Rise of the Obsidian Throne

Ep 09: The Calm Before the Storm - Part 4
Changes

The Tiger’s Maw Elite Unit catches it’s breath and recovers after its fierce battle for the fate of the Dragon. As the Clan wakens form it’s nightmare, many others who had been taken by the The Lying Darkness begin to come forward. Notably, the Shoshuro and many of the factionless Akodo. Shosuro Hametsu and Ginawa take the lead of those groups. After long debates, the Dragon will keep the two forming armies with them in the Mountains, prepare for war while studying how to try to keep the influence of the Lying Darkness at bay. Yoritomo “Kenki” Shirahama shall be remaining with the Dragon after his succumbing to the Nothing.

As the group was preparing to journey to the meeting house in Conflict City, “Toku” Gattsu arrived, bringing word that Toku had gone missing. They got guidance from Hitomi Dajan who gave them a vision of very disturbing proportions. It seemed to suggest that Toku was to the South and that a storm of terrible events was on the horizon.

The group then journeyed five days to the south, and in a nameless town, blighted by fire they encountered a group of Obsidian legionnaires who were looking for an easy fight. The Tiger Maw’s Unit and the legionnaires faced off, and won, but in the chaos of the conflict Toku had appeared and died fighting foes greater then himself. This was a death he chose to show the watching Kaneka what the virtue of courage was. The lesson seemed to have hit home as he rose in the to take up the fight for his fallen would be teacher.

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The Tiger Maw’s Elite then took it upon themselves to complete Toku’s quest to bring Kaneka to the Islands of Spice and Silk. The bandit lord Fade appeared at the end, and took a healthy supply of food form the Obsidian Samurai and made a deal to protect the village as they took got a portion of the stored food. The Unit then took to rest for the evening and recover form the fight.

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Nightmares

The moon rises in the distance, in his room Gattsu rolls and turns, the shadow’s of his room seem to close in upon him. He tosses in his sleep as images flood his dreams and the voice of that which ails him assaults his psyche.

“They all trusted you, and you left them to their deaths. You couldn’t protect them, you couldn’t protect anyone who cared about you and yet you lay here sleeping alive, where is the justice in that? You are cursed, damned to oblivion…”

Out of the shadows a pitch-black hound appears, just his face, a demon-eyed thing of darkness, eyes blazing red and unnatural, it’s teeth gleaming.

A scream draws Gattsu’s vision to images of his comrades deaths, sacrifices, killed by inhuman creatures. Some are hunted, and consumed, torn to shreds and violated by things that should not exist. Gattsu tries to fight them drawing his sword and slashing at his dreams. The sword rusts and shatters, he draws another, it too turns to dust. He’s pinned to the ground, a claw enters his eye, he screams with rage, watching things he can’t stop.

“What are you going to do about it?”

A face, serene, and yet vicious looks back at him… Gurifisu… He looks with intensity past a stylized hawk-featured helm and spilling white hair. He drives his blade into Gattsu over and over seeming to delight in the pain he’s causing. “You are mine…”, what was a man takes on an appearance of something less human and turns walking away…

“Yes, traitor, monster, and how do you answer his betrayal? Vengeance… Yes seek that vengeance you crave…”

Gattsu spits and curses at the demon, “I don’t need you monster! I’ll destroy you”, it only grins back.

Toku appears and smiles at him, his happy face turns to pain, his body crushed, wounds appear, his arm spurts crimson. Gattsu reaches out to grab hold, again trying to stop the death of a comrade. Toku places a hand on his shoulder, it hisses his name “Gatttsssssuuuuu”, and the flesh on his hand melts to rotted meat and bone as his fingers dig into his shoulder, and shakes him. The face becomes skeletal, and lashes out mouth open full of razer sharp teeth to bite into Gattsu’s neck…

Gattsu screams and draws upward through his dream gripping the hand that holds his shoulder and shakes him, “Gattsu?!”, he swings instinctively toward the man’s head and his fist is caught in the strong grip of Toku. Gritting his teeth Gattsu fights for several long seconds till his consciousness finally seperates the dream from reality and he falls onto his back panting. “Gattsu, it’s just me, Toku…”

Gattsu, finally sits up, his body drenched in sweat, and he shivers ever so slightly and wipes his head… “I’m sorry Toku-sama.”

Toku sits beside his comrade and hands him a skin of water… “The nightmares again… they are becoming more frequent…”

Gattsu drinks then turns to look at Toku’s face, his eyes have dark circles under them. Toku tilts his head, “You’re bleeding again.”, Gattsu runs his hand accross the bleeding symbol on his neck and notes the blood before applying a cloth and applying pressure. “I’m sorry Toku…”

Toku breaths a deep sigh and smiles back, “No need to worry my friend, besides you are just as capable even when you are sleeping, that blow would of knocked me out had I not caught it…”

Gattsu tightens his grip on the cloth and grins, somewhere between joking and truth, “Next time I’ll try harder.”

Toku rises to his feet and looks out the window, the last moonlight is slowly receeding and the warm orange of sunrise is poking at the darkness on the horizon. “We leave today, Toturi’s Orders, we are going for a ride in the southern empire to find a boy.”

Gattsu narrows his eyes, “A boy?”

“Toturi’s Son…”, Toku turns and walks past Gattsu placing his hand on his shoulder, “See you at the docks my friend.”

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Ep 09: The Calm Before the Storm - Part 3
The Assault on the Mountain of Shadow

The Tiger’s Maw Unit coordinated attacks with the Hitomi monks who resisted the darkness and assaulted the great fortress. Nishimura, Hitomi Kagetora, Kitsu Nakuso, and Hitomi Bujun distracted the Murimoto defenders. Hitomi Bujun gave his life to succeed there.

The group made their way in, and found the seer Hitomi Dajan who told them some inklings of advice as they made to make a choice to go down or up. They chose down, allowing the Hitomi allies to make heroic last stands above so that they might move unmolested to Goju. Bayushi Tangen stayed behind to defend the courtyard.

They found the great library, where everything that has ever happened has been written by the Kami Togashi. They found Kitsuki Yasu rewriting the history, editing things out of it that the Nothing disliked. They were able to talk him out of his insanity and learned important facts about the Nothing, that suggested how influential it was, such as orchestrating the Fall of the Kami. They also learned that the Nothing may have imprisoned one of the Kami as well. Yasu directed them to the Crystal Prison where they gained an ally, Hitomi Akuai, while Nobu’s Grandfather’s Spirit stayed behind to protect the library. He had remained pure by remaining in the Crystal Prison and was angered to hear of his Lady’s fall. He then rushed out to seek vengeance.

The group cut through the Togashi Training Grounds and scurried up the side of the Mountain to gain entry into the throne room. There, Mirumoto Satsu stood to defend their backs as Goju poured into the training grounds.

