*NEWS OF ROKUGAN
CIRCA LOTUS EDITION*
by Rich Wulf
Emperor Toturi-sama, It seems, as ever, that I report to you in a time where we are both showered with blessings and beset by curses. Though the plague of the Bloodspeakers has been forever purged from our fair domain, the effects of Iuchiban’s evil continue to echo across the land. Of course nowhere is this more evident than in Toshi Ranbo. How the Keepers will react to recent tragedies and lead us into the future will, I think, have a profound effect in whether hope blooms across the Empire or withers on the vine. In the meantime, we can only hold fast to our honor and continue onward. Your faithful servant,http://www.kazenoshiro.com/fiction/wp-admin/post.php?post=8778&action=edit
Miya Shoin, Imperial Herald
The Crab Clan
The lands of the Crab continue to prosper under the leadership of Hida Kuon. Following the destruction of the Bloodspeaker, Iuchiban, Hida Kisada has retreated from the public eye and has spent a great deal of time in Koten with his great grandson, Ichiro. My heralds also report that Matsu Aoiko, the Lion heroine who was instrumental in Iuchiban’s defeat, has also been a frequent visitor in the Crab ancestral halls.
With the Crab lands in a state of relative peace, I instructed several of my heralds to collect local folklore for use in a volume I am currently compiling. One tale they delivered from the Toritaka lands was particularly interesting, sufficiently so that I thought you might enjoy hearing of it. Tani Hitokage, the Valley of Spirits, is the home to the Toritaka. The smallest of the Crab Clan’s families, they were once known as the Falcon Clan. Their bushi were uniquely talented in the art of hunting unquiet spirits and bringing them to their final rest.
The Valley of Spirits itself is haunted by many restless spirits, and it is not unusual for someone who dies a violent death within that place to return as a vengeful ghost. This is well understood by the inhabitants, and as a result many locations that are known to have violent pasts are marked by white ribbons the Toritaka call spirit markers’ that indicate the location of a haunting. As it happens, a group of bandits affiliated with the notorious Forest Killers had been chased out of the Shinomen by a squad of dauntless Crab magistrates, whereupon they fled into the Valley of Spirits. They ran down the bandits, one by one, until only the leader remained. They found him standing at a crossroads, his horse dead from exhaustion. To the chief magistrate’s surprise, he held a sword to his own throat.
“Another step and I will slay myself!” the bandit warned. “I will die with no thought but revenge! Because I will die in this haunted place my spirit will return and seek vengeance on all of your families.”
“But my friend,” the lead magistrate replied. “Did you remember to sharpen your sword?”
A confused look crossed the bandit’s face, and in that instant the magistrate put an arrow in his eye.
“Now we are accursed, master!” a terrified yoriki wailed. “The bandit will return to haunt us!” “We would have been, if the bandit had died thinking of revenge,” the magistrate replied with a smug grin. “He died trying to remember if he had sharpened his blade.”
The bandit’s ghost never returned.
The lands of the Crane are at peace, but I cannot deny there is a strange silent tension in the air as well. I cannot explain whence it may originate. I can only theorize that now that the Crane possess mastery of the courts and their former enemies number among their greatest allies, that perhaps the Crane realize that the future can bring nothing better. In time, the precious balance that has brought them such power and esteem will waver, and then who knows what the future might bring?
But such thoughts are those of a pessimist, and I am no pessimist. Instead, I congratulate the Crane on their well-being even in the wake of current tragedies, and wish them nothing but continued good fortune.
It was my great honor to receive an invitation to the marriage of Doji Domotai and Ikoma Kusari. I can report that the bride was radiant and the groom was the very image of a noble samurai. The two make a striking couple, and I must say that if ever there was a couple destined for greatness, it must be the daughter of noble Kurohito and the son of brave Korin. I will be watching their future exploits with interest, and of course report them all to you dutifully. The future of the Crane Clan is, I think, in good hands.
