabbro when they have the same chemical composition and minerals is how fast the crystals of those minerals form.  The faster they cool, the smaller the crystal size.  Rhyolite is effectively a fine-grained Granite, Gabbro is the granite sized crystals version of a Basalt.

 

Those of you who have read the wonderful Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin will recognize one of the rock types as the name of one of the protagonists – Syenite.  I highly recommend the Broken Earth series – the geology in them is so well researched.

 

As you can see in the medium grain sized rocks, geologists have again been really original in their nomenclature – microgranite, microsyenite, microdiorite.

 

Where rock cools almost instantly, you get volcanic glass.  Obsidian is the most common, and will be familiar for it’s black glassy appearance.  Mafic rocks however from a glass which, while still glassy in appearance and the way it fractures has an oily sheen to it that obsidian lacks.

 

SLIDE 10

 

Once your ball of molten magma has a crust (and an atmosphere). Things really start to happen and the Rock cycle takes off in earnest.

 

The magma has cooled – there are two types of igneous rock – intrusive and extrusive. Extrusive are all your volcanics.  Intrusive are dykes that cut vertically through the rock layers, and sills, that cut horizontally across them.

 

These rocks are uplifted and the rocks that out crop on the surface are immediately subjected to weathering and erosion to be transported elsewhere and deposited as a sediment which is then buried and lithified.  Bury it further and or heat it up (with a dyke or sill or volcanic magma chamber) and the rock will begin to melt once more and got throught a stage of metamorphosis.

 

Add water to the rocks that are buried and heat and minerals will dissolve from one rock and be transported to elsewhere where they will be deposited – this is how you get mineral veins in rocks.

 

Finally, life will find a way and over time the death of this organic matter joins the cycle of burial and lithification.

 

SLIDE 11

 

Sedimentary rocks come in a HUGE variety.  There are two main types – clastic or mechanically weathered and deposited sediment, and chemically weathered and deposited sediments.

 

Again the size of the mineral (and rock) grains determine what type of rock forms.

 

Gravel sized (and larger) rocks that form where the grains are still angular are known as Breccia, and where the grains are rounded is known as a conglomerate.

 

Mud that still has a grainy texture is a siltstone, mud where you cannot feel any grainy texture is a mudstone.

 

 

A lot of chemical sedimentary rocks form when seas and oceans dry up.  The Mediterranean has done this before.  In this instance it’s a case of what mineral is the least soluble that forms a sediment first. – Calcite is followed by gypsum, followed by halite – salt.

 

In this there will be layers of limestone formed from shells and corals.

 

Quartz as a sedimentary rock generally forms from microscopic oceanic life that has a quartz based skeleton dying off and settling to the ocean floor (this makes a chert) or from larger life forms such as sponges that have a quartz based skeleton (flints tend to be formed from these)

 

Finally you have the organic sedimentary rocks that come from plant fragments and algae that have settled to form a layer that is then lithified into coal.

 

SLIDE 12

 

Metamorphic rocks can be formed from ANY rock or sediment.  This can either be through increasing burial with the heat and pressure that comes with it, or, baking with just heat.

 

The most interesting of the metamorphic rocks are those that originate from mudstones, limestones and organic matter.

 

As a layered mudstone is buried, the minerals begin to align and the mud lithifies into a stone – slate.  Add a bit more pressure, a bit more heat and the minerals begin to recrystallize, they align even further – as mudstone contains a mineral called mica, this creates a light silvery sheen – and the slate becomes a rock called phyllite. Add more pressure and the minerals cannot realign any further so all they have left is recrystallisation – which is where a schist (a great alternate swear word!) can come from with small crystals of minerals like Garnet.  Add more pressure, more heat and eventually you will get a Gneiss and finally a migmatite before the rock melts completely and goes back to being a magma.

 

Limestones of course metamorphose into marble which can have a considerable variety of colours, dependent on the minerals in and composition of the original limestone

 

Finally you have the metamorphic rocks that form from organic matter like peat.  Put it under some heat and pressure and it will become a bituminous (low grade) coal still full of volatile gasses.  Add more heat and pressure and these volatile gasses are either incorporated into the re-crystallised matter or migrate away and the result is high grade Anthracite coal.  More pressure and temperature and it re-crystallises even more to become graphite (which won’t burn well but makes EXCELELNT pencils). At its most extreme pressures, graphite will be compressed down until it becomes a diamond.

 

SLIDE 13

 

The earth is old. The diagram on this slide is a simplified depiction of each of the geological era’s that the earth has passed through.

 

Almost everything I have talked about above – the crust froming from igneous rocks and the rock cycle kicking off and getting into high gear are a part of the Hadean and Archaean eras – more than a third of the earth’s history.

 

Life has been around a long time but that too took a significant amount of time to evolve from the most simple organisms.  Our most detailed geological history comprises only an eighth of earth’s history – before that time rocks to study are very rare due to the way the earth recycles it’s crust.

 

The Pre-Cambrian Era has the first recognisable fossils of life, but such fossils are incredibly rare – we are lucky to have a small sliver of rock this age outcropping in the UK with fossils in the Charnwood forest, and the fossils are more pressings of the life forms that there were rather than sold fossils of the creatures themselves as they were likely soft bodied jelly fish types and se pen types.  We call these trace fossils – they have left traces that they were there – but it’s not the actual creature.

 

During and after the Pre-Cambrian evolution really gets its teeth in and we can more easily begin to distinguish time passing and divide it into more specific eras.

 

We can do this in two different ways:

 

We can determine a period by the most common rock type that distinguishes that particular period – the Permian is mostly wind-blown (aeolian) sands – indicating desert conditions over most of the planet – whereas the Carboniferous indicated a semi-tropical climate – and that’s where we get most of our coal, oil and gas from.