Within the throne room, they saw shadows attacking the ceiling as the what looked to be the heavens themselves were being attacked. Under that epic struggle, Goju sat in his throne. There he attempted to appeal that he was what kept the Nothing at bay, only showing hubris. Then the battle began. The elder pre-rokugani was not an easy foe, his use of the Obsidian Hand only empowered him against the honorable. He could unmake them with a glance, pulling away their flesh and muscle. He was never in one place for too long as he could slip in and out of the shadows as mortals take steps. However, the heroes fought on, throwing themselves into peril to kill him. Matsu Nobu landed two very powerful strikes on Goju, however, he held back at the end, as caution flagged his mind. It was with courage and determination that Hiruma Genshu assaulted the Avatar of Shadow with no thought of his own safety and taht of his charge and Rokugan that allowed him to seize victory and slay the Champion of Nothing.

Quickly, Togashi Kokujin took the Obsidian Hand and used the artifact to name the Nothing Kokujin. He then declared himself Clan Champion and God. He then forced the Dragon into absolute submission as the Nothing tried but failed to effect him. Togashi Mitsu demanded that Kokujin release his kin from damnation, and Kokujin countered that the Dragon are now the most powerful samurai in the Empire and capable of slaying the Ninth Kami. So he would not. The two then launched at each other, Jade and Obsidian countering and drawing the two into an ever binding circle. They called out to the Unit to strike the other down so that their could prevail. Nobu attempted to reason with the two, but it was Kuni Hisui who struck Kokujin down with a bolt of lightening. Mitsu seized on the weakness and killed his foe.

The rest of the room started to wake as if form a deep sleep, as Yoritomo “Kenki” Shirahama heard a voice whisper to him to kill Mitsu, saying this was the deal. Kenki made his way to the Dragon.

Genshu was walking towards Hida Tsuru, who was recovering from the Nothing’s effects, when a sword dropped form the ceiling and cut into the stone flood like soft earth. There he saw a dragon’s face looking down on him from heaven. It was the Celestial Dragon. It thanked him for his courage, and told him that the heavens have gained his respect, and it implied that it would help make up for something. It told them that it could not interfere anymore, and was closing the Heavens once more, but it may used the claw of its own being as a reward. It then banished the trickster spirit who was whispering in Kenki’s ear.

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Then Hisui nearly started a war with the Dragon by insulting Lady Hitomi over the spot of her death, but Genshu covered for him immediately. The Drgaon were indebted to Genshu, so they over looked the blasphemous breach of etiquette, naturalizing the debt they owed Genshu.

Nishamura limped in with a broken arm but seemed to have just had the time of his life, as he and the few Hitmoi who survived came in as respected heroes.

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Ep 09: The Calm Before the Storm - Part 2
The Great Climb

Following the destruction of Kyoso no Oni’s forces, Nishimura traveled quickly to find his unit, who was climbing the steep slopes into the Dragon Lands. The Great Climb took the would be travelers in, one by one, and twisted memories of their past and present into tests that played upon the sins of Fear, Desire and Regret. All were tested, with only Yoritomo “Kenki” Shirahama succumbing to the Lying Darkness.

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The group then encountered Togashi Shunsen who told them the tale of Jade and Obsidian. Afterwords he took off Togashi Mitsu‘s hand and gave him the Jade Hand in return. He then left the unit to Mirumoto Satsu who was in the purified grove known as Hoshi’s Sacrifice. There he was tending to 7 monks who had fought the influence of Goju. Togashi Kokujin announced that he believes that the Shadow is seeking to undo the walls of the weakened reality about the Togashi Lands, and that is why it has been so resolute in holding the Dragon Lands. If it does this, he knows it will grow is strength and it may be able to unravel the whole of existence.

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Satsu suggested that if they were to attack Goju they will need a way in. They cna either use the Monk’s to get in invitation in to see Goju who may see them as an amusement and allow it. He also talked about a hermit who may have the skill and luck to see them into the High House of Light to oppose Goju and stop the Lying Darkness. The Unit chose to assault the High House of Light and went to see the hermit, who turned out to be the self pitying Bayushi Tangen. After some discussion, his student Matsu Nobu convinced his master to rise to the occasion and recruited him.

The unit now prepares to go into the heart of the Dragon Lands and fight the Avatar of the Nothing.

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Jade and Obsidian
Side Fiction

Hida Yakamo folded his arms across his chest as he waited. He had arrived at the base of the great Dragon fortress hours before, but still he waited outside its massive gates. Clouds gathered on all sides of the high mountain, and the dim light of the evening was completely choked away. Only the torches and steady green glow of the Jade Hand fused to Yakamo’s left wrist lit the scene around him.

“You still do not trust her,” Yakamo’s uncle Tsuru said quietly, not leaving his horse’s side. Only two dozen of the Dragon guards remained outside near them, and Tsuru did not wish his words to be heard by them. Mirumoto Satsu stood near the remaining Dragon, his face an emotionless mask as he held his helmet in the crook of his arm, much like it had been on the journey through the Shadowed Mountains. It appeared the returned Dragon was lost staring at his ‘clan mates.’

“No,” Yakamo said flatly, staring at the glow of the Jade Hand absently, having resigned himself to his journey long ago. “But I trust Toturi.” The Crab Thunder turned and looked his uncle square in the eye. “And I trust you. If this is not as it seems, one of us will escape and take word to Toturi.”

Tsuru looked at his surroundings with obvious unease and his grip on the reins of his horse tightened. “Please forgive me if I do not share your optimism, Yakamo-sama. I believe that if Hitomi does not wish us to leave, our sheer determination will not change that. At any rate, if you are the one to fall I won’t get far without the light of your hand to protect me from this darkness. Besides, there are three of us. You continue to seem to forget that.”

The only response Yakamo gave his uncle was a dark frown.

All three men’s attention turned to the massive doors of the Dragon stronghold as they began to swing open. Yakamo stood at attention, Satsu looked on forlornly, and Tsuru placed his hand habitually on his obi next to his katana. The samurai were unsettled when the doors opened wide enough to show that they moved on their own. The only men near the entrance were two monks seated in silent meditation. Both monks had flat, featureless faces, like the shell of an egg. Only a few feet behind them, the entrance hall disappeared into total darkness.

“Our Lady Hitomi awaits the honored emissaries of Lord Toturi,” one of the monks said, as they both bowed reverently. His voice was unimpeded by the absence of his mouth.

Yakamo and Tsuru took a moment to glance at one another and then back at the imposing castle. Mirumoto Satsu walked forward, slipping his helm back into place. Yakamo resigned himself to the Fortunes and led his uncle inward. As the doors slowly closed behind the two Crab warriors, neither of them saw the triumphant gleam in Togashi Shunsen’s eye.

Once the great doors closed, the group was plunged into total darkness for only a second. Yakamo’s Jade Hand barely glowed in the inky blackness surrounding them, and he felt the hand move as if on its own accord for his sword. The moment passed, however, and several torches and braziers burst into flame. All three men were completely disoriented by the quick surge of light, as well as the sudden change in the surroundings. Though he felt as if they had only walked several feet into the great castle, they were obviously deep within its heart now.

The fires burned brightly, but the throne room of the Dragon Champion was draped in shadows that did not move even as the lights flickered. A great pathway led from where the two Crab bushi stood almost one hundred feet to the other end of the room where a black throne rested. On either side of the walkway dozens of bare-chestd tattooed men and women knelt with their heads pressed to the floor in supplication. Yakamo wondered if any of them had faces. He glanced behind them, and was shocked to see that there was no apparent exit back the way they had come – only a smooth stone wall. No doors were set into any of the gray stone walls.