While attending the wedding I had opportunity to meet with Usagi Ozaki, the renowned lord of the Hare Clan. I confess I was quite surprised to see him there, as the Minor Clans usually avoid gatherings of powerful Great Clan samurai. Yet he was there, the personal guest of Lord Daidoji Kikaze. Taking the opportunity to converse with him, I learned of an intriguing tale. As you may know the history of the Hare Clan is closely tied to that of the Bloodspeakers. Upon Iuchiban’s first return, the ronin Reichin was an implacable thorn in the side of the mad immortal. Were it not for this brave hero’s efforts, Iuchiban and his cult might not have been defeated. In return for his heroism, the Emperor rewarded Reichin with Minor Clan status and a family name Usagi.
For hundreds of years the Hare have quietly battled the Bloodspeaker cultists wherever they could be found, and the cultists have harbored a burning hatred for the Usagi. When Iuchiban escaped from his prison again and the Rain of Blood fell over Rokugan, he commanded his general, Suru, to punish the Hare. An army of blood-maddened souls and shambling undead descended upon the house of the Hare. Ozaki ordered his men to stand fast. There would be no retreat. This was the foe their clan had been founded to fight against, and they would not fail here. Though he had sent his son to find what allies he could muster, he truly expected no one to step forward to defend a Minor Clan.
Thus it was to his great surprise that hope dawned on that bleak day and a legion of Daidoji Kikaze’s iron cavalry descended from the Shinomen Forest. Unprepared for such a foe, Suru was forced to abandon his forces and flee. The Hare are apparently quite grateful for the Crane’s aid, and Ozaki has reportedly been a frequent guest in Shiro Daidoji. While rumors abound that he is aiding the Daidoji lord in some secret project, they are no more than that rumors. I shall report more on this intriguing alliance should more information present itself.
The Dragon Clan
Without Rosoku to guide us, what will the future bring? Will Rokugan find renewed enlightenment even without Shinsei’s wisdom or will the truth be forever lost? It is said that the Dragon Clan can see into the future, but if they know the answers to these questions they have chosen not to share them. Monks of the Three Orders have been seen abroad in greater numbers than at any time in recent history. Even many members of the reclusive Hoshi family have been seen in the Empire’s villages or traveling its highways. Though they frequently stop to offer aid, physical labor, or their trademark enigmatic wisdom none will speak of the special reason for this increased activity. The most that my heralds can report is that the monks appear to be searching for something. Of course curious behavior from the Dragon Clan is nothing new, and had I nothing curious to report, I would likely be quite worried.
On a more positive note, one recurring rumor that has filled me with hope involves one of the Dragon Clan’s most renowned heroes. Togashi Mitsu, the legendary figure who fought beside your father in the Clan War, has been sighted numerous times, everywhere from the Crab Provinces to Khol Wall to the Mantis Isles. The tales I have heard involve the wandering master’s trademark mix of bold heroism and rampant insanity. He is said to have appeared from nowhere and defend a Shiba farmer from a dozen Yoritomo sailors with nothing but a rake, not killing a single man. He is said to have appeared in Musume Mura, spending a week enjoying the company of the geisha there and then disappearing without a word. He is said to have been seen in the ruins of Otosan Uchi, meditating for days on end at the peak of the sole remaining spire of Iuchiban’s Iron Citadel.
That Mitsu is not dead, as previous rumors have suggested, is good news. The fact that he has returned amid so many other dark omens and doomsayers only ignites one more brilliant light against the darkness. So long as the legends such as Mitsu walk the Empire, hope walks there as well.
The Lion Clan
Shortly after the marriage of Domotai and Kusari, I left Crane lands following a rumor so disturbing that I was compelled to investigate personally. This rumor led me to Lion lands, where I found little has changed since my previous report. The Lion continue to make preparations for war, gathering supplies and drilling troops. Anti-cavalry tactics are a particular focus of Akodo and Matsu warriors alike; the Lion consider the Unicorn their most dangerous enemy and do not appear concerned at all if the Khan is aware of the fact.
Yet this is not what drove me to visit the lands of the Right Hand. I was drawn by tales of a peasant uprising, led by a charismatic ronin named Utagawa. Apparently this Utagawa had organized a large uprising of Lion peasants, revealing to them that Matsu Nimuro had known of the potential dangers to Kaeru Toshi months in advance, yet had done nothing to prevent the war. This Utagawa had planned to gather those peasants who had lost homes and families to the war and abandon Lion territories altogether, moving north to find new homes in Dragon territory. Naturally the Lion did not take kindly to a ronin encouraging a mass exodus of their peasants, and last I had heard Utagawa and her followers were besieged in a small Lion village.