 

The other way we can distinguish between different periods is the abundance and disappearance of specific fossil types – ammonites (nautilus is the only survivor), Trilobites – (a bit like a horseshoe crab – but they aren’t thought to be related) Graptolites (they look like small drawings on rocks) and the Mega fauna – dinosaurs etc. are obvious indicators.  During a period different species will be in an abundance, and the end of a period is characterized by a sudden or mass disappearance of several or many of them.

 

Causes for such mass die-offs are still a contentious subject – Massive volcanic outpourings can be linked to most mass die-offs as a result of climate change they trigger and there’s a healthy debate about the Deccan Trapps in India having the dinosaurs on their last legs before the meteor impact performed the coup de grace.

 

As you can see, humans have barelyscratched the surface of geological time – but IN that time we’ve probably had more impact that the meteor that probably finished the dinosaurs off.  We have had such an impact in fact that we are now in the Anthropocene, a new period of geological history.

 

 

SLIDE 14-18 – These were discussed by Amy Butt

 

The type of rock available has a direct influence on city design, ground beneath your feet is not as hidden as you might think!

 

London is built on clay – London stock bricks with yellow colour

 

Edinburgh is constructed from the stone quarried in Scotland – granites, sandstones and basalts.

 

Naples is built out of the Tufa rock that forms its bedrock – this is a volcanic rock formed from the ash of volcanic eruptions – where each house has a basement which was created when the rock below was carved out to construct the house above.

 

These voids are the size of the material extracted and have subsequently been connected up in great underground complexes which have latterly supported the literal underground networks of the mafia.

 

The material that has come out of the ground has therefore shaped the society which grew out of it.

 

There are future plans to 3D print the accommodations for the astronauts that will eventually colonise the Martian surface – we will have to use the material that is there because the cost of shipping building materials of any significant weight is prohibitively expensive.

 

 

SLIDE 19

 

Now we have a good foundation in how rocks are formed, what types of rocks there are and how they are used by humans for building purposes, we will be looking at the surface geomorphology and how this can influence the framework of your story.

 

I will be discussing Mountain building processes, River systems and in traditional British style, I’ll be discussing the weather.

 

My colleague Amy Butt will be discussing how the ground conditions such as flooding, erosion, the capacity to support structures and the material of the ground with which we build is determined by the environment.  Amy’s discussion will help answer the question of why a settlement might develop where it has – as a response to basic human needs by working her way through Maslow’s hierarchy

 

SLIDE 20

 

This is a map I drew as an exercise for figuring out distances and where my character was travelling and the landscape through which they were travelling for a novel that’s mostly planned out but still needs writing.  Bonus points to those who recognize the location I stole the outline from (the Pembrokeshire coast flipped upside down)

 

It contains quite a few flaws, largely because I designed this with the mountains first, and the rivers don’t make a lot of sense – the delta in the north being one example – what is causing the river to bend so MUCH in such a short space of time – the hills don’t fully explain it.  To the east and the flatland between the hills – why is there NO river AT ALL??

 

I didn’t properly consider the drainage basins.

 

Water will always want to flow to the lowest possible point – generally an ocean, but also lakes when the landscape won’t allow them to reach an ocean.  Over time it can be a really powerful force – creating valleys both with Glaciers cutting and grinding their way through rock, and eroding sediment away from valley sides.  They can cut canyons through the rock strata as in the case of the Grand canyon where the land was being uplifted at a slow enough rate that the rivers cut down rather than finding a new path and in the case of catastrophic flooding as in the case of glacial lake Missoula in the north western united States’ emptying just after the last ice age, it can cut through the ground both deeply and rapidly leaving a new landscape in its wake.

 

Likewise, the land can sink or the sea can rise (or both!), drowning the valleys that rivers have cut Fjords and estuaries are good examples of this

 

SLIDE 21- 24 These Slides were presented by Amy Butt.

 

When building your world you want to ask why a settlement might develop in response to basic human needs, work our way through Maslow’s hierarchy

 

You should consider river systems, oases and natural springs …

 

Fresh water is one of the most basic requirements for a settlement to be successful – this leads to older settlements along fresh water rivers, by oases in arid places, by natural springs or in places where snow fall melts into fresh water pools.

 

SLIDE 25

 

Next I’m going to talk about the process of mountain building.  It is known as the Orogenic Cycle.

 

This involves Continental and Oceanic rifting, Conservative margins where the really big faults lie and orogenic belts where the biggest mountains form.

 

The world is made of a number of segments called plates, on which the continental and oceanic crust sits and moves over the mantle. Basalt which comprises the majority of oceanic crust is dense, Continental rocks are less dense so congregate on the surface like foam on a latte.

 

Rifting occurs when the crust is under tension and being pulled apart this will involve faulting and volcanic activity (as it she case in the East African Rift System.  Eventually it will pull far enough apart that the mantle fills the void with basalt, and eventually, a sea, and then an ocean will form as the continental fragments are pulled ever further apart.

 

Conservative margins are where two plates are moving in opposite directions to one another – they aren’t under tension, they aren’t under compression, they are just rubbing along each other’s edge – the San Andreas fault system is an example of a conservative margin.

 

Eventually the tension will stop, reverse and the plates will be put under compression.

One of the plates will give way under this pressure and sink below the other this is called Subduction.  The sinking plate melts, and the magma rises through the crust above, that will have folded and buckled under the pressure of the subducting plate – creating a volcanic arc of islands just behind the point of the break – not unlike Japan.  Eventually one of the plates will run out of oceanic crust and it will subduct under continental crust – with the same process of crumpling, and melting and volcanoes – only because the magma is mixing with continental crust, the eruptions are more explosive – The Andes are a mountain chain formed by this type of subduction.  Finally, both plates will run out of oceanic crust and the two continental crusts will collide – both are too light to subduct, but faulting over each other and folding of the strata within until and partial melting happens, will occur.  The Himalayas are still in this stage of mountain building – Everest used to be on the ocean floor as shells have been found in rocks near its summit.

 

 

SLIDE 26-29. These Slides were presented by Amy Butt.

 

In Mountains and hills the need for shelter gave us cave dwelling instincts, which developed into villages huddled in natural bays and coves, near the timber or stone which we need to construct to protect us from the elements.

 

Humans also need for food to survive, so we have settlements along coastlines where fish are plentiful, or near grasslands and pasture for agriculture., but humans can and will transform the landscape to their needs if they have to – it’s not just rice paddies and rolling fields.  People will terrace areas where the terrain is not optimal, and the gentleman tending the grape harvest in the bottom right image is doing so in the desert.

 

The need for food and arable land is so strong that the arable land at base of volcanos is worth the risk of catastrophe.

 

If you are envisaging a settlement, then at its heart it will be a response to these most primal needs, a checklist of what it should provide its inhabitants.  what your inhabitants need to survive, both physically (water, food, shelter)

 

Over this we lay the demands of human society, the needs of trade, religion, or defence.

 

SLIDE 30

 

Humans are endlessly innovative, and for that innovation, they need to use the raw materials around them…

 

I’ve gone back to my map to illustrate this:

 

The northern reaches of the map, settlements are named for the raw material that is most abundant in the area – the hills are abundant in iron – which could be from chemical deposition, or from a sediment that was already high in ferrous metals.

 

These hills could also contain other economically important minerals such as semi or precious gems, tin, copper, lead, silver and or gold.

 

The south or offshore could be harbouring coal, oil and gas reserves – these are metamorphic rocks, only organic.  Oil generally forms from oceanic organic matter much like the quartz rich life that creates a chert – organic matter from oceanic life settles and is metamorphosed into oil, and if it’s cooked too long, into gas.

 

The great bay might be the perfect place to mine sand for glass making – or there could be a suitable outcrop of rock that has been mined for that purpose. But where will they get their fuel source to melt it? The trees could do so.  Which raises the question of do you take the trees to the sand or the sand to the trees?

 

Clays from ancient dried up lakes, glaciers and decaying granite can be used to make pottery. If even one of the raw materials another that is necessary in crafting it isn’t close enough to another, trade will occur, and the finished product has to reach it’s end market – the wealthy towns and cities.

 

 

SLIDE 31-36 These Slides were presented by Amy Butt

 

Trade – relies upon raw materials and ability to transport them. Post industrial revolution the primary resources are coal, oil and gas. You should consider how mineral deposits develop, and how they are developed into useable materials for us – oil needs refining

 

This leads to Three types of settlement:

  • settlements which are close to the source of a raw material such as coal fields,
  • large industrial centres for refinement of raw materials
  • has a network of roads, canals or railways to distribute onwards
  • the community is built around a shared purpose
  • Settlements which are a space of manufacture – the primary resource is labour
  • housing is very close to the industry
  • There is social division between the different hierarchies of trade
  • principles of economy – materials / space
  • Settlements that are hubs of distribution, ports or market towns which are well connected on trade routes, historically many developed from the river side villages established for proximity to water.
  • Located in in natural harbours or along rivers.
  • Have large docks
  • Have a large variety of people and goods, multiple languages
  • Show evidence of waves of migration – different districts for different groups

 

SLIDE 37

 

Next I want you to consider what weather conditions you will have in your world.

 

Which way the wind comes from has particular implications as to what your weather will be like.

 

 

If it comes from the North of my map:  Look closely and the islands in the north are volcanic. If they are erupting there will be ashfall on the settlements south of it.

 

If it comes from the East of my map:  From the east there is nothing but ocean – which could result in major storms and or hurricanes causing costal damage.

 

If it comes from the South of my map:  From the south, the southern hills will get the most of the rain, and the northern hills will get much less as the water has been duped in the south without opportunity to acquire more water as it’s travelled overland

 

If it comes from the West of my map: the mountains will have taken almost all of the rain – so it will be a very dry country – but the rivers will be powerful.

 

Of course most of that is based on this map being set in a temperate maritime climate like the UK.  What if the climate is cold? Tropical? A desert?

 

SLIDE 38

 

Things to consider in a cold climate:

 

Snow:  Is it heavy or light based on the incoming winds? – the risk of avalanches will be very real – even if only off a roof top.

 

Is the ground frost hardend for months on end – what happens when it melts (a marsh)

 

How many glaciers are there in the mountains?  – Have you considered how vegetation will be affected?

 

 

SLIDE 39-42 These slides were presented by Amy Butt

 

 

  • In a cold climate settlements have:
  • wide streets to allow low light in.
  • walls insulated with straw or brick
  • homes which centre on the hearth
  • pitched rooves shed the cold rain or allow snow to settle
  • small windows to limit heat loss
  • Have buildings that come in rows with terraces which share walls
  • Discussions are held indoors

 

Two examples of fiction in a cold climate are:

 

Left hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

 

The Powers that Be by Anne McCaffrey (My pick) – where a Newcomer arrives on an Ice world to die but finds new life there. They use geothermal heat to keep warm – hot springs etc) and a combination of North American native culture and survival techniques blended with Irish culture.

 

SLIDE 43

 

In a Mediterranean you want to consider:

 

How Rainy is it? Is it seasonal, or pretty much all the time?

 

Flood considerations if rain is rare and heavy

 

Landslip risks if the ground is saturated beyond the point it can support itself.

 

Use the weather and the ground conditions to forward your plot, or stymie your protagonists!

 

 

SLIDES 44-45. These slides were presented by Amy Butt

 

A Mediterranean climate is largely dry and warm

  • Settlements tend to feature:
  • stone / tile – which is cool to the touch
  • public squares
  • public fountains
  • narrower streets to provide shade
  • external shutters

 

Amy Butt’s pick for a piece of fiction that has the feel of the café culture of settlements in a Mediterranean Climate is The City & The City by China Mieville

 

I chose Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw, which isn’t based in the Mediterranean climate per-se, but has an underground society – not unlike that in Naples – for the supernaturals to live in.  Also they are based in catacombs that were hollowed out originally for economic means – the rock is the base material for Plaster of Paris and I can’t resist to should out a book that has it’s geology researched well.

 

SLIDE 46

 

In a desert climate you want to consider:

 

How windy does it get? Your weather will be dust and sand storms. Rain will come on the very rarest of occasions if ever.  Desert locations I should point out, can have thick mists.

 

Where do you get your water? – Underground aquifers are the most likely location – and how oases are the result of them reaching the surface. Mist can also be utilized as a water source – and there are cultures that harness the capture of this mist to survive in Peru.

 

The sands dunes MOVE. Over time that’s going to be quite a problem for a permanent settlement!

 

SLIDES 47-49

 

Desert / Arid climates are hot and dry.  This will result in cities which are dense and tall

  • flat roofed buildings which overhang to prevent the high sun from entering alleyways
  • heavy mud or stone which soaks up warmth during the day
  • courtyards to create cool centre to home
  • bright colours – the latitude of sun makes them more appealing

 

Amy Butt’s choice for an example of a society in a Desert culture is Canticle for Leibowitz.

 

I chose Dune, for both the obvious reasons of where it’s set – a desert world – which is entirely possible – Mars is one such. But I also chose it because it’s geological research and the science around how the oxygen atmosphere are generated are wonderfully researched, accurate and in the case of the fictional elements scientifically sound.

 

 

SLIDE 50

 

In a tropical climate you want to consider:

 

It’s very humid, it’s very green and lush – there will be lots of economically useful plants

 

It rains A LOT – either constantly or in a monsoon like season where you are at risk of Typhoons/hurricanes – and the subsequent flooding and damage they cause.

 

Erosion and weathering of rock is FAST – soils are deep, but poor – the water leaches the useful minerals and nutrients away.

 

 

SLIDES 51-54

 

Tropical climates are hot and wet, and settlements have

 

  • buildings with dramatic rooves, to shed the weight of rainfall,
  • lightweight walls to allow breezes to blow through in humid environments.
  • deep overhangs and verandas to prevent driving rain from entering the building proper
  • activity is higher at night when it is cooler

 

 

Amy Butt’s Fiction pic for a a settlement set in a tropical climate is The Windup Girl.

 

My selection is River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey – and not because I have read it – It’s still on my to read list but because I saw an article she posted on Tor.Com.  This book is set in what is an alternate universe version of the Mississippian swamps (I think) – and the author used a map to improve her plot and fix a few plot holes.

 

Finally we come to the finishing touches – the geological disasters that can overcome a settlement and their portrayal in the media

 

 

My favourite one is absolutely Volcaones which is why I quite enjoy Volcano and Dante’s Peak as films,

 

So long as you can brush over the fact that it’s highly unlikely that magma would in fact erupt from La Brea tar pits Volcan is fun, and the Tube tunnels would act as described replacing natural lava tubes and keeping the lava insulated and runny until it reaches the point of eruption,

 

Dante’s Peak is also a lot of fun but it has a BLINDER of an inaccuracy.

 

The film has runny liquid lava erupting from a fissure, so far so potentially possible – except it’s in the cascade range where basalts simply don’t exist. This is followed by the big explody-boom at the end – which is MUCH more in keeping for this kind of volcano as it’s in the same range as Mt St Helens.  You cannot physically have the two types of eruption happening together on the same volcano because the type of eruption the volcano does is closely related to how viscsous the un-erupted lava is.

 

Basalt eruptions like on hawaii are analogous to chucking a mento into a bottle of cola – a lot of fizz, a lot of gas released, and a lot of runny fluid – not that you can’t have explosive eruptions on a basalt erupting volcano you can – but they are related to the reaction of magma meeting ground water and so are much smaller in scale.

 

Mt St Helens had a magma analogous to a custard – the gas bubbles are trapped in the fluid and can’t expand or escape as easily – until the lid is effectively removed – and they all escape at once in one colossal pop.  Any of the de-gassed lava that erupts after this colossal explosion is still very viscous, and will erupt like toothpaste being squeezed out of a tube.

 

The Core is, geophysically fairly accurate when it comes to the layers of the crust and mantle and core.  However…the geodes…just…No. no. no. no.  Not physically possible, not unlike the unobtainium metal that enables them to travel TO the core.  The deeper you get, the more pressure there is, the more void space is removed from a rock – take diamonds for example – the structure as it evolves from peat through coal to diamond is increasingly more efficient, utilising less and less space between the atoms.  Voids in the mantle wouldn’t be possible and IF they existed, we’d likely see them in seismic wave readings.  Also, if one existed and if it were punctured, it’d collapse almost immediately under the pressure preventing all that fannying around with exiting the ship.

 

Lastly there was the Film San Andreas with it’s massive earthquake and ensuing Tsunami.  It’s pretty accurate so far as it goes, but…because it’s Hollywood the ramped the dial up to a million.  You wouldn’t get a tsunami wave THAT big, and certainly all the shipping would have been evacuated from such an at risk harbour as soon as a tsunami alert was issued so collisions etc were limited or removed.  The water is MORE than enough to cause serius damage to infrastructure – as the Boxing Day tsunami, and the one that knocked out Fukushima Nuclear Reactor have shown.

 

Amy said she was happy to talk about city disasters, but suggested that the talk be left there?

 

We did of course answer questions afterwards.

Know your Enemy

 

This was one panel I really wanted to go to and was really glad it was in the biggest room – it was packed!

 

Mike Brooks was the excellent Moderator for this panel, with panellists Jeanette Ng, Anna Stephens and Adrian Tchaikovsky

 

The panel started out with What is a Villain, and who are our favourites?

 

Mike started out by suggesting: Being a villain takes conscious thought or effort, they are in active opposition, nominally to the hero

 

Jeanette suggested there are 2 types of villain –

 

Set piece villains that we all admire and love with a high camp value such as Ursula from the little mermaid who’s plans may not make a lot of sense and who are there less for their actions and more for the way they make you feel about them.

 

The other type are there to break down opposition, they stand in for something like one or several forces of nature.

 

Adrian Disagreed with Mike’s suggestion – they are not acting against the hero –  They are pro-active in their aims, and have an utter belief in the right of their cause and set the situation up – then the hero comes in to ruin it all – rather than being all ‘I’m evil and I LIKE it!”

 

Adrian quite likes Ghormenghast – an antihero who is a unpleasant yet admirable character who is pulling down the edifice of a place that doesn’t want him.

 

It’s not traditional for the villain to oppose – it’s to be opposed.

 

He discussed briefly the villain in Jurassic Park – ‘clever girl’ is a cross over from Jaws to a villain, but the film also contains a comedy villain in Dennis – he went back to this later – The comedic villain that gets horribly killed is not an archetype that is often seen and even this rendition is problematic in that it is also fat-shaming people through that character.

 

 

Jeanette then spoke about Thanos

 

He has a plan – that at first appears to be arbitrary in his portrayal and the heroes response – but she can see his twisted logic that he has a point, even if it’s a ridiculous (and chilling) plan.

 

People living in Hong Kong look at China with it’s overpopulation and it’s one child policy and Jeanette can see baked into that concept that people would come around to seeing that others people are disposable and in such a scenario, Thanos’s Idea becomes logical and weirdly plausible.

 

Anna Stephens Discussed Mrs Waterford in the Handmaid’s Tale

 

She is more a villain than Amanda because she helped to build the world into that totalitarian state – and when that backfires on her – she does nothing about it.

 

Her Husband is the cartoon kind of villain – he has it ALL – what’s not to love about that?

 

 

Mike then moved onto another topic:  How do we make a Villain a Villain, without ‘Othering’ them?

 

Often villains are used with contrasting characteristics to the hero

  • Ethnic Origin,
  • Disability
  • Mental Health Issues
  • Different sexuality etc.

This is a really lazy way to do things and can be really damaging to those who identify with the above being linked to villains.

 

Adrian suggested a good way of going was Other the hero.

 

Have the villain be white, rich and in a powerful position punching down on everyone else – and you can have more interesting heroes.

 

Jeanette discussed Toxic Masculinity in reference to the new Beauty and the Beast – Both the Beast and Gaston are portrayed as toxic male personalities – but the beast finds his way out of his.

 

Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire othered EVERYONE with men in the position women have held in the past and present, and adding polyamory to the mix. And that leaves just ambition and a lust/greed for power for the villain making element.

 

Disability in particular has been used to portray the villain – the idea being the person within is revealed by the person without, and the trope is still distressingly common.

 

King Richard III is a prime example – he’s depicted as evil because he had curvature of the spine – but that’s not what might make him evil – it’s whether he killed the Princes in the tower that does that.

 

Again – queer coding for the villain is all too common – as in the Rocky Horror Picture Show

 

It was a sneaky way of getting queer coding people onto the screen at the time this was made – they HAD to be a villain to not get cut or banned.

 

Ursula in the Little Mermaid is another such – she was based off a real life drag queen – which is really uncomfortable these days – is it REALLY the only way they could have had queer coding persona’s in these films?  Disney are doing a serious house clean at the moment re-telling their classic (and problematic) stories.

 

 

Adrian Added to this – a lot of fiction and media have caused the othering of people with an intelligent problem solving approach

 

Dr is automatically coded as Evil, Captain as good. – and it’s resulted in modern day intellectuals being treated with suspicion.

 

 

The next question was: Does the Villain have to be Sympathetic, and how is this best done?

 

Mike thinks Villains are the heroes of their own tale – and believe they are in the right or are doing the right things for certain reasons

 

In the Lord of the Rings Sauron is barely a character – I am Evil, I am the embodiment of evil, and nothing else.

 

Smeagol and Saruman are far more interesting villains – we can see HOW they ended up on the path to being evil.

 

 

Mike writes for the Warhammer Black Library among other places and he discussed how the villains got there and why

 

Some were just brought up that way

Some are Mutants and would have been killed on site in the main imperium

 

  • Mike now struggles to make some of the characters appropriately villainous because he likes them so much!

 

How to prevent Villains being Anti-heroes:

 

Are the heroes squeaky clean?

 

 

Anna Stephens spoke of Gods of Blood – human sacrifice may have ery good and valid reasons – the villains don’t have to all be religious extremists – but this approach does come down to how you frame it.

 

Today we are more concerned with the grey areas

 

We don’t get Hitler levels of Evil as much any more – and even he thought he was doing the right thing when he was committing such unspeakable acts.

 

Jeanette suggested writing Normal people doing bad things only scaled up – bullying and bickering – the emotions exaggerated.