The lean figure of Hitomi reclined upon the throne. She gazed upon Hida Yakamo, then her attention to Hida Tsuru with eyes of dim gold set in a face weathered by sorrow. Finally she looked upon third figure, and she stiffened, her head turning at an angle of a curious bird.

“Little sister,” Satsu in way of greeting. “It has been far too long.

“What is the meaning of this?” Hitomi growled as her eyes flicked back to Yakamo.

Yakamo allowed himself a smirk as he saw the Dragon so disrupted from her show of power, “It is your brother, restored through some Naga ritual. The Naga asked us to restore a hero to life to continue the war against the Ninth Kami. Your brother was chosen.”

“You dare to mock me with tricks? I offer Toturi the chance to take the Empire back, and he insults me with this?” Hitomi snarled as she rose from her throne. In the flickering light, her dark kimono fused with the obsidian that had grown over her entire body save her face.

“It is no trick, little flower. It is I, Mirumoto Satsu. I am the man who told you stories in the garden, after you spent the morning watching me dance to the song of the Dragon. Do you not remember those mornings?” Satsu walked towards the ring of bare chested monks, stopping short of them.

“I…” Hitomi seemed to deflate, her anger which seemed to have swelled into the room evaporated, she walked to the edge of her throne, and stood uncertain, “Satsu? My … my brother? My light?” Her voice seemed small, distant, and the darkness in the room seemed to lift measurably. Her face was that of a child in awe.

Walking forward steadily, Satsu smiled, “Yes little sister.”

“But… how?” Hitomi asked. The Crab Thunder frowned in frustration, as if what Yakamo had not fallen upon her ears.

“We can talk about that later, in the garden, if it would please you. We can share stories, that will be a pleasing change from the past,” Satsu looked at his sister’s body, concern was in his eyes as he looked at the obsidian.

She looked down, and then back up again, a sad look on her face, “It was a price I had to pay, for you. For revenge. I… I had done-“

“You did what you felt was necessary,” Satsu offered. “You are Clan Champion after all. You are my sister. But let us set that aside, my friends have traveled a long way to speak with you.” Satsu gestured to the Crab.

“Hitomi!” Yakamo bellowed, folding his arms across his armored chest. “We have come at the behest of Lord Toturi to speak with you. I have come deep into your lands as a sign of trust, and I will deal with no further tricks!” he said, gesturing to the lack of a door behind him.

“Lord Toturi,” Hitomi mused. “Of course, Hida Yakamo-san. No more tricks. Only trust.” The Dragon made a motioned towards the monk nearest the throne. The attendant rose, bowed, then ran quickly out of the room. . . right through one of the walls, as if it were air. “As you have revealed yourself to us as a sign of trust,” she said looking at Satsu, “allow me to offer a sign of such to you and your master as well.”

Tsuru leaned toward Yakamo with a questioning look. The Crab Thunder could only return his uncle’s expression and wait as the silent Dragon Champion stood motionless beside her throne. They waited in silence for what felt like an eternity to Yakamo until a great commotion was heard outside the room. Yakamo turned to his left to see a large set of doors swing open where he had seen only featureless stone a moment before.

Three burly Dragon tattooed men dragged a struggling fourth figure into the room. The captive was chained at the ankles, shrouded in loose black robes. A wide, battered straw jingasa hid the man’s face until the monks shoved the prisoner on his back in front of the two Crab warriors.

Hida Tsuru visibly recoiled from the sight – where the man’s face should be, only a bruised, featureless surface of bleeding skin was to be seen. Blood trickled from where the thing’s mouth and nose would have been if it were human.

“Goju, once the master of the Lying Darkness,” Hitomi said simply, motioning to the heap in front of Yakamo. The Crab Champion gazed up to the woman on the throne and then back down at the chained figure on the ground before him in quiet fascination.

“Perhaps you do not know of the Darkness, Yakamo-san. When Sun and Moon gifted everything in creation with names, a small slip of Nothing escaped their notice. That thing was able to change its shape and substance at will. Since it was not bound by one name, it could be many things. It was Nothing. When the Kami fell, a man ran into the darkness, he had been filled with the three sins of the world and the Nothing finally found a vassal, Goju. That creature aided the first Scorpion Thunder in her escape from the Shadowlands. It gave Shosuro the Obsidian Hand as a sign of their bond.” Hitomi gazed at her hands, both sheathed in glistening black stone. “I believe that the Darkness planned for this day, planned for the day when it could seize the opportunity to shroud the world in chaos. On the Day of Broken Thunder, when I failed to draw the Twelfth Black Scroll from Togashi’s chest, that was the influence of the Darkness. Now. . .” She gestured at the fallen Goju. “I have taken vengeance for the Empire. I have defeated Goju and shackled the Darkness to my will.” The burly tattooed men then forced the man named Goju up and began hauling him towards the throne.

“For the empire…” Yakamo muttered under his breath. “And now you plan to turn the Lying Darkness against Fu Leng? You will use this. . . Darkness to fuel the war against the corrupted Hantei Emperor?” The Crab’s eyes never wavered beneath Hitomi’s unnatural gaze.

“Yes,” Hitomi replied simply, though there was a clear challenge in her tone. “I have already won vengeance for the Empire by defeating Goju. Fu Leng’s corruption is pathetic compared to the power of Nothing. Simply say the word, and I will share the powers of the Lying Darkness with Toturi’s Army. We shall be invincible.”

“For the Empire?” Yakamo growled in disgust, seeming to find the words bitter to his ears. “You are a fool, as you always have been.”

Satsu looked alarmed and moved between the to Thunders, “Commander, we are guests.”

“What?” Hitomi snapped. “How dare you speak to me in such a manner?”

Satsu turned to try and calm his sister, but Yakamo spoke over him, “I dare much. The path you tread lead my clan to doom during the Clan War. My father once made a deal with evil. Now he is dead, and Kuni Yori reigns on the Dark Council. If you think that he,” he gestured to the chained man at the foot of the throne, “. . .made your Darkness what it is, you do not understand the lure of power. You never will. You do not control something as you describe. It will make you its pawn, and I will have none of it.” His eyes narrowed as he regarded Hitomi. “Neither will Toturi.”

“Then leave,” Hitomi growled. “I offer you and your allies the chance to take back the Empire from Fu Leng, and you would arrogantly spurn such a gift? You will wish you had not been so hasty when Fu Leng finds your precious encampments. I who have mastered the Darkness shall be the one to survive!”

“I will not go,” Yakamo said. “Not yet. There is something I promised to do on the Day of Thunder.”

“Oh?” Hitomi hissed. Yakamo did not flinch as Hitomi slowly stepped down from the dais. “And what is that?”

“Stop this!” Satsu bellowed, catching them both off guard. Their ire both drawn to him. He looked to Yakamo, “We are here in the name of peace, for allies. I share your concern. Allow me to speak with my Champion.” Giving the Crab not a moment to return a response, Satsu then turned to his sister. “You claim to have mastered and controlled the Darkness sister.”

“I have,” Hitomi boasted proudly, looking at the Crab Thunder.

“Then why little sister have you let Goju live?” Satsu asked softly.