When I arrived I discovered the matter had come to a curious resolution. The peasants had returned to their homes and labor. The Lion troops had disbanded without bloodshed. Utagawa was nowhere to be seen.
When I asked some of the farmers who had witnessed the events what had occurred, they reported that a strange ronin had appeared before Utagawa and spoken to her with quiet wisdom. Though distressed by the idea of abandoning her followers to the Lion, she ultimately agreed that no good would come from facing the Lion soldiers directly. Together, she and this mysterious stranger, this man named Tamago, vanished into the wilderness.
The Mantis Clan
You are of course aware of the recent mysterious disappearance of ambassador Rama Singh from the city of Toshi Ranbo. This event was both curious and disturbing, for Ambassador Singh’s clever mind and honorable nature had done a great deal to cause many members of the court to adjust their previously low opinions of gaijin. I know I am not alone in hoping that whatever Rama Singh’s fate might be that the people of his homeland did not take his disappearance as an insult.
If reports from my herald on the island of Aramasu’s Pride are to be believed, such is definitely not the case. Apparently a number of gaijin have been sighted on the island in recent weeks, all wearing clothing and weapons similar in style to those possessed by Ambassador Singh. These visitors do not appear to be hostile, at least not toward the Mantis, and have been invited into Yoritomo Kumiko’s household as honored guests.
With each passing week, more of these visitors arrive. As none of them appear to speak Rokugani my herald was unable to inquire as to the purpose of their visit. Sadly, none of the attendant Mantis courtiers had the time or inclination to translate on his behalf. From what little I knew of Rama Singh, his garb and weaponry were the symbols of the Kshatriya, his homelands counterpart to our samurai class. If these visitors are, like Singh, Kshatriya then these gaijin are warriors.
Could the Mantis be enlisting warriors of the Ivory Kingdoms for use in their war against the Phoenix? How did the Mantis gain their trust? Is this perhaps an indication that Rama Singh has returned to his homeland safely due to Mantis aid and these warriors are offering their services in return? The possibilities are numerous and I can only speculate, but my instincts tell me that if gaijin involve themselves in a war on Rokugani soil the results can only lead to disaster. Yoritomo Kumiko is a clever and capable leader; I only hope she realizes this truth as well.
The Phoenix Clan
It is with a heavy heart that I must report that little has improved for the Phoenix Clan since my last report. My heralds traveled to the provinces of each family to determine what trials face the Phoenix, and none had glad tidings to report.
The Agasha continue to suffer significantly as a result of the ongoing war between the Phoenix and the Mantis. The Agasha control the clan’s southernmost lands, as well as a particularly profitable section of coastline that has been continually harassed by the Mantis fleet. Numerous villages and ports along their coast have seen repeated attacks, and some have been lost altogether. The Agasha are easily the smallest Phoenix family, and have been unable to marshal a strong defense against the Mantis despite the continued assistance of the Shiba. Ironically, the Agasha’s most important city, the City of Remembrance, has gone completely untouched despite numerous Mantis raids throughout the area. It seems that the Mantis have chosen to completely avoid the city altogether, although whether this stems from some guilt over the city’s near destruction after the Rain of Blood or is simply some bizarre matter of principle that only Yoritomo Kumiko understands, none can say.
The Shiba are, as always, the Phoenix Clan’s first line of defense. Innumerable Shiba bushi have been relocated to villages and ports all along the Phoenix coast, but there is simply too much land to adequately cover it all, and patrolling the entire shore would require the Shiba to completely abandon their other borders. Unfortunately, the Shiba have virtually no experience with naval combat, and have had to hastily construct a ramshackle fleet in order to meet the Mantis on the open seas.
The Isawa family’s reputation as the Empire’s most powerful shugenja has been proven many times, and never so dramatically as in this conflict. Isawa shugenja have secured virtually the entire Isawa coastline with their magic, placing powerful wards and defending against incursion with devastatingly powerful elemental spells. Even the Isawa have limits, however, and the family’s resources are not so extensive that they can secure the entire clan’s coastline. My heralds made mention in their reports that there is budding resentment among the clan’s other families that the Isawa have secured their own lands and failed to defend the lands of others.
