There Is No Hope
By Rich Wulf
“It is said that even the Elemental Dragons feared the power of our mighty Emperor. Rather than fear his wrath, they barred the Celestial Heavens, turning their backs upon those they claimed to protect.”
- Miya Satoshi, Imperial Herald, 1129 by the Isawa Calendar, the Seventh Year of the Glorious Reign of Hantei XXXIX
* * * * *
Through the hole in the sky, the Elemental Dragons gazed at the earth below. They were not pleased.
“There is no hope,” said Earth.
“Jigoku has won,” said Fire, scowling in anger as steam rose from his might jaws.
“This is not right, sister,” said Thunder mournfully. “This should not be.”
“Many things should not be,” answered Earth, her great hand resting upon heaped stone coils. “And yet, there they are. Rokugan is doomed.”
“Brothers, sisters, let us not jump to conclusions,” said Air, his sinuous body slithering between the others. “Let us consult with void, who watched Rokugan so closely for the last year.”
The Dragon of the Void turned from where he had been staring through the hole in the sky. the others had not noticed his presence, so wraithlike had his appearance become. It was no secret that Void had been closer to the humans than most, and had suffered greatly. At his side sat Jade, the tiny creature that was not quite a dragon yet. Void dipped his head in acknowledgement to his siblings and began his report.
“It has been one year since the Thunders fell,” said Void. “the Dark Lord, Fu Leng, has declared himself Emperor of Rokugan. The traitor Kachiko rules by his side.”
“Emperor?” said Fire. “Foolishness. Destruction is Fu Leng’s only desire.”
“No longer,” said Void. “He has tasted the power of the Emperor and found it to his liking. He has demanded that all those who once served Hantei now serve him, or be destroyed. The Lion were first. With the Seven Thunders defeated, Fu Leng emerged from the Forbidden City and gave the armies a single chance to swear fealty. Ikoma Tsanuri, who once led those who served the Hantei, would not bow before the ghastly thing that emerged from the Palace. Ikoma Ujiaki knew no such doubts; he struck down Tsanuri and swore fealty to Fu Leng, who ordered him to attack the army of the Thunders.”
“Surely not all the noble Lion would serve the Dark Lord,” said Earth, though her voice held little hope.
“Not all, no,” Void did. “But some. Enough. Fu Leng’s defeated Horde rose again at Ujiaki’s command. the Day of Thunder became a day of slaughter. Ikoma Ujiaki became the Rikugunshokan of the Legion of Jigoku.”
Void paused a long moment, allowing the others to absorb the terrible news. “The Crane were next,” he said. “the ravages of the Clan War had crippled their armies, but the children of Doji would not surrender. A week after the Day of Thunder, the Legion of Jigoku arrived at Shinden Asahina. Fu Leng’s new Emerald Champion stood beside Ujiaki – Doji Hoturi. He wore no armor, proudly displaying the hole Fu Leng had torn in his chest. Kuwanan, lord of the Crane, rode forth to challenge what must surely be another impostor claiming his brother’s name. Hoturi the Heartless rode back an hour later with Doji Kuwanan’s head impaled on the tip of his yari. Within the hour, Shinden Asahina burned. On that day, the samurai of the Crane Clan died.”
“None survived? whispered Air, not willing to believe it.
“Only one. . . ” said Void. “Only one Crane left. . . ”
The Dragons bowed their heads in silence. If a tear fell from Jade’s eye, none mentioned it.
“The Phoenix were next,” Void continued. “The Legion cut down the Shiba armies like blades of grass, but while they sacrificed their lives, the Grand Master gathered what shugenja he could and staged a mass exodus to the north. The Grand Master was challenged by Isawa Tsuke, the fallen Master of Fire, slain on the Day of Thunder, but now resurrected by the Emperor’s terrible maho. At Tsuke’s side stood Kuni Yori, Yogo Junzo, Kitsu Okura and the mysterious Daigotsu. Naka Kuro could not stand against Fu Leng’s new Dark Council of Masters. His soul was torn from his body and imprisoned in a shaft of obsidian by Kuni Yori, a perversion of the techniques the Kuni once used to trap the spirits of oni. Those Phoenix who bowed before the Dark Council were spared. Those who were not, which were many, were destroyed.”
“What of the Dragon Clan?” snapped Fire. “You made no mention of them.”
“Theirs is the strangest tale,” said Void. “Since Hitomi returned to her people, Togashi Mountain has been wreathed in shadows and silence. Any who dare visit Hitomi do not return. The Dragon are only ghosts now. Even oni do not go there.”
“And what happened to the others?” asked Air.
“The Scorpion, Crab, the Naga, Toturi’s Army and Unicorn gathered on the Plains of Thunder,” Void said, gazing through the hole in the sky again. “Toturi and Hida Yakamo led them. You all sensed what came next. The Chosen of Fu Leng.”
“The ashura,” moaned the voice of the Celestial Dragon, and seven pairs of eyes turned upward to face the enormous eye of the creature that held the Heavens aloft. The eye, once golden, was now a dark brown shot through with silver veins.
“Yes,” said Void. “The Emperor’s most terrible creation – like fingers of death, ghostly samurai that hover in the air as if the earth is revolted by their touch. Where they passed, samurai crumbled into dust. Their moth-like wings bore the mark of death, as sharp as a Kaiu Blade. Their arrows rained down plague and corruption. Agasha Tamori and Iuchi Karasu combined their magic to strike down the strongest ashura, but were destroyed in turn when the creature’s unholy power erupted forth. Toturi knew that this time there would be no escape. That was when. . . ” Void grew silent, unwilling to tell more of the tale.
“That was when your Oracle interfered,” said Earth, an accusatory tone in her deep bass voice.
“Yes,” said Void. “Isawa Kaede rescued the heroes who remained.”
“So Rokugan is corrupt now, like the Shadowlands?” asked Earth.
“No,” said Void. “Fu Leng prefers his subjects uncorrupted so that they can feel the terror of his rule. The Taint is now a gift to be given at his discretion.”
“And have any escaped his rule?” asked Air.
“Three Naga cities still stand, and the Islands of Spice and Silk have a sort of peace,” said Void. “Fu Leng has only a handful of ships, none of which are prepared for an attack on the isles. It is there that the heroes gather. Hida Yakamo, Togashi Mitsu, Yoritomo, Horiuchi Shoan, even Toturi. Unfortunately, the islands were never intended to house so many. They rely upon guerrilla raids and piracy to steal the food they need.”
“A bitter end for samurai,” snarled Fire.
“This is not the end,” Void whispered, though it seemed as if not even he believed the words.
“You were always naive,” Fire said with a sneer. “It is no wonder your Oracle threw the elements from balance by acting directly.”
“Fool!” the Celestial Dragon suddenly roared, shaking the Heavens. “It no longer matters! There is no more balance! A thousand years of darkness will consume Rokugan! We must close the hole in the sky and turn our backs upon the mortals.”
“You would have us abandon them?” said Void.
“We have no choice,” said Thunder. “We cannot risk Fu Leng conquering the Heavens as well.”
Void hung his head, his star-like eyes shimmering. “I cannot abandon Kaede. I will go to the mortal realm and stay with her.”
“You are too weak, Void,” Thunder said. “Stay here, and let me protect her. Let Isawa Kaede be the Oracle of Thunder.”
“You will be alone, Thunder,” said Earth gravely. “We can offer you no aid once the Heavens are sealed.”
“I will need none,” Thunder replied boldly. “When you return you will find me waiting or you will find me dead.”
“So be it,” said the Celestial Dragon. “When our sister Water returns, Thunder shall leave and the hole will be closed. The celestial Heavens will be barred to Rokugan for a thousand years.” The Celestial Dragon’s great eye closed. This discussion was over. The Elemental Dragons went their separate ways, returning to their respective enigmatic lives.
“Where has Water gone?” little Jade asked curiously, eyes fixed on Void’s.
“To return what we had taken,” Void whispered.
“The geisha?” Jade asked.
Void nodded. “She does not belong here now.”
“That is sad,” Jade said. “Thunder said her child might be the Empire’s greatest hero.”
“Do not give up hope, Jade,” Void said, looking down on Rokugan for the last time. “I think that the Empire needs heroes now more than ever.