For the first time in two years, the Four Winds stood together. Side by side, brothers and sister, in the halls of Kyuden Seppun. Each looked upon the other with uncertainty and no small amount of suspicion. Together, they were to fight the greatest threat Rokugan had known. But how could four stand together to save an Empire when they could not agree who should rule it? Around the edges of the room stood some of the most prominent and powerful samurai in the Empire. Asahina Sekawa. Isawa Nakamuro. Akodo Ginawa. Yasuki Hachi. Hida Reiha. Mirumoto Rosanjin. Bayushi Kaukatsu. Tsuruchi Ichiro. Shinjo Shono. Toku. Yoritomo Komori. All were here to offer their support and aid to the Four Winds.
None spoke of the throne, where Kaede now slumped, a withered husk of her once beautiful self. None spoke of their father. Each realized that they could not speak of the throne while there was work yet to do.
“Mother claims that we four are to defeat the Dark Lord,” Sezaru said in his raspy voice. “She says that each of us holds a piece of the puzzle, each bears some ability or information that can lead to his defeat. I suggest we pool any such information now. Let me begin.” Sezaru reached into his robes and drew out a small wooden box, opening it to reveal four long slivers of jade, more brilliant than any the others had seen before.
“What are those?” Tsudao asked.
“The Tears of the First Emperor,” Sezaru replied. “Also known as Lady Doji’s Tears. They are an ancient and powerful artifact of the Imperial Family, