The Will of Heaven
by Rob Heinsoo
In an hour, the ashes of their father’s body will rise above the imperial city, spiraling toward the Heavens. Naseru, Tsudao, and Sezaru stand beside their mother, Kaede, watching Toturi’s funeral procession.
Representatives of the eight Great Clans and all of the Minor Clans have put aside their differences to walk in the procession. As they should be, the mourners are impassive – they are samurai, after all. But secretly, many are overwhelmed with grief. Along the long march through Otosan Uchi, they have eyes only for the pyre – and for the ground, where they look when they cannot bear to gaze elsewhere, knowing that no one will blame them for watching where they must walk in the shuffling horde.
Marchers not overcome with emotion steal glances at Toturi’s three children, Tsudao, Sezaru, and Naseru. They are known by reputation throughout the Empire. Each has the stature and accomplishments of a hero – Tsudao, Lady of the Sun, the commander of the Imperial Legion; Sezaru, the great shugenja who killed an oni during his gempukku ceremony; and Naseru, the strategist whose hold on the Court was second only to his father’s. But most of the clans have had direct contact with only one of the imperial heirs. None of the marchers are crass enough to comment aloud on what they see – this is a time for memory and mourning, not for eying the future – but those made uneasy by the death of the man to whom the Ikoma historians already refer as “the Splendid Emperor” take some comfort in the dignity and composure of his three children.
Though none could find the words to say so, Kaede’s features, alongside her children’s, are less reassuring. For the second time, Kaede has lost her husband, her lord, her lover. This time, Toturi will not come back from the land of the dead. Kaede’s face is fair to gaze upon, her eyes dry of tears, but there is a terrible loneliness inside her, a ripping emptiness that goes beyond what humans experience… since, after all, Kaede is human only because she chooses to be. She is the chosen of the Dragons, the Oracle of the Void, shaped by the Dragons to take their place in the world of humans, to see and experience what it means to be human while containing the essence of what it means to be the Dragon of the Void. Kaede is immortal and unstoppable, a being of potentially infinite power encased within a body that she chooses to maintain as human.
Until a week ago, she remained human for his sake – for her husband, for their life together, for their children. Now she will remain human a bit longer, again for his sake, but this time for the Empire as well.
Four months before the funeral…
“If you do not wish this thing, it will not be done,” said Toturi.
Kaede did not respond; her gaze remained fixed on the candle they had taken out upon the roof of the Spring Palace. Just the two of them. No one else. And no response…
So he continued, even more gently. “Tsudao is not ready, though she could be, with another year. Or two. Or five – I do not know. And Sezaru is… well, Sezaru is Sezaru…”
“…And we know that the Empire may not be ready to be made in his image,” finished Kaede.
“It would not be a tragedy. he is worthy. But yes, he is still too ambitious… No… he is also too powerful. Too quick to know that he knows best.”
“So you will let him wait, without even knowing if he will one day rule?” asked Kaede?
“Kaede-chan, our first son already rules both Fire and Void. This does not necessarily mean that he should rule the Empire. I do not know which of them will make the better Emperor. We have succeeded in making… heroes. Even Naseru could be Emperor, despite all of the words and thoughts that have come between us. But I do not wish to leave the Empire to the whims of chance. I wish to leave it in your hands. You will know what to do, when the time comes, as no one else would. As you have known how to guide me, all of these many years.”
“but this is not what I have guided you toward, husband.”
“Do you advise against it, then?”
“No. It is just that I cannot see it; I cannot see it ahead of me.”
“Kaede, you have not truly seen the future since I returned. And certainly not since… not since Tsudao came to us. Yet you have always known what to do and say in the present, and that is all I ask. If I should die this year… or the next… or perhaps the one after that… then you are my chosen heir. If we have more years than this given to us, together, then I know that this burden need not be yours. But I have known you long enough to understand when I truly know something: it is not time for any of our children to take the throne.”
Kaede nodded. There was only one more thing to say. It was necessary. “Very well. It is not time for our children to take the throne. What of Kaneka?”
As the procession winds through the streets of the imperial city, one figure keeps pace on the side, gliding through the throngs with an easy step. People give him space, thanks to the swords at his left hip. His brown gi has no mon. Samurai or ronin? Not for the common people of Otosan Uchi to say; they just get out of his path. He has the look of a man who has come a long way.
Seven days before the funeral…
A lone rider lets his horse pick its way along the muddy tumble of the Great Crater Road on the path toward Scorpion lands, the forest of Shinomen. In these final, slanting moments of light, the rider gave no sign of noticing the sunset on his left, or the jolting progress of his mount, or the three warriors watching him from the shelter of the trees.
“he wears no mon. He travels alone. He is either a pilgrim, or a bandit, or a lost caravan guard,” said the white-haired man in the pale blue cloak.
“He bears a daisho. he dares to travel these roads alone. It is said that he does not wear a mon. It is him,” said the black-haired woman in traveler’s clothes.
“Lords, it does not matter who it is. I can shoot him from here if you wish it, particularly if it is Kaneka,” said the ashigaru, looking between his two samurai masters.
“No, Kyoke, I doubt that would work,” said the woman, at the same moment that the rider below them slid off of his horse and walked beside it, keeping the horse’s body between him and the watchers above.
“He appears to have seen us,” said the male samurai, stepping quickly to his horse. “Let us meet him, then, on the road, instead of playing at banditry.”
“yes, it is no good to play at banditry when our aim is so straightforward. Proceed,” said the female samurai, her words clipped short by her intent.
It took only moments to reach the road. Kyoke, the ashigaru retainer, hung back. the two Crane samurai approached the rider.
“I am Kakita Marui,” said the black-haired woman.
“I am Doji Eloka,” said the white-haired man, dismounting from his horse and handing its reins back to Kyoke, “and I regret that we must use the last few moments of this day to challenge you.”
“It is regrettable but necessary. The challenge is to the death,” said Marui.
The man in the brown gi unfolded himself from a half-crouch and gained another three inches, towering over the slender Crane. “thank you for your challenge. I do not appear to need to introduce myself.”
“No, Kaneka, you have been expected. We will kill you, and then we will kill each other, and there will be no one left to say how you died,” said Eloka, taking a fast step before Kyoke could work it out for himself. Eloka cut the ashigaru in half with a katana that had not been in his hand an instant before.
“I heard tales of Crane who speak well in court and slit throats when no one is looking, but I thought they were Scorpion lies,” said Kaneka, slapping his own horse so that it followed the other horses, splashing along the track.
“Scorpion tell the truth sometimes,” said Marui, stepping past Kaneka’s horse to flank him on the track, breathing easily and smiling without showing her teeth. “But more often they lie. And this has nothing to do with the Crane, not really.”
“I believe you,” said Kaneka. “The Crane would know better.”
Four months before the funeral…
It was only the third time they had spoken of Kaneka. Kaede was beyond jealousy or resentment – it was Toturi’s pain that kept her away from the subject. Pain in the poisonous circumstances of the child’s birth, or pain in the awareness that the greatest of souls can stumble? Kaede was not sure. But she could read the shifting currents of the omens within the New Tao… and she knew that Toturi had not named any of his three children as his heir because he had four children.
“I… should meet him again. By all accounts, he is strong, and just, and honorable to a fault. His sword is fast, and his will is pure. he thinks well of me and has been raised as a child of the Akodo. I… will see him again. I know that this will not bother you. Not directly. But I know that there could be trouble… here. particularly with Naseru. I will send to him in order to meet him elsewhere, outside the Court. And if, in the future, you fins that he is the one… well, you see these things clearly. I merely squint and puzzle out the shapes.”
“This is a strange line you wish us to walk, husband. But we have walked stranger paths, haven’t we? Very well. I nthe improbable and completely unnecessary event that you die sometime soon, I will rule in your stead. you had best prepare the decree. Surprises are unwise.”
After a moment, he surprised her by leaping atop the battlement and spreading his arms to the night sky. The moon chose that moment to step up over the Mountains of Regret. There were no courtiers to bustle and pull Toturi down from his perch. Kaede blew out the candle and joined him upon the wall. Hand in hand, they watched Lady Moon roll above the plain to share her light with the sleeping city.
Twelve days before the funeral…
“Father, it is my place to travel with you, to guard you as the commander of the Imperial Legion. Why do you deny me this?”
Tsudao and Toturi sat in the garden beside Tsudao’s favorite temple, the shrine to Amaterasu, which still seemed to hold something of the kami’s essence instead of Yakamo’s light.
“Tsudao-chan, cherished pearl. You – you I will tell. I trust you in all things. And this is a thing of honor. And of promises. Yes, i go to Bayushi Castle and to Ryoko Owari to receive tribute from the Scorpion. And yes, there are tales of oni wandering out of the forest, and it will not hurt to speak with the Soshi and assure myself that their hands are clean. But there is another reason I am going, and that is to meet Akodo Kaneka once more. We meet at the Temple of osano-Wo, beside Shinomen. i told him that I would come alone, and that means that you must stay here in the capital. This once.”
Tsudao held her silence. As a girl, she would literally have bitten her lip. As a woman and as a warrior, she quieted her mind to a still pool, taking all of the time in the world to inspect this odd new thing her father had shown her.
Very well. Father. In your absence, since this is your will, I will write to Dejiko and ask her what she thinks of Kaneka, since her spirit is true and…”
“…And her ancestors are her own, rather than shadows remade in Akodo’s image. Ah, we have had this conversation before, Tsudao.”
“And I believe you are right and I am wrong, father, but I still feel more comfortable leading Kitsu and Matsu and Hida… and… Mirumoto…” Tsudao gave it up when she saw that her father was laughing. “Oh, forgive me,” she said laughing herself. “When I begin making lists of things, it always means I have run out of things I truly wish to say.”
“I forgive you, daughter, as long as you forgive me for so enjoying laughing with you and hoping that you find someone else you can laugh with.”
Tsudao was silent for a moment. “… That decision… that decision you left to me.”
“And I would never have it otherwise. you will do what is best. I trust you in this. As I trust the Will of Heaven.”
Now, watching the procession of warriors and shugenja and daimyos who owe their lives to her father, Tsudao senses the clenched know of her jaw and gradually eases loose. “Like prying a sword out of bone,” she realizes, allowing one part of her sorrow to snag on a thought that would have made her father smile sadly.
In the swirl of banners and weapons and clan mons, she sees a man in brown standing on the other side of the street and realizes that she knows him, and that it is Kaneka – and then he is gone.
She does not know whether or not to tell her brothers. And so she does not. The clenched know returns to her jaw, and this time she doesn’t realize it for hours.
Sezaru, watching the procession, immersed i nthe Void…
- Marching generals; proud magistrates; legions of bushi.
- ((And among them, darting like fast kites among the rolling clouds, the souls of the shugenja, imploring the spirits to take our father back among them in glory.))
- Crab and Scorpion and Crane marching side by side…
- ((The one in the shell does not yet know, the one with the stinger suspects, and the one that flies readies itself to stoop.))
- Shiba marching beside Mirumoto!
- ((Oh, look now, people of the Empire; you will not see this again, not until the ocean of blood retreats with its souls.))
- Akodo, Matsu, Kitsu: how many of these brave warriors will meet their ends soon?
- ((All of them, all of them, soon, from the perspective that matters, the long view, the view our mother has avoided.))
- I can see it in her face, an emerging sense that this is not going to be easy.
- ((If there were some way to take this burden from her, some way to help her, to allow her to walk the single path ordained for mortals instead of the forking paths of the future… I would help her if I could.))
- Too many distractions in Kaede’s mirrors, too many futures she has learned to ignore in the face of the single present.
- ((Mirrors? Why mirrors?))
- Around her, everything is hazy.
- ((Hazy to me, who sees all i nthe swarm of chances, the twisting requirements of necessary balance and obligatory collapse.))
- Naseru wonders at her stillness, at her lack of words and lack of emotion, and thinks that she has been struck a blow that will require time to heal. For all of his respect for her, and for all of the love he and Tsudao share with our mother, they do not understand.
- ((Kaede is not the type of being who heals. When a crack slashes into her existence, she changes. There is no one to return to the one who existed before the wound.))
- She is changing now, here beside me. Changing as Father makes his final journey.
- ((And I, who pulled the oni’s hearts out through its two hundred eyes, am powerless to say a word that would not shatter against the barrier between us – mortal son of immortal Void.))
Twelve days before the funeral…
Toturi found Naseru where he expected to find him: in the throne room, at the left hand of the Steel Throne, deep in conversation with two Kakita courtiers. Naseru liked to stand near the throne, near enough that he could reach down and touch it, if that were allowed – to rest his fan upon the emerald dragon reused from the first time his father’s sword had broken an emperor’s throne.
Toturi had once again evaded his retinue. With no courtiers to announce him he was free to wait in the shadows and watch his youngest son cajole the Crane diplomats. Toturi thought back to the second time he had broken a throne, in his battle against Hantei XVI, the spirit Emperor returned from the land of the dead.
Toturi looked down at his hand, at the glowing aura, the halo that had surrounded him since he himself had come back from death and Jigoku. The aura was faint now – he was calm, composed. When he had struck down the Hantei’s servants in the battle that destroyed Toturi’s own Jade Throne, his aura had burned like a killing fire.
It had glowed just as fiercely when he made the peace with the Hantei that ended the war… with the price that Toturi’s youngest son, Naseru, would carry the Hantei name instead of the Toturi.
Before Hantei XVI died, Naseru spent several months each year with him in his palace in the Kanjo district, observing the methods of a tyrant who was not allowed to rule but who still ran his household with a frenzy that bordered on insanity.
After one of those trips, Naseru returned to his family missing an eye. Toturi would have destroyed the peace then, forcing Hantei XVI to pay for this attack upon his son, but Hantei XVI was already dead. Naseru would only return his father’s impassive gaze when asked how the Hantei had died.
Naseru finished with the Crane, who retreated after achieving only one of their objectives, bowing with good grace that turned even better when they realized they made way for the Emperor.
“Son, you made them dance,” said Toturi.
Naseru bowed without allowing himself the satisfaction of a smile and said, “Courtiers should always dance. if they do not dance, what has all of their training been good for?”
“I am glad that it is you who leads these dances, leaving me to guide the affairs of the Empire as is best instead of as the courtiers demand.”
“The pleasure, dear father… the pleasure is, of course, mine.”
Toturi smiled, and Naseru inclined his head.
“I am about to leave on a trip to the Scorpion and to Ryoko Owari,” said the Emperor, “and I wish you to set something in motion as I travel.”
“A moment, Father.” Naseru’s chin lifted as he took his father’s measure, studying the determined set of his jaw, the spirit aura that was slightly brighter than it had been when they began speaking, the Emperor’s natural posture that was the stance of the duelist who did not need a sword. “I see. It is the matter of the magistrates.”
“You… wish me to set the Test of the Emerald Champion in motion. Though Toshiken still lives.”
“No. I will give the order to set the Test in motion. You will take over from there, arranging the tournament and seeing it through to its proper conclusion with the same skill and justice you have employed in overseeing the magistrates while Toshiken has been ill.”
“I understand. Of course, Father. I can do this.”
“Naseru, I know…”
“You do not have to say it. Father.”
“You have made me proud, Naseru. But Toshiken is finished, and the Empire needs its Champion. And it is time to give the clans a challenge again. They have grown… lazy, perhaps, if only in spirit, and if we do not give them proper challenges, their small skirmishes will soon turn into true wars. That is the way of the clans. Let us give them a good challenge. Will all possible speed, Naseru.”
Naseru nodded, his mind already leaping among the factions and leaders he would need to bring together to arrange the great cross-clan tournament at such short notice. he came to the Crane and realized that there was an outstanding issue. “And shall I send to Toshiken and tell him of your decision, or will you handle this yourself, Father?”
“I will see him before I go. It is only right, whether or not he survives the month.”
“You are gracious. And I am sure he will understand. Will Tsudao accompany you?”
“No,” said Toturi, “on this journey I will travel without her. A few of the Wolf Legion will command the Guard.”
Naseru raised an eyebrow.
“The the test may begin after your return. Two weeks?” asked Naseru.
“Yes, two should suffice. Oh, the clans will scream at the short notice, but you, of all people, are aware of this.”
“The clans that use their wits have already notices Toshiken’s condition and are no doubt waiting for precisely this opportunity. Do not worry about the clans,” said Naseru.
“Then you are the man to make sure that no one need worry,” said Toturi, clapping his son on the arm for the first time in what felt like years.
Naseru returned his father’s embrace, then watched him proceed out of the throne room into the flock of imperial courtiers who had arrived during their conversation and taken up positions just beyond earshot.
Naseru turned and looked at the throne behind him. The Steel Throne, built with pieces of the thrones that had come before it. Built to withstand a battle.
As the flames seize hold of the pyre, Naseru scans the crowd of samurai and shugenja, looking for clues that only he could see. Of course, their faces tell him nothing. “The face is the first traitor,” says Bayushi’s Lies, and so the samurai of Rokugan know enough to marshal their features, revealing nothing. But Naseru knows how to see everything without even seeming to look. He knows how to look for anomalies, and he knows how to look past faces – how to look over a man’s shoulder, past a woman’s hair – to see past the stance they present, to the air behind them and to the earth – to how they feel at the moment and where they would rather be. The technique does not work with those who know how to still their minds or those whose minds are naturally always still, but among the samurai of the great families and even among the ranks of the shugenja, few can maintain perfect harmony through a half-hour ceremony in which an emperor burns.
And so Naseru’s good eye, the eye that sees things that others dismiss as hunches, takes in the ranks of the legions and the clusters of courtiers, not needing to focus or move to make its judgments.
The first thing he sees confirms what his spies have told him to expect. The Isawa and the Shiba never seem to be able to look at the Dragon, skipping them as their heads turn, as if they were not fully there. As the Dragon have come down from their mountains, looking for new lands for their peasants to farm, they have scrupulously avoided most of the territories belonging to the Lion. But they have not been so careful about the Phoenix’s boundaries, knowing that the Phoenix’s true power is also in the mountains. Skirmishes have already begun. Ambassadors to the Phoenix palaces have met with stalling tactics while the Phoenix look for allies. And now the Matsu let their eyes center on Dragon samurai, sizing them up, wondering just how big of a meal they will make.
“So the Test of the Emerald Champion will be too late,” muses Naseru. “The wars we have put off in honor of our beloved hero we will fight beneath the rule of his strange and awesome wife. Will they wait until the Test is done, another week, or will it start now? Does mother know? If I can see this, surely she must”
Naseru looks at his mother, to see what she sees, and his gaze slides off of her to one side. He finds himself gazing once more at the legions, wondering what it was that he had been thinking.
The Crab? The Crab truly mourn the Emperor. And, as always, they radiate nothing but contempt for the Crane.
But there is something new in the Crane. Some apparent resolution in the firmness with which they stand. As if as if their legions have drilled not just for practice and form, but for strength and maximum impact with each blow. Calluses on the hands of a Daidoji are nothing new, but Doji and Kakita here move with purpose that indicates they have been playing at more than iaijutsu. So. Are they also ready for true war? Ready to retake the Yasuki lands their ancestors lost centuries ago? Surely that must be the case. Could it be prevented? Should it be prevented?
And then there are the Scorpion. Some whisper that the Scorpion betrayed Toturi to the Shadowlands, down by Shinomen. Some say it aloud and fight duels for their bluntness.
So Naseru takes the measure of the Scorpions. He knows better than to even glance at their masks. But he finds that they are angry. And ready. And that they do not direct their anger at the man burning on the pyre. And that their readiness has nothing to do with a threat toward any party in the throng – no more than at any other time, at any rate. And so Naseru knows that it must be true – what the Scorpion have said about the battle in the forest, and Toturi’s death, and their fight to recover his body.
Seven days before the funeral
“They have us surrounded, sir!”
“Gunso, I see that. Take your warriors to the left flank, there, where the horn-demons are thick.”
The gunso swallowed once and wheeled her mount. She had not counted on dying in Shinomen Forest, particularly not to the Shadowlands hordes. But by the time her horse had covered five strides more, she had accepted her fate and cried out to her troops, leading them in the charge.
“Tsudao, I am glad you are not here,” said Toturi, watching the gunso’s attack, feeling that it was the Emperor’s prerogative to talk with his family even if they were not present, in his last minutes of life.
He looked about him, counting more dead samurai than ones still moving, counting nothing but ogre banners and oni tails pouring in from the woods. Another few minutes, and all of his warriors would be dead. With nothing to show for it. And no sign of the Scorpion warriors who must be scrambling through the woods to come to their rescue – none except for the three lightning-quick shugenja who held the flank opposite the doomed gunso’s charge along with the one surviving Wolf Legionnaire. No, only two shugenja – one of them had just fallen beneath an oni that threw its own head like a great spinning shuriken. Well, with a few more Soshi shugenja like the two remaining killers, there might be some hope of holding on. But no. The gunso’s flank had fallen. All would fall within moments.
Toturi set himself in motion. There, to the left of the main charge – a spot with no ogre banners, no goblin packs, nothing but the strange, hopping shapes of the oni. There was the commander.