One would expect the Asako to remain apart from such worldly matters as warfare, given that they are devout pacifists. In this instance, however, my heralds have discovered that the entire family has mobilized to help those peasants suffering from the war. Monks, shugenja and even the enigmatic henshin can be found in virtually every coastal city or village the Phoenix possess, healing and rebuilding. The results are an increasingly close bond between the Asako, Shiba, and Agasha, even as the Isawa seem to be driving the other families away.
The Scorpion Clan
No one can say what truly happens within the confines of Scorpion Clan lands. The samurai who serve the Clan of Secrets have ever been gracious and forthcoming hosts to those Miya who deliver your word to their lands, but we heralds have never been deluded into believing that we have any inkling of their true agenda. I will endeavor to report what I can.
Bayushi Paneki appears to have adjusted quickly to leadership. His skill at misdirection and manipulation have served him well, although few speak of such things in polite conversation. The only trait that appears to exceed his proficiency at leadership is his loyalty to his Emperor. For that, we can be thankful, as Paneki is not known for his mercy toward his enemies.
The Scorpion make it their business to foster alliances with everyone, much in the same way as their traditional rivals among the Crane. Even the Crane are no longer opposed so vehemently in the court by Scorpion diplomats. It seems as if the trend of the Scorpion permitting the Crane to rule unopposed could be holding, although many find this exceptionally unusual. For my part, if I may, I find myself wondering how the Scorpion are spending their time, if not in courtly intrigue. Were I among the Scorpion’s rivals, I would find their apparent low profile both of great interest and worthy of extreme concern.
With regard to their traditional rivalries, the Scorpion have no more vehement opponents than the Mantis. Of late, however, this has not proven to be the case. Relations between the two, while still quite cool, seem to have improved recently. Some attribute this to a recent visit to Ryoko Owari Toshi by the general Yoritomo Naizen, a particularly vehement detractor of the Scorpion. Whatever may have taken place there is unknown, but it seems to have turned the tide of Mantis-Scorpion relations. Granted, all this may be nothing more than a result of the Mantis’s involvement in their war with the Phoenix.
There have been sketchy reports of skirmishes between the Scorpion and Crab scouts along their southern border, but my heralds have been unable to confirm such accounts. We are continuing to investigate the matter.
I would not be so arrogant as to presume to claim knowledge of what has taken place in the Shadowlands since the fall of Iuchiban, but for the first time I believe I can offer a reasonably accurate idea of the happenings in that dark realm. This information comes from a number of sources, gathered from all across the Empire by my most resourceful heralds. Several spent time among the Crab in an effort to gain some insight into their foes, while others visited a certain monastery maintained by the Asahina family and the Jade Magistrates. I feel confident that you are aware of which facility I speak, my Emperor, and will refrain from further detail in the event that eyes other than those you endorse read this manuscript. Yet another source of information comes from the Dragon Hitomi Kobai, who was recently severed from his connection to the Shadowlands but who retains some vague insight into their activities. Sadly, he is as enigmatic as one would expect a Dragon to be.
What we can say with certainty is that Daigotsu has made no effort to resume hostilities with the Crab. The return of the Hiruma’s ancestral armor, which I detailed in my last letter to you, appears to have been a sincere gesture, as the armor was thoroughly inspected and found to bear no Taint or any other sinister underpinning. The Hiruma, while ecstatic to have such a precious treasure returned, seem upset by the gesture, and uncertain how to interpret it. I must say that I share in their consternation.
While Daigotsu may have ceased his hostilities, there are other powers within the Shadowlands that appear to have designs on the Empire that are equally sinister, perhaps even more so. My heralds have spoken to several individuals, including the mighty Hida Kisada, who claim that the Air Dragon that fell in battle at Oblivion’s Gate has succumbed utterly to corruption, and now exists only as a twisted, manipulative creature of shadow. This Shadow Dragon allegedly works through subtle means, of the sort once employed by the Lying Darkness, to corrupt and seduce noble souls. If the rumors are to be believed, this Shadow Dragon very nearly subverted an entire Spirit Realm to his will, and may have had a hand in Iuchiban’s final defeat.