“Let Goju live?” Hitomi asked back in a whisper, the words seeming strange on her tongue. “Let Goju live?”

“Yes,” Satsu said stepping forward. “Why have you not slain the beast?”

“I… what? Kill… Goju?” Hitomi turned to face the shackled and beaten creature named Goju. It’s head bowed in defeat. He hands twisted, as if struggling to move but seemed unable. “I… why have I not killed him?” Her voice raw with shock.

Stasu looking at Goju nodded, and drew his blades, “It has used you sister, and it is using you now. We must kill it before it poisons us.”

“Uncle,” Yakamo whispered. “It is time for you to go now.”

“I’m not sure, Yakamo-sama,” Tsuru said, though his voice came as if from a dream. Yakamo turned and looked at his uncle. The man’s eyes were unclear, like those of a man who had drunk too much sake. “Hitomi has a point. . . why are you so. . . quick to judge. . .” Tsuru’s voice trailed off.

“Tsuru!” Yakamo said urgently to his uncle, but the man didn’t seem to notice. Tsuru wasn’t even looking right at him. His facial features flickered, vanishing for a moment. Hitomi laughed.

“Uncle!” Yakamo growled, shaking him by the shoulder. Tsuru continued to stand completely oblivious. The Crab Champion whirled on Hitomi, drawing his tetsubo in a swift motion. “Release him,” Yakamo bellowed at Hitomi.

“Release him?” Hitomi repeated with shock, her attention had been looking at her hands, unable to draw her blades. “But I have done nothing to him…” He looked at Goju, its head risen, the featureless face caught in a mad light.

Satsu finished his sister’s thought, half turned to the Crab “Yakamo, to me! We have to destroy Goju!”

Yakamo scowled. Faint whispers of laughter echoed from the gathered Dragon monks. As Yakamo’s eyes darkened as he stalked forward.

Satsu turned, to regard the laughter of the monks, Hitomi looked near panicked, “Do not worry Hitomi,” he offered in a calm voice. “We will destroy this offending gues-“

Satsu’s word abruptly stopped as a sound of a wet metal gong resounded through the room. Hitomi looked to see Yakamo finishing his swing, the tetsubo arcing away as it nocked Statsu’s helmeted head in from behind. Hitomi shrieked, falling to her knees.

“For the Empire? This… was for the Empire. May your hopes and dreams burn with the Empire you condemned to darkness!”

“What… brother…” tears ran down Hitomi’s face, and then a look of rage passed over her face.

“Die,” Yakamo said, hurling his tetsubo at the Dragon.

Hitomi rolled aside cursing him. Yakamo bellowed as he drew his katana and charged. A handful of monks dove into his path, but the Jade Hand lashed out with green fire, eradicating them instantly. Hitomi stood, drawing two swords to meet Yakamo’s charge. The Crab Champion feigned overreaching his attack, leaving a large opening in his midsection. Hitomi attempted to take advantage of the situation, and the Crab rewarded her by dropping his katana suddenly and gripping both of her blades with a sweeping arc with the Jade Hand. Hitomi struggled against Yakamo’s grip, but where she was more agile and nimble, the Crab Champion could easily overpower the woman. With more effort than he had anticipated, Yakamo freed the swords from her grip after a solid blow to her midsection with his knee. Hitomi staggered backward and Yakamo flung the blades away as he followed up quickly by grabbing Hitomi’s throat with his right hand and striking her soundly in the stomach with his jade fist.

Hitomi shrieked in fury as she regained her balance and buried her obsidian claws to the wrist in the Crab Thunder’s midsection. Yakamo spat blood but ignored the pain. he opened the Jade Hand and held it over Hitomi’s face. As the strength drained from his body, Yakamo closed the Jade Hand into a fist.

A tremendous explosion followed. When it was over, only the shattered remains of the Jade Hand and Obsidian Hand to mark the mighty duel.

Moving mechanically, the faceless monks released Goju from Hitomi’s bonds. Hida Tsuru, his face now completely replaced with smooth, featureless flesh, knelt and brought the Obsidian Hand to Goju. The ancient man stood, brushing the dust from his robes as he settled into Hitomi’s throne, as his left hand desolved into smoke and he fastened the ancient artifact to his wrist. The Dragon and Crab arranged themselves around him, as they had arranged themselves around Hitomi.

Goju’s eyeless gaze rested upon the fallen Mirumoto Satsu, the two blades Yakamo had thrown had landed at his side, and then the Jade Hand.

“Take that away from here,” he whispered.

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Ep 09: The Calm Before the Storm - Part 1
To the Mountains of Shadow

Nobu’s Tiger Maw Elite gathered with Toturi. He has sent them on a mission to go find the wear about of Hida Yakamo, they will be guided by Togashi Kokujin and Mitsu. Uji and his team will infiltrate and discover the Obsidian Empire’s plans they are attempting to conceal. Meanwhile, Toku was sent by the Oracle of Thunder to find Toturi’s natural born son, Kenaka, somewhere in the South, with her saying “Kenaka has great potential. If it is for the light or the dark has yet to be seen.” Both sides will have one month to complete their tasks.

The group then went and reviewed the Tiger Maw’s Command Staff and set the army in its final preparations for the war in the North. They said good byes, gathered supplies and vaguely over heard an odd conversation with Snak to Chewy, saying that the armies will go south, not north, before boarding The Bitter Rose heading to the Firefly Coast.

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The group was able to get horses from the Firefly Light House as the Mantis fleet drew out the foe. They then traveled to the edge of the Dragon Fly Lands, where they were able to meet with Daigotsu Hisato. He will lead them to The Great Climb, while the Spider move against the Wall of Bone. Nishimura is leading the assault to purify himself on Kyoso no Oni. He told them of the Crab holding the Yasuki Lands in the South, that the Obsidian Armies are gathering for war and he feels they muster be gathering to either move against the Crab or go for the Deserts for retribution.

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A Grim Visage?
Side Fiction

3 Months Ago

Heichi Shinwa took a deep breath, a hand on his chin as he intently analyzed the Go board in front of him. “Hmm… that was a good move.” he mused, seemingly to no-one.

The Go board was set up at the edge of an open sparring area in the Hummingbird Flight Dojo, which was empty sans Shinwa and his two Crab friends. The dojo was located in a remote corner of the City of Lightning and was a favorite of Kuni Hisui for meditation; however, today, and for the last few months, little meditation had been performed. Instead, Hisui had been practicing with his grim faced yojimbo, Hiruma Genshu.

“Your compliment reveals that the move was unexpected” stated Genshu, standing with his hand resting on his daisho and Hisui behind him, facing an opponent that did not exist. Focusing intently on the empty space before him, Genshu continued without flinching. “Be wary of your tells, Shinwa-san”.

Shinwa frowned momentarily, and then moved one of his pieces on the board. Seemingly on queue, Genshu let out two quick whistles, drew his blade with a slash and then dived forward with another. Hisui moved in unison with the Hiruma, quickly moving to his side and bringing his sasumata down on an imaginary opponent just beside Genshu. Holding for a moment, Hisui watched for a confirmation from Genshu, which came in the form of a very small nod. Standing straight, Hisui leaned on his sasumata with a smile on his face, watching Genshu quickly put his blade back in the saya. Hisui knew that their execution had been flawless and he watched for any sign that Genshu was happy with their progress. This was a small game Hisui played with himself, as after the last several months he had yet to see anything more than the stoic frown that the Hiruma seemed to always wear. He saw through it though, as the Kuni was well versed in looking past a disturbing face to see the true man inside.