“Demon! Show yourself. I am Toturi, and I challenge you for the lives of my warriors.” Three oni died beneath his sword as he bellowed the challenge. Another looked backward toward its commander and died with the back of its shell split. Two more tried to take Toturi’s arms, but he tripped them and sliced them without slowing his steps. The oni in front of him melted away from his sword and his glowing aura.
One demon stepped forward. Eight feet tall. Red armor plates overlapping on muscles rippling like an avalanche. Four huge arms, one casually carrying a great no-dachi. A high head filled with spines like a crown, a long mustache over eyes that Toturi looked away. He made it a habit never to look into an oni’s eyes.
The great creature waved its troops back, and the sounds of war died as all present gathered in two semicircles – one small, one huge.
Toturi looked into the oni’s eyes.
The pyre burns down toward ashes. Naseru watches without flinching.
Tsudao’s eyes brim with tears. She does not cry.
One tear rolls down Sezaru’s cheek. He makes no move to wipe it away. In a minute, the spirits of the air have brushed at his face so that there is no trace that the tear has fallen. He lifts his head to look into the sky.
Sezaru, as the tear falls down his cheek
- He knew that he was going to his death.
- ((No, mortals do not know such things. Not even those who die more than once.))
- When he made the challenge, then he knew.
- Kaede knew. She watched him leave, knowing.
- ((She knew no more than any other wife saying goodbye to a husband who lives by his sword.))
- She is the Oracle of the Void.
- ((And on that the puzzle hinges, as she takes the throne, in honor of visions that she does not, after all, seem to possess.))
- ((Ah, it is the Wind with White Hair, the Doji. The Oracle of Air. No one else will see her.))
- The Oracles twine about us.
- ((Powers greater than emperors live in the in-between places. They twine through all of our relations. All of them.))
- ((Kaneka kept safe in the womb of a woman who kept safe within the talons of the Water Dragon, Kaneka the geisha-son, who would never have been born but for the act of a being that should have no relations with the world lest it lose its purity and its eternal path.))
- Born of contradictions.
- ((Born of contradiction to a path as straight as Father’s blade.))
- I cannot just kill him, then – there, where he stands out beyond the courtyard, with the heimin, the ronin, the rest of them. Wit ha snap of my fingers and a prayer to a power he could not see, much less understand.
- ((Kill him, and wonder what went wrong as the Empire collapses upon us. Let him live and make his own path, and prove myself worthy. Prove that there is no strange and stupid law that demands that the Emperor start his reign as an Akodo and no better than a ronin.))
- Emperor? Akodo? Mother will be Empress.
Seven days before the funeral
Toturi looked into the oni’s eyes. He checked the oni’s stance and though, This is death.
The battlefield was silent.
“A duel, then,” said the oni in a voice at once silky and huge.
“Hai,” said the Emperor.
Two days before the funeral
Tsudao dreamed as she had dreamt every night that week. She dreamed of the battles she had fought, the victories she had won as the spiritual and military champion of fallen Amaterasu: the Battle of the False Wall, when she fought alongside the Hida and Hiruma and led them to victory in hidden tunnels the Kaiu engineers had never dug; the Battle for the River Palisade, when she slew the bandit lord and his fourteen champions; the Battle of Sunrise Mountain, fighting alongside the Shinjo and Moto against the northern barbarians come raging down from the mountains in search of soft lands to plunder but finding only death at the swords of the warriors commanded by the woman they called Lady of the Sun.
In each dream, there was a moment when her father was cut off from the rest of the armies, holding out against enormous odds.
In each dream, Tsudao gathered her chosen warriors, drew strength up from her belly, sent it through her sword, and led the soldiers of the Empire in a charge that saved the Emperor.
Each night, Tsudao woke to silence.
She would stop sleeping, but she did not have the right.
Seven days before the funeral
As the Emperor fell, the Shadowlands horde gave a scream that must have signaled exultation. It took a half step toward the semicircle of surviving samurai, as if waiting for the samurai to flee.
The warriors of the Empire let out a sigh, a slow wind of disappointment, and threw themselves toward the hordes.
Thirty seconds later, when the Bayushi samurai struck the Shadowlands creatures from the rear, the battle went over to the Rokugani. Directed by the two surviving Soshi shugenja, the Bayushi fought to Toturi’s body, cutting down the oni who had gathered to mutilate it but had not quite figured out where to start.
There was no sign of the great red oni as the Shadowlands creatures fled screaming into Shinomen.
The hunt went on for days.
Four hours after the funeral
It is two days before the Test of the Emerald Champion. The Empire needs an Emperor, and Kaede stands ready. She will take the Steel Throne and rule as Toturi Kaede, preparing to hand the throne over to the rest of the Toturi line. Such was Toturi’s will. And no one will tell the dead Emperor “no.”
Akodo Kaneka walks up the corridor toward the throne room, flanked by Akodo Ginawa and Akodo Ijiasu. Hantei Naseru sees them coming and takes his fan from his lips, framing an invitation for Kaneka to the Test of the Emerald Champion.
Sazeru sees Naseru’s stance and says, “No. He must be here.”
Kaede turns from where she is about to enter the room, sees Kaneka, and moves to greet him. Ginawa and Ijiasu fall back.
“Your father was going to see you when he died,” she says.
Kaneka has never met Kaede. She looks straight through him. He senses that she does not mean to hurt him with her words or to slight him by her abruptness, her disregard for all social convention. It is not every day that an imperial bastard walks into the throne room. But a charge is in the air here, and Kaneka senses that it has nothing to do with him.
“I know. I wish I had been at his side,” says Kaneka, and inclines his head, bowing to the woman who will be Empress.
Tsudao hears his words and stares at him, guessing that he means it, in some sense. She tries not to hate him for feeling as she feels.
“He wanted you here. Alongside our children. The Empire needs all of you,” says Kaede, and sweeps through into the throne room, followed now by her three children and one who is not.
Naseru’s eyelid twitches. He does not know where to turn, so he turns to look at Sezaru. Sezaru, who had been waiting for his glance, says ((Yes, this is the way it must be, Naseru. Four Winds and the Void between them.)), speaking in the voice that he can cast into one’s mind without moving his lips.
Naseru takes a deep but subtle breath, relaxes, and focuses once more upon his mother.
Kaede moves to take her place upon the throne. She stands, closes her eyes, and prays, just for a moment. She sits, opens her eyes as she places her hands upon the jade and emerald armrests, and throws her head back against the steel. Her head hits with a clang that freezes the room.
Three days before the funeral
Kaede, sitting alone in her room, picked up her hand mirror. She thought of nothing for a few precious moments, the first time in days she felt at peace with the world, with the energies that constantly flowed through and around her, delivering messages she did not, at present, have time to fully decipher.
She would take the mirror, look at her hair for a moment, and straighten the pins that kept her hair out of her eyes.
There was a face in the mirror beside hers, and she dropped the mirror and whirled.
But there was no one there.
Four hours and three minutes after the funeral
“I see now,” says Kaede in a voice that is not anything like human.
“The Emperor may not be perfect, and the Dragon may not be stained, and there has been a hole in the Void for too long now. And now the others will be fully with us.”
“I cannot stay here.”
She looks down from the empty places she has opened, fixing four souls with her eyes.
“Keep the throne empty, for now. None of you are ready, not until the Will of Heaven becomes clear, not until you save the Empire from fire, and from thunder, and from itself.”
Sezaru’s lips move along with Kaede’s lips as she says, “You are the Four Winds of change, and the Fortunes will preserve you and guide your steps.”
Sezaru shakes his head as if to break free. Tsudao places her hand at her side, as if searching for her sword. Kaneka raises his hand to his chin, then lowers it again. Naseru watches the others.
Kaede brings her spirit down from its height for one last moment. “Goodbye,” she says, in a voice they recognize, and then somehow steps past all of them and out of the room without seeming to have moved. In two seconds she is gone.
“Brother. Sister. Kaneka. It seems we are to rule. Without taking the throne,” says Naseru.
“Four Winds, and a void between them,” says Sezaru.
“We must search for the Will of Heaven,” says Tsudao.
“For the Empire” says Kaneka.
Five days after the funeral, the Crab and Crane gave up on the truce requested by the late Emperor and went to war over the Yasuki lands.
Six days after the funeral, the Scorpion resolved to put a final end to the traitor, Aramasu, even if his new clan, the Mantis, proved willing to defend him to the last.
Seven days after the funeral, the Phoenix and Lion alliance struck against the Dragon.
Eight days after the funeral, scouts from the Unicorn Clan spotted the great red oni that had killed Toturi. It was performing a ritual on a hilltop hundreds of miles north of the Wall. The scouts died before they could make their report.