Of greater concern than the Shadow Dragon, who may or may not exist in any event, is the madman Kokujin. Your Majesty is doubtless aware of this maniacal outcast’s sordid past. My heralds have encountered multiple reports of Kokujin abroad in the Empire, each time in a different location. The accounts of his latest activities are extremely worrisome he no longer appears as a murderer or conqueror, but as a prophet. The madman seeks those who are lost, weak, or confused. To these souls, he preaches visions of a dark future and their place within it. To many, his words are dangerously seductive. The threat this man poses, particularly in this troubled time, is considerable. Already, I have dispatched my heralds to search for other sightings, and informed Togashi Satsu of the outcast’s activities. I pray that it is enough.
The Unicorn Clan
Even though it has been less than a year since the War of the Rich Frog was concluded, it seems that the Khan has not been idle. His military has been almost completely rebuilt, replacing all those who were casualties of war. How this is possible, I cannot imagine. Given the rate at which my heralds estimate the Lion are recovering, it is entirely possible that the Unicorn army now outnumbers the Lion’s by a significant margin. If hostilities should resume between the two clans, an event that remains ever more likely given the activity in Sukoshi Zutsu, the Unicorn would have a decided advantage. If the Lion are aware of this situation, they do not appear to be backing down from the challenge in any significant way.
Sukoshi Zutsu was a small, quiet Lion village only two years ago. Today, it is a Unicorn military stronghold to rival Shiro Henka, growing at a truly impressive rate. It is rapidly becoming one of the Unicorn’s largest military strongholds, much in the same way that Toshi Ranbo was transformed from a small border city to a sprawling cultural center in very little time. Perhaps even more disturbing are the reports that Chagatai is stationing only his most belligerent, violent soldiers at the outpost. Many of the men, my heralds report, lost family or close friends in the conflict against the Lion. If there is even a minor border incident anywhere near Sukoshi Zutsu, I fear it will rapidly explode into a second, possibly bloodier conflict.
Even as the Unicorn gather forces at their village fortress, the Khan’s men scour the Empire alongside the Shogun’s legions. This is a matter of great concern to you, my lord, as all know. The Khan appears to have sworn loyalty directly to Kaneka, although he has yet to make any formal declaration as such. Regardless of Chagatai’s ultimate loyalties, the good he has done for the Empire in aiding the Bloodspeaker purge cannot be denied. Thousands of Iuchiban’s followers died upon the blades of his men, and for that your loyal subjects will always be grateful. We can only hope that his honor will ultimately temper whatever ambitions he may have.
The Nezumi Tribes
The Nezumi are an enigma, and not one we are likely to ever fully understand. An assignment to speak with them and document their ongoing activities is widely regarded as a punishment among the ranks of your heralds. In truth, I assign only those who are particularly skilled and highly trained to such details, for only the finest heralds can have any real hope of deciphering the strange culture of our Nezumi allies. In my last report, I detailed the account your heralds uncovered of the Nezumi’s struggle against the being they called the “Tomorrow Chieftain.” This chieftain appears to have been at least temporarily defeated, although if it is crafted from the stuff of dreams as the Onisu were, it will return eventually. The Onisu, after all, have been destroyed several times, only to return to plague us once more. The Nezumi speak of a lost city deep within the Shadowlands, a relic of the alleged Nezumi empire that existed before the rise of mankind. If their fanciful tales can be believed, the One Tribe is preparing an attempt to recover this city from Daigotsu and his oni lieutenant, a demon that the Nezumi attempted to name but which the herald was hopelessly unable to understand. They claim that the city was hidden, or “forgotten,” by an ancient Nezumi ritual that has now faded, allowing the city to reemerge into the Shadowlands. Of far greater importance, however, is their repeated insistence that the city is pure and untouched by the Taint, and that it will remain so because of the magic used to conceal it for so long. Such a thing is almost impossible to believe, but if it is true, then the Crab could gain a new fortress deep inside the Shadowlands, within very short distance of the City of the Lost. I know that I do not need to express how vital such a beachhead could be in our struggle against the Shadowlands.