Instead of acknowledging his charge, Genshu walked a few paces towards the Go board, eyeing it from a distance with a look that appeared to be of disappointment. “You attempt Kikashi, however you need to respect my sente. Not every move can be a game winner, Shinwa-san.” Genshu quickly approached the board, reached down and moved a piece, and then stepped back onto the mat in front of his charge.

Shinwa looked down in awe at the board. “Such a simple move, yet you act with such kiai!” he exclaimed, ruffling the hair on his head as his eyed the board. “And I thought besting my dad was an achievement.” From the mat, there was the sound of a long whistle and a bright flash as Genshu burst into an aura of flames. No matter how many times Shinwa watched it happen, Fires of Purity always drew him in with rapt attention.

Over a Year Earlier

The wedding had been a simple affair, yet the after-party of the joining of Kuni Hisui and Kuni Osako raged well into the evening. Ikoma Sadahige sat at the end of a long table lined with food and sake; however, he did not partake, as he was too busy watching the friendly sumai matches taking place just twenty feet in front of him.

Sadahige sighed and shook his head slightly as one crab grabbed another and slammed him into the ground, causing the small party to erupt in cheers. Was this really the unbroken crabs’ idea of entertainment? It must be, as his eyes wandered to Yakamo and O-Ushi, sitting on a raised platform next to the newlyweds. Hisui looked mildly interested in the match, however he was also distracted by the large man standing behind him, who Sadahige recognized as Heichi Juyo, the recently acknowledged champion of the Boar. Juyo was pointing at the men wrestling and seemed to be giving Hisui notes. Glancing over, Sadahige took note that Osako was studying a scroll and Yakamo and O-ushi seemed to be enjoying the match.

Then, a face caught his eye, and he immediately felt like something was wrong. Standing a few paces from O-ushi was a man with a solemn expression and arms crossed, eyeing the match. No… not eyeing the match… eyeing everything. Sadahige immediately recognized that this man appeared to be taking everything in. He was analyzing the entire party while everyone was distracted by the sumai match, wearing a smile that appeared to be forced as the rest of his face sabotaged the false gesture. Sadahige smiled for a moment, finally having found something… someone… that was interesting at this party. As he stared idly at the man, analyzing his stance and trying to figure out his intentions, a group of crab sitting near him took notice.

“If you are interested in O-Ushi-sama, I think you may be surprised by her courting rituals, Lion.” bellowed one of the crab with a wide smile.

Sadahige turned his head for a moment, smiling at the crab. “I hear that she is already taken, and I would like to keep my teeth, thank you very much!” and then he lowered his voice a little. “Do you know that man standing behind her? The one with the disheveled hair and crossed arms?”

The crab turned again to look and then frowned, looking back at Sadahige. “That’s Hiruma Genshu. I’d stay away from that one if I was you.”

Sadahige’s smile grew wider, as his mind began building an image of who this Hiruma Genshu was. “And why would that be? This is a celebration! I plan on meeting all of the interesting parties!” he proclaimed, knowing that this would surely give him more information about the potential threat.

The crabs eyes went thin and he lowered his voice as low as he could while still being heard. “He’s cursed, they say. The Gaki hunger for him, and watch him as he sleeps.”

Another crab sitting nearby shook his head. “No, they don’t watch him, they sleep with him! He comforts the spirits because he frightens them so!”

A third chimed in. “He was a yojimbo once, you know. About a year ago, with a Yoritomo shugenja that was helping us out on the frontier. I heard that an army of Gaki came to kill him and his charge in the dead of night. They say he fought thirty hungry dead and went through two whole pouches of jade dust! The Yoritomo demanded a new yojimbo later that day. Hmph!”

By this point, the entire table was speaking about Hiruma Genshu, and Sadahige’s eyes grew wider and wider with each story.

“I heard that he had a bastard child that was born part Gaki! He killed it and the geisha that gave birth to it, and that’s why they haunt him, and why he won’t marry.”

“No, no, no, he killed his charge, and afterwards the Yoritomo came from Gaki-Do to exact his revenge!”

“I heard that it was eighty hungry dead, not thirty…”

“If he killed his charge, O-Ushi-sama wouldn’t have stood for it. And why would he do that? I think that the stories about him are exaggerated… but I did hear that he used to be a bandit in the Shinomen-Mori named Fade.”

“I heard that he’s actually a Crane duelist pretending to be Crab so that The Heartless doesn’t seek him out and kill him.”

“I heard that an Oracle once told him that his nightmares would come true, so he doesn’t sleep! That is why he always looks so grim.”

“Are you stupid? How can someone not sleep… ever?”

“The hungry dead will get to him before the Heartless ever would..”

“I’ve gone months without sleep out on the wall! It’s easy…”

“I sleep with one eye open, no goblin is ever going to catch me off guard—”

Sadahige nodded as he took each story in. Growing up with the Ikoma bards always bragging about the exploits of the Lion, he knew a great story when he heard one. This Hiruma Genshu was so infamous that the stories were distorting into near legend, and Sadahige knew that every legend was only as big as the stories that built it. Was this the opportunity he was looking for? Surely besting this Hiruma in a contest would succeed in spreading his name throughout the isles, and that may give him leverage to join Toturi’s inner circle. It had been years since Sadahige had been able to call himself Akodo, after the shame of Toturi’s attempt on the throne caused him to marry into the Ikoma Family to preserve his position in the Lion Clan. Ever since, the stigma always haunted him, preventing him from ever being in the good graces of his previous lord. Sadahige stood and began making his way to the raised platform, first stopping to give courtesies to the recently married couple, and then to Yakamo and O-Ushi on behalf of the Lion.

Stopping at O-Ushi, Sadahige leaned in. “These sumai matches are quite exciting! Will there be an eventual winner?”

O-Ushi nodded distractedly towards the Lion. “Yes, the winner will have the opportunity to be young Hisui’s Yojimbo, assuming they are approved by the Boar.”

“These men all exhibit great strength and tenacity, that much is sure.” Sadahige turned towards the match, leaning on the table that O-Ushi sat at. “But do they really have what it takes to be a Yojimbo?”

O-Ushi seemed to move her body to see around the Lion and get a better look at the match. “Of course! These are the best of the unbroken crab. Now, if you wouldn’t mind…”

Sadahige smiled as he prepared for the hook. “Then why isn’t he competing?” he said, pointing at Genshu. “I mean, he fought an army of hungry dead, right? Who better to protect the young Crab?”

O-Ushi stood quickly and glared into Sadahige’s eyes. “Do not presume to know what you speak of, Ikoma.” The party seemed to quiet a little as the scene drew attention.

Sadahige gave a polite bow. “I meant no disrespect. Is… is he not capable then? What a shame, I suppose that the rumors of his prowess are exaggerated.” The room went quiet for a moment, as all eyes watched the Lion. Sadahige looked at Genshu, who only returned the same empty eyed smile.

“He is very much capable. He is highly trained in the Hiruma Yojimbo school and he would make a fine Yojimbo for the Kuni here. However, I would not force that on Hisui-san… I mean to say…” O-Ushi seemed to be out of her element, wanting to avoid confrontation on this joyous occasion, but lacking the social skills to gracefully manuever through the situation. “Well, we arranged this Sumai tournament to decide the Yojimbo. Genshu-san is untrained in Jiujitsu and thus has decided to sit it out.”

Sadahige turned to the crowd, now all silent including the once wrestling sumai warriors. “So, if he is a capable Yojimbo but not fit for the sumai pit, I, Ikoma Sadahige, would gladly offer my service as a test of his blade. Who wouldn’t like to see that?” Sadahige raised his hands and the crowd erupted into cheers calling for a duel. Sadahige smiled, turning back to O-Ushi with a bow. “Of course, with your permission, my lord.”

O-Ushi began to raise her hand in protest, but a quick whistle from Genshu stopped her. She turned to him, and Genshu simply nodded towards her. O-Ushi straightened herself and then proclaimed to the party “It is decided then! After the Sumai tournament, we will have a duel to first blood between Ikoma Sadahige and Hiruma Genshu. Only then will Kuni Hisui make his decision!”

An hour later

The crowd stood gathered intently around the sumai pit directly in front of the wedding party, creating a circle of bodies around the two combatants. In one corner, Ikoma Sadahige stood with his back to his opponent, talking and laughing loudly with several of the onlookers. His kimono was deep brown trimmed with gold silk and elaborate designs. His saya was trimmed with gold and his blade shone as if brand new as he showed it off to the small crowd. Several well-to-do samurai attending the ceremony had found their way towards his corner, and they all seemed enraptured by his stories about his bravery on the day of Broken Thunder and his love for the Akodo traditions. In the other corner stood Hiruma Genshu, lightly looking over his daisho while everyone around him gave him a wide berth. He stood in a simple blue kimono, faded and tattered at the edges. His katana was well kept, but also well worn, showing the wear of many hard months in the rokugani wilderness. The blade seemed to have a slight green shade to it, belying the numerous times jade dust had been worked into the the metal by Genshu. While the effects of the dust were temporary, a small film had gathered around the corners of the blade and the tsuba, and the wrapped hilt also seemed to be covered in the fine powder. After looking over the blade, Genshu placed it in his saya and then stepped forward towards his opponent.

With a long two-toned whistle, Sadahige quickly turned his attention to the Hiruma, before turning back to his fans and thanking them for their support. He then turned his body towards Genshu and started walking towards his position. “Genshu-san, it is an honor to have the opportunity to see your stance. I have heard many stories about you…”

Genshu’s face didn’t flinch. “There is more to a man than the stories others tell about him.”

Sadahige paused for a moment, eyeing his opponent. The Hiruma was clearly outmatched, as evidenced by the quality of his gear, and yet he was supremely confident. With a trained reaction, Sadahige turned to the audience to his left and right maintaining his confident posture. “Yet, the stories that are told are the only history we have. I wonder what stories will be told of today’s events?”

Genshu’s only response was a slight shrug and a “Hmph”. Then he slightly lowered himself, resting his hand just over the hilt of his katana, showing his stance.

Sadahige nervously eyed the Hiruma, who was striking a very well practiced stance. Furthermore, he looked into Genshu’s eyes and saw the emptiness there, which shook him to his core. Suddenly, all the stories the crab were telling starting coming back to him. Maybe this man was cursed? Maybe he was part Gaki! Surely he must know something that Sadahige did not, otherwise he would not be so calm, so confident. There was no way that a crab was more skilled at Iaijutsu than he… but if supernatural forces were at play…

Turning towards O-Ushi, Sadahige stammered. “I.. I see that he is quite well practiced. I had not heard of the Hiruma Yojimbo school before, but he does appear to be the real thing. Uhm..” Sadahige took a deep breath as he felt all the eyes of the party on him. “Maybe this contest is not necessary?”

O-Ushi spoke loud and clear for the whole party to hear “Oh, it is necessary. It was not before you stirred up trouble, however Genshu has taken slight by your accusations, and he wishes to have the opportunity to defend his honor. Do not slight me by declining his request, Ikoma.”

Turning again towards Genshu, Sadahige braced himself for what he saw. The same unmoving face. Devoid of any emotion, any reaction to what O-Ushi spoke of. Sadahige felt as if Genshu was looking straight through him… never before had he felt so small, so unimportant. Cautiously, he stepped forward and took his stance, a very traditional Akodo Bushi stance he learned from his grandfather. Sweat began pouring down his face as he struggled to maintain the stance without visibly trembling. And still, Genshu did not move, did not react. Sadahige took a few deep breaths, hoping to ease his nerves, but it only made things worse, and the pounding of his heart in his chest started to thunder in his head. He began to nervously look to the audience, then to O-Ushi, then to the ground, anything other than those dead eyes of the Hiruma standing in front of him. And still Genshu did not move, did not react. Through the pounding in his temples, the seconds turned into hours into years, until Sadahige become overly aware that there was an expectation for him to act. That is when the terror truly hit him; this Hiruma could have easily struck at any moment and won while Sadahige was visibly distracted… but Genshu didn’t. Was he playing a cruel trick on him? Was this some sort of payback for the slight? By the heavens, Sadahige realized that he didn’t stand a chance against this man, and finally the weight of the stress turned his legs to jelly and he fell to the ground.

The audience gasped, and before anyone could react, Genshu was at his side, offering a hand to help the Lion to his feet. When his world stopped spinning, Sadahige looking up to see Genshu with that same smile as before, half hidden by those same dead eyes.

“You… you really are a monster!” Sadahige gasped in a hushed tone that was heard by nearly all of the wedding party. He slapped the Hiruma’s hand away and then stood on his own, turning to leave the circle.

“It was an honor dueling you, Ikoma-san.” Genshu said with a deadpan voice and a slight bow. He then turned back to the wedding party on the raised platform, and bowed before them. Looking back up, he saw that Heichi Juyo was wearing a wide smile, nodding silently as Kuni Hisui eyed him with an interested eye. Genshu then bowed deeply before Hisui before walking out of the pit, while the silent onlookers gave him his usual wide berth.

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Preveiws of Ep 09: The Calm Before the Storm
Episode Info

The year is 1143 and it has been 14 years since the Dark God Emperor took his Throne. Two years have passed since the Summit of Resistance.

The summit of resistance has come and gone. Many strides were made towards forging and tempering alliances. The Unbroken Crab, and the Crab of Toturi’s Army are closer then ever. The Spider and Crab, an unlikely alliance for sure, have found common cause and fight to liberate the Southern Empire. Ties with the Yobanjin are strong as well with the alliances of the Rokugani.

However, not all of the guests were forged into strong alliances. Although sympathetic, the Ivory Kingdoms are torn and would not enter into an alliance, wishing to remain neutral. The Burning Sands have many factions, but only the Ebonites declared for Rokugan. The gaijin from across the sea are likewise not working with the alliance.

Toturi’s Army and Yoritomo’s Alliance work seamlessly together, all in preparation for the war in the Yobanjin lands. The Tribes are training, getting proper steel weaponry, and ships are being prepared for moving massive amounts of troops. This is a slow process, resources are limited, and it takes time to move resources as well.

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Toturi wishes the war to be over as swiftly as possible, to ensure absolute victory he needs more ground troops. Thus Matsu Nobu’s plan of including the Dragon Clan is at long last under taken. Hida Yakamo, Hida Tsuru and Mirumoto Satsu worked with the Unbroken Crab and the Spider to assault the Wall of Bone, and in the confusion the three were able to circumvent the wall. Then the Armies of Rokugan waited for word from the Mountains of Shadow, but only silence was returned.

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During the wait, word comes from the Yobanjin that the Unicorn Clan in the deserts came under attack. The Harbinger, Otaku Kimoko found the Unicorn Clan and attacked with the near full furry of the of the Dark Moto. The battle was intense, however the forces of the Dark Emperor did not realize that the Unicorn had been flourishing in the deserts, and the Unicorn Clan nearly routed the Dark Moto and the Harbinger. The Dark Moto loss nearly half of their forces before retreating into a desert storm. The Unicorn were victorious, but they lost many good warriors, Moto Gaheris and his son Moto Gaheris were slain by the Harbinger and Moto Tsume respectfully. During the battle, the wife of the youngest Moto Gaheris, the once Horiuchi Shoan gave birth to the Unicorn heir. He came into the world with no squalling and covered in blood. The Unicorn say this is a powerful sign and his mother once more rules the Unicorn until the child can prove himself worthy of the mantle.

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A much needed victory for the forces of Rokugan, however, the Unicorn who were on their way to the north to help sweep with the Yobanjin delays plans. This is a reprieve since Toturi waits for word from the Dragon Mountains.

It has been nearly a year since the three heroes went into the Mountains of Shadow. Toturi has delayed plans as long as he can. He contacts the Spider, knowing that they had close relations with the Dragon, and word comes back that Diagotsu Kyoden, who had been closest with the Dragon, went mad and was and was slain. It was suggested that the Taint had been too strong in him before he could make use of the scroll.

For the spirit of the army, and for the fact that Rokugan sees Thunders as a true sign of hope, Toturi cannot simply abandon Hida Yakamo and his escort to the unknown. Already the Jade Throne has spread word that the Thunder is dead. The Black Lion summons Matsu Nobu’s personal unit, along with Diadoji Uji and his two students, the Togashi Monks Kokujin and Mitsu, and Toku. There are a number of loose ends that must be attended to on the mainland, and time grows short.

“Behold the fate of all traitors to the one true Emperor! Without a word from the Master of the Emerald Throne, the very fates move against all enemies of the Imperial Hantei. In the year 1142 did this truth become known to the traitor Hida Yakamo, who thought himself safe from the Kharma his attack against Hantei earned a forgotten grave.”

- Miya Satoshi, Imperial Herald, 1142 by the Isawa Calendar, the Thirteenth Year of the Glorious Reign of Hantei XXXIX

This Episode: This episode looms just before the storm of war in the barbarian lands of the Yobanjin. The war machine is making its final movements. In a month’s time, the armies will sail from the Mantis Islands, the Unicorn will begin their march into the plains of the Unbowed and the allies of the Armies will fall upon the Dark Emperor’s foes. If Toturi has any say in it, the two Thunders will be present, and if fortunate perhaps one more. A unit will need to penetrate the Shadows discover the fate of those who went to Hitomi in peace.

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Old Rivals
Side Fiction

Mirumoto Statsu stood before the two monks. This was not his first meeting with the pair. Mitsu was devoted, passionate and spoke in riddles that often hid the point he was trying to make. Kokujin was much more straight forward, but so focused on what was to come, he was often four steps ahead of where anyone logically could be, which often made it hard to see where he was going in his conversations. The three had been discussing at length what waited for him in the Dragon Mountains and the High House of Light.

“She has become a god, but a flawed one,” Kokujin said with something close to reverence. “She lacks the insight to make use of her power. Too long she has sat idle. She grows as flawed as Togashi was. So much power, but mortality makes a man cautious. Something stays her hand yet.”

The bushi sighed, yet trying to ignore Kokujin’s jibes at Togashi-kami. You ignore others madness… and in the end, wasn’t our god and leader wrong? The bushi pushed back the gnawing doubt. “Togashi-san, you believe it is the Lying Darkness, controlling her or subverting her?”

The other tattooed man stirred, “Tigers do not change their stripes.”

Satsu paced away from them, and looked at an old, and out of date map of the Dragon territories. The mantis had many resources, but maps of the mountains that made up of the Dragon lands were obviously not something that felt needed to me kept up with. He studied the faded ink lines. “These mines connect the whole way through the system? Do the Oni know of them?”

“Nothing is absolute.” offered Mitsu with a smile. “But the Spider made use of them for a time.”

“The Unbroken Crab and the Spider plan on distracting the Wall of Bone, letting us move into the caves. That would put us out near Water Hammer City. A two day climb up the path to The High House of Light.”

“Kyuden Hitomi,” Kokujin corrected.

Satsu ignored the comment, but inside he twisted. Had his little sister been so changed? He remembered her as the small little girl who had loved stories, she looked in awe as he practiced his sword play and followed him around begging for sweets. Yet everyone who spoke of his sister was either in awe of her, feared her, hated her, and often all three things.

“Toturi decided that there would be three of us to go, Hida Yakamo insisted it would be him and his uncle, Hida Tsuru,” the two remained silent, but he looked back at the Togashi to see they had exchanged a look. “Yes, I felt that too. But telling a Thunder where he can go and not go seems to be as pointless as me telling the waves where they can and cannot crash on the shore.”

“If you have a problem with my prerogative, say it to my face,” rumbled a man stepping through the door way. He was a large man, perhaps the largest in the Empire. Clad in light armor, his long mustache making his face look more dour then it already was. His jade hand clenching and unclenching as he walked towards the Dragon bushi.

“A pleasure to see you again Hida-sama,” Satsu offered with sincerity. He had not seen Yakamo since his arrival on the island. He had desired to meet the man who apparently had sought to make his sisters life nothing but ruin. “Would you mind if I spoke frankly, Hida-sama?”

The Crab looked a bit uneased by that, but he nodded his consent.

“You know why I question you coming with us. I have heard of your exploits against my sister. The mission that Matsu Nobu has planned requires a delicate hand. We both know where your prowess lays, and that it is undisputed on the battlefield. However, I have not heard of your diplomatic prowess.”

Yakamo gave a snort, “Two reasons. First, my jade hand can protect our group from what lays in that mountain. You need me to help push us through the Dragon Mountains, a place so terrible Oni do not tread. Secondly, when your ‘precious’ sister turns on us, it will be ‘me’ who saves us from her wrath.”

“An invitation has been extended, our passage through the Dragon Lands shall be an easy one. And I do not think my-” Satsu began but was cut off by Yakamo slashing at the air in front of him with his hand.

“Mark my words. That woman is not what you remember. She is evil, she doomed us all to this fate. She has sat tall in her castle and watched the Empire burn while she plotted with darker things yet.You are a late comer to this world, and you know nothing of what has happened but stories. You are as misguided as you are a weakling Miru-” Yakamo’s growl was cut short as a blade was pressed gently against his throat and he felt a second blade rest on the flesh just above his jade hand.

Satsu’s face was calm, almost nonchalant, “Let us discuss one thing more my Lord. Last time we saw each other, I feel that you must have misunderstood my actions. It was not weakness or fear that stayed my hand. It was my loyalty to my Lord, devotion to the Empire and hope for the future.” The edges of the blades pressed softly to the flesh of Crab Thunder who gaped. “Do not assume that skill or your prowess carried you solely to where you are. Many sacrificed themselves for you, in the idealism of hope, honor and loyalty. Myself included. We are not foes. I am not weak.” With that, the blades slipped easily back into their sayas.

Yakamo’s face was twisted in a sour look of surprise and then changed into a snort of laughter, “Well if this comes to a duel, we know who to rely upon, but it changes nothing. She is Hitomi, she is going to betray us.”

“Are only the Crab capable of redemption?” Satsu asked.

“What?”

“I heard what you did during the Clan Wars. I know what graced your arm before the Jade Hand. I heard what your family let loose into the Empire. It seems that the Crab have found redemption and have been allowed that,” the Dragon offered in a sad voice. “My sister too deserves that opportunity.”

Yakamo’s eyes narrow, “You… You have something there I will admit. They say you see a person for who they are when you take your stance in a duel. I have seen into her.” The Crab’s body language shifts from aggressive. “This trek of ours will be happening with both of us. I want my uncle there, because he is the man I trust most of all in this world. We will survive this only if we work together.”

Satsu nods, “Hai.”

Yakamo gives a resigned sigh, “I will not interferer unless she makes move against us. I will protect us, the Empire and its future.”

Satsu smiles, “Then let us waste no more time.”

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The Golden Pearl
Side Fiction

A large gathering of Toturi’s Army and Yoritomo’s Alliance walked in the predawn from the Lightening City Castle to the shores of the Island of Silk. As they approached the beach, the mass started to fall back until small group of priests were the only ones walking forward. The shugenga walked to the edge of the waves in the dim light of dawn. They all wore their ceremonial robes, intense and focused looks on their faces. They had been told that the ceremony they were about to preform would be difficult, and had only occurred two times in the whole of creation. Resting at the water’s edge were the immense scaled forms of the Naga. The Shashakar coiled at the head of the serpent-men, his hood flared against the rising sun, covering his mutated and abominable face from view. He gestured for the priests to step forward.

Into the waves, four honored Shugenja waded. Kuni Osako bowed to the Naga in respect as she entered into the water. Isawa Shinpani, grimaced at the cool water and gave only the lightest of inclines of his head. Yoritomo Wakiza, shyly stepped into the water and gasped at how cold it was. Last of all Kuni Hisui stepped into the water, bowing deep and awkwardly almost loosing his footing as a wave crashed into him. He recovered his footing and looked about quickly to make sure Osako had not noticed.

As the shugenja took their places in circle around the Shashakar , the waves calmed and soon the ocean became a placid as a mirror. The Naga behind the cobra slipped away, leaving no ripples as they came onto the beach.

‘We of the Naga,’ intoned the Shashakar within the minds of those around him, as he lifted a scaled hand to show all those present a golden ball that was not metal, ‘Have been given a gift of a name. We shall offer the Akasha this name, and the universe this pearl, and in between find the hero, named by the Nobu.’

With that, the ritual began. It was an intense undertaking, mixing the might of the elements working in tandem, to be woven into a spell of pearl magic. Each shugenja focused an aspect of the elements, that of Fire (Wakiza), Air (Shinpani), Water (Osako ) and Earth (Hisui). Meanwhile the Shashakar called upon the mysterious force known as the Akasha, apparently in place of Void. Earth groan and trembled, the skies danced with the Fire of lightening and echoed with thunder, Water churned in the seas and Air rushed violently about. Yet none of these disturbances reached the priests. They were the center of it all, and there in the center, they almost could feel what the Akasha was. They could almost sense, feel, taste and hear the memories of all of the Naga that ever were and ever will be. It was like being in a dream and knowing everything yet when one tries to concentrate on any one fact it would escape them utterly. It was distracting and enlightening. And in that churning madness of thoughts not their own, they had to focus upon the elements, the spirits of the land, to help them find the hero they sought.

Fire remembered a passionate man, willed with glory and zeal. Water knew of a man who was quick and flowed into new ideas with ease. Air recalled a man of cunning and a charming smile. Earth thought of someone it used to know, who was resolute. The elements called out, but the name did not appear, and the Akasha began to waver and when it seemed as if the storm of false thoughts would consume the priests in madness, it was Thunder, who heard the Elements, and found the name. Mirumoto Satsu.

Then as the sun bore its weight upon the world, it seemed to shine with infinite brightness, in a flare so bright it blinded everyone present momentarily. As the sounds of Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Thunder raced away and sight returned, a naked man stood in the waves. His eyes filled with wonder as he looked about the world for the first time in nearly 30 years.

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The story of what had transpired from the Scorpion Coup to the present was a long telling, and a sorrowful one. Mirumoto Satsu listened with patient attention, but grief was etched into his features as the story grew more and more bleak. After Toturi had finished the tale, the Dragon bushi stood and walked to the window of the Lightening City Castle and looked outside, collecting his thoughts.

When he had come back, he felt as if he had woken from a deep sleep, and woken into a strange dream. Strangers stood about him, he was naked and there were strange snake-men about. At first he almost laughed at how absurd a dream it was, then reality spilled down upon him. He started to remember. He nearly tripped over himself as he felt the pain of something crushing his skull over whelmed him. Then he remembered his Lord’s words, sadly saying “I shall grant you your request. However, you must not win.” The memories had flooded back, all of them. And when he came to, he was thankfully not naked, and in a castle. Toturi, the Right Hand of the Emperor was there, but he was older, more serious and he had lost an eye. He had explained everything in short order.

As he looked out the window, he watched the water. His memories beating upon his mind like the waves of the shore. So, this world, was what his death brought. He was to die to save the Empire, his Lord had not explained everything, he rarely did. But he was loyal to Toagshi and he understood what wasn’t said. But… nothing had gone as The Dragon had foreseen. Worst yet, his little sister… she…

Satsu turned to Toturi, “Thank you for your story. I wish I had one to return.”

“This was no gift Mirumoto-san. I fear it was more a curse then anything,” the Black Lion returned.

“Wisdom and knowledge are gifts, regardless of how they are received,” countered the Dragon. “But I assume you did not awaken me to tell me stories. It sounds as if there is much to be done. What will you have of me?”

Toturi gave a sad smile, “I fear we have a burden to place upon your shoulders all too soon.”

Statsu smiled with sincerity, “Akodo-sama, it has been at least thirty years since I have been given a duty to discharge. I am a bushi, give me an order to fulfill.”

Toturi’s sad smile blossomed into a genuine smile, “Well then. Let us go see Matsu Nobu. He chose you for a reason, and I would have him explain to you what it is he has in mind.”

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