 

Jeanette discussed Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter – which wasn’t dealing with exaggeration

 

Draco was brought up in a household of wizard supremacists, he was framed as the school bully and as the plot progresses there’s a lot of tension to take the conflict up a level – but Draco doesn’t want to go all the way he’s pushed into it by his upbringing, parents and peers – he’s grown up – he knows that they are no longer children – this is real, it’s messier.

 

Adrian pointed out that he was a villain – but also a victim of the system – he may not have durned out the way he had if things had been different.

 

Jeanette agreed – it makes her uncomfortable because it’s SO easy for people to justify their actions by using that excuse.

 

 

Adrian then went back to the concept of Human Sacrifice that Anna introduced – The Aztecs thought it was the only way to make the crops grow – RJ Barker has taken this concept a step further – in what if Blood WAS the only way to make the crops grow – it gives human sacrifice a whole different (if no less grizzly) meaning – in the books he has written (and which I now MUST acquire to read) there’s been a magical war leaving a vast wasteland where nothing will grow – the land can only be reclaimed one horrible murder at a time and the rest of the land is suffering a resource shortage.

 

That makes the who is the hero, who is the villain question more complex – clearly the person sacrificing the people must be the villain – but in a making the crops grow scenario – are they actually the. Hero and the ones that make the ground barren the villains?

 

And that’s where the panel wrapped up.  There were a few questions of course.

 

 

Who is your favourite Villain (not written by yourself) was one I was particularly interested in and I’ll close the blog post off with these.

 

Mike Brookes spoke of a character called Grant Adam Thorne who gets information from art he’s created of chosen (I’m unfamiliar with this so I can’t tell what series /media/creator this belongs to)

 

Adrian’s favourite is Dr Who’s Master – all of the Master’s incarnations.  They have such Joy for doing evil for the sake of it and they carry you along.

 

Anna’s pick was the Skexis of the dark Crystal – they are the personification of greed, lust and ambition focussed on and taken to the extremes – but they are still only a fragment of a greater whole.

 

Jeanette didn’t give a specific single character because Evil can be systematic and not within a single person or avatar but part of a whole – and the villainy is in not fighting that system.  To fight that system you have to go to protests rather than punching things – and that too can be seen as villainy from the eyes of those who support the system – a bt like in the Handmaids Tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 – Fight and Flight.

 

For the first time in her life, Sybilla felt what it was like to fly.  Wind in her face, loose hair streaming behind as the gallant stallion stretched himself to the utmost to clear the canyon.  Her fragile control on her magic slipped as she willed him to make it to the far side safely, and the electrical buzz she was beginning to associate with the magic that welled up within fizzing through her and into her mount.  She felt her power wash against his and somehow meld with it, and the canyon seemed to fall away behind them.  The other side rose to meet Asterion’s outstretched hooves. He planted them solidly ready to run on. He knew that to stop would be to fall and at best and break limbs at worst, his neck as the mare in the ditch had done.  As soon as his rear quarters cleared the rim, he set them down and galloped on to get away from the nasty stinging sticks that went pop and bang.  His flank was on fire and as momentum allowed it, he was forced to slow down to a painful walk, blood trickling from his shoulder where a bullet had penetrated almost unnoticed during the race to the rift.

 

Sybilla looked back, white hands tightly gripping Asterion’s inky mane as he slowed.  Several of the guards were staring at her, gaping in astonishment.  She ignored them though, and looked beyond to see Jace and Tez, surrounded by guards. Malken was at the fore, a sick grin on his face, and the horrible manacles of iron that deadened a mage’s natural magic in his hands. Jace and Tez stood together, Jace in a defiant stance, probably preparing to cast a spell; Tez snarling, claws out, wings ruffled, ready to attack any of the guard that dared approach closer.

 

“Oh no.”  Sybilla whispered, knowing exactly what Malken would do to Jace if he got his hands on him, and worse, what he would do to Tez.  She was sure it would kill Jace to lose his companion. She couldn’t imagine life without Asterion, even after only a few days of being with him.  She waited with bated breath, straining to hear what Malken orders would be.

 

Malken glanced at Sybilla momentarily, before a cruel grin spread across his face. “Take the mage, and kill the beast.  I want to make an example of them!” He commanded the guards, loudly enough to be clearly heard across the chasm.

 

“No!” Sybilla screamed. Jace and Tez fought the guards that closed on them.  Jace casting spell after spell at them, but the paladin guard were well trained, and used to dealing with aggressive mages, and were outfitted in protective iron weave armour. Jace and Tez were fighting a losing battle she knew.

 

“Come on,” she said, urging Asterion towards the gap, wanting to return to help her friends, but Asterion backed and snorted, ears flat to his head.  The meaning was plain enough.  I’m not going back there – ever – and I won’t take you.  “Come on!” She cried, fruitlessly trying to urge the stallion forward.  But Asterion backed and snorted, and only then felt the unevenness in his stride.  She looked down.  “Oh.  Poor darling.  They hurt you.  But I must help them somehow!”  She caressed Asterion’s side and slipped from his back, dropping to the ground and running to the edge of the chasm, being careful to not go over the edge. She desperately looked for another way to cross.

 

It was a vertical drop, and a long way down.

 

“Oh!  I have to help them!”  She moaned.  Jace and Tez were putting up a good fight, and already two of the guards had withdrawn, but they had been replaced with fresh ones.  It was two against twenty, and who had a hope of winning against those odds?

 

Once more, the electrical feeling of magic rose in Sybilla’s chest as her terror for the fate of the boy she had at first feared and hated, and had now come to like and respect, flared.  She could have stopped it, could have controlled it.  She chose not to.  Desperate to save the one person she’d come to trust, the person who had helped her escape her personal nightmare, she let go of her new found control and willed it on to help Jace, to stop Malken and the guard.

 

The pressure in her built as the guards closed in, wounding Jace and Tez with their swords.  The close quarters fighting made it too dangerous to use a gun, it could miss and hit a guard.  They’d have had no chance otherwise.  The pressure built and built until it became unbearable.  Asterion sensed it, and shuffled nervously behind Sybilla, his hooves dancing in the rough gravel of the old path leaving droplets of blood where his left fore had touched the ground. He whickered in warning.

 

Finally a guard got close enough to grab Jace in a restraint, and she screamed out.  “Leave him alone!” She put all her hurt, her fear, her frustration at not being able to help into the scream.  The pressure peaked, the electricity fizzed through her, singing her senses, and exploding out to join the scream, a wall of magical force.

 

Asterion reared, screaming as Sybilla was blown away from the edge of the rift like a rag doll by the force she had created, falling crumpled at his feet.  He dropped back to all fours carefully, so as to not harm her, and nosed her gently. He whinnied and whuffled in a worried tone when she didn’t respond, nudging her repeatedly. She felt so weak through their bond.  What she had done had been powerful. For a mage with so little control over her magic it was dangerous, possibly even deadly.  It had damaged her.  He screamed to the sky, defying fate’s right to take her from him when he had finally found her after so many years of searching.

 

Jace saw the wall of force Sybilla had unleashed rolling out from where she had stood like a tidal wave.  He knew what it was on some level, and prepared himself as best he could in the seconds it took for it to reach him.  This time it was Malken’s turn to watch in horror.  It rolled out from the epicentre and dislodged rock, flattened bushes and shattered trees that clung to the edge as it reached the far side. The guards that had stood gaping at the edge of the chasm were hit then and were flipped out of the way as if they were mere leaves in a torrent.  Malken turned then, and ran for his life, hoping above anything that he could out run such a terrible thing.  Tez sensed it then too, and yowled ear piercingly to the sky, wings half spread. It hit the wall of inquisitors closest to him throwing them out of the way, like so much flotsam in a flood.    It brushed past the howling tressym, filling his wings with magical force, and he was lifted into the sky, soaring on the wave, out of danger, and away from the guard.  Jace wasn’t as lucky as his friend.   He was freed from restraint as the inquisitor was ripped away from him by the wave of force and he was thrown backwards by the magical torrent. Jace’s limited preparations steadied him but he landed heavily, and felt something in his side crunch, before searing pain lanced up his side and into his chest leaving him momentarily stunned.

 

Malken, despite running for all he was worth, was caught from behind by one of the guards flung away by the wall of force. He was knocked insensible to the ground, the wall of force passing over him, rolling him and the guard’s lifeless, broken body along the ground.  Then it rolled on outwards for a good mile before its force was spent.  In its wake it left flatted trees and shredded vegetation.  By the time it petered out it was just a gentle wind, a breeze that tickled the leaves of trees, and caused the grasses in fields to wave.

 

Tez, who had circled around, landed lightly next to Jace, his flanks and sides streaked with blood from cuts and scratches he’d gained during the fight, feathers askew in places.  He had one of his hind legs lifted up at an odd angle too, and Jace could see the tiny puncture wound that was the tell tale of a bullet.  At Tez’s urging Jace painfully scrambled up onto his back, before any of the guards who still lived could recover themselves.  A quick glance showed Jace there were pitifully few survivors but even that many could be dangerous with the guns. Limping, the tressym made his way to the edge of the chasm, and with wings spread wide, dropped over the side and into the air.  He beat his wings fiercely to gain altitude then glided on a path that intercepted the higher lip of the far canyon wall. Tez touched down lightly, so he wouldn’t jolt his friend, but Jace winced anyway.  Both did from their various injuries. Just breathing hurt for Jace.  The iron bullet in Tez’s leg was like a tiny ball of fire.

 

Jace slipped from Tez’s warm feathered back, and coughed and spluttered, dropping to the ground as he clutched at his side in agony.  Tears swum through his eyes until the fit passed.

 

“Oh, I’ve definitely broken ribs.” He groaned, as Tez rubbed his head against Jace’s thigh in worry. Jace coughed once more, shuddering at the stabbing pain it sent through his chest, and then tended Tez’s various cuts he could feel the sting of the wounds through his bond, a ghost of the pain Tez was feeling. Taking Tez’s pain as he healed was barely anything compared with the agony of his side.  The bullet in his friend’s thigh was deeply lodged and was beyond Jace’s very limited healing skills, but he tended it as best he could using mundane methods.  Tez was more comfortable than he had been, by the time he had finished and made Jace understand that he could wait for a healer to remove the bullet.  Only after ensuring his friend was well did he look for the source of such an awesome force.

 

His eyes found Asterion first, standing quite still, head down, nuzzling a crumpled figure tucked between his hooves, whinnying in a distressed manner.

 

“Sybilla.” He breathed, and trying to ignore the agony of his side, he scrambled towards them.

 

Jace got within a few feet but Asterion raised his head and bared his teeth, ears pinned back, showing the whites of his eyes.

 

“Woah! It’s alright Asterion.” Jace said, pulling to an abrupt halt, hands raised to ward off the infuriated stallion. He winced as the movement sent another stab of pain through his chest.  “I mean her no harm.  I want to help her.”

 

Asterion looked at him for a moment, and one ear pricked slowly forward. He whuffled to Tez who mewled back at him like a kitten.  Asterion took one step back so Jace could get to Sybilla, but kept a close eye on the boy and tressym.

 

Jace immediately knelt next to Sybilla, feeling for a pulse, looking for signs of breathing.  He sighed in relief when he found signs of both.  If he was right about what he thought she’d done, she was so very lucky to be alive.

 

He caressed her cheek.  “Sybilla.”  There was no response. “Sybilla can you hear me? Sybilla It’s Jace.” His voice was quiet, insistent, but still she didn’t stir. “You are going to be all right.” He told her. He wasn’t as sure as he sounded though.

 

He cursed as he felt the cool clamminess and saw the pale greyness of her skin and the blue hue it had taken on under her eyes. “She’s done a wyrding.” He muttered.  Asterion snorted and dropped his head once more to Sybilla, nudging her.

 

“We need to get her to healers, Asterion. Proper healers. This is well beyond my skills.” Jace hesitantly put his hand out to the stallion.  “I wouldn’t even know where to start.  Would you permit me to lift her to Tez’s back? Please?  He is swiftest and will get her to the healers quickly.”  Asterion squealed, ears going back again, eyes showing white. Jace pulled his hand back in a defensive motion, in case Asterion decided to attack him.  “Please! I promise no further harm will come to her, if you allow this.  If we don’t get here to healers she’ll die.”

 

The unicorn whickered in distress, and looked over at Tez who mewled.

 

“Please Asterion.  I’ll stay with you and accompany you back to the city if you want.  Consider it a trade, your bondmate for me, if only for a short amount of time, so Sybilla can get the healing she needs.” Jace begged.

 

The stallion seemed to be listening, and again dropped his head to nuzzle the girl.  Still she lay there without response, looking like the newly dead.  Tez began to communicate with Asterion then mrowling and purring and growling quite expressively going so far as to brush up to the stallion’s side.  The purr was soothing, reassuring.  Jace was sure that, in his own way, Tez was trying to tell the Unicorn the same thing, to convince the stallion it was the best thing to do.  Jace didn’t wait for the stallion’s answer however to pull off his cloak, and wrap it about the girl; she was growing very cold, and that wasn’t a good sign.

 

After sniffing at Jace suspiciously, and again nudging and whinnying to the unresponsive girl, Asterion stepped back again, and whickered, nodding his head in acceptance.  Tez was at Jace’s side immediately, crouching low despite his injured leg, which began to bleed again so that Jace wouldn’t have to lift the girl too far with his painful side.  Jace worried about that bullet wound; he could feel the pain of it in his own thigh through the bond, and the iron would poison his friend if it stayed in there too long. There was nothing he could do to get it out though. Tez’s wings, while ruffled were unharmed, and as soon as he arrived at Spires they’d both be treated for their hurts. It was a very good thing that flying didn’t require magic, or they would have been in serious trouble, and Tez seemed to think he could do the journey, so Jace lifted Sybilla to his back.  It was agonising on his broken ribs, and he had to stop to cough once which hurt even more, but he got her on. It took several minutes and the use of all the rope Jace had with him, but eventually Sybilla was mounted securely on Tez’s back in such a way she could not fall, wrapped tightly in both her cloak and Jace’s.

 

“Be gentle, but go quickly.” He said, caressing his friend, and gently kissing Sybilla’s cheek.  “Be well beloved.” he whispered in her ear.  Then he too stepped back to where Asterion stood.  Tez once again stepped to the side of the canyon limping on his right hind leg, dropped over the side, beat his wings hard, and was away.

 

Jace and Asterion watched until the flying pair could no longer be seen.

 

Jace had never had to be far apart from Tez before.  It would take days to ascend the Spire mountain to get to the summit city. He could feel the bond drawing father away even after they had disappeared from sight.  He felt oddly alone.

 

Asterion drew Jace out of himself with a nudge at his shoulder.  Jace looked round.  “Well, looks like it’s just you and me for a while.”  He said to the stallion, realising he wasn’t actually alone, even if he felt like it.   Asterion whickered. He looked so forlorn without Sybilla.  Jace could sympathise.

 

“It’s a long way to the city and all of it up hill; we’d better get going.”

 

Asterion nodded his head and then nudged his hand, before biting at his side.  Only then did Jace notice the injuries the stallion had taken.  “They shot you too.  I can tend those wounds I think.  If you will let me?”

 

Asterion whickered and stood to attention.  There were several cuts where flesh had been torn by bullets that had only just nicked the Unicorn’s hide.  They were easy to tend, all Jace had to do was hold the flesh together and knit it with a water weave.  It didn’t fully heal the wounds, he wasn’t that great a healer, but it made them older and less painful.  The left flank had the worst wound where a bullet had penetrated and lodged.  It wasn’t as deep as Tez’s though and Jace was able, after some manipulation, to ease it out and seal the wound.  Asterion stood like a stolid silent sentinel through it all, though Jace knew the Unicorn had to have been in considerable pain as he tried to manipulate the bullet out of the flesh.  Jace had used most of his strength to take Tez’s pain and heal his wounds; he’d not had enough left to healing and take all the pain with Asterion, not when breathing hurt so much it was hard to concentrate already.

 

“There.  That should do you until you see a proper healer.” Jace said, and wearily picked up the saddle bags with the supplies they had.  The pain in his side flared again at the movement and he winced again. “We’d better get going.”  Asterion looked around then, stamped his hoof and looked up at the skies where they had last seen Sybilla and Tez.

 

“Don’t worry about her. Tez is the steadiest flyer I’ve ever known.  They’ll get there by morning.  Tez’ll fly all night.  Then it’s up to the healers.  She’s in good hands.”

 

Asterion nodded his head, sending his silky mane flying, he nudged Jace again.  Jace patted his shoulder and started walking towards the road that led home.  Asterion blocked him and nudged him again, the hand with the saddle bags, and Jace finally understood what Asterion was trying to tell him.

 

End of Chapter thirty – the penultimate chapter!  Tune back in next week for the final instalment of Runaway Mage :D

Thanks ever so much for reading!

 

I appreciate feedback of the commentary kind – I am still wanting to improve my craft.

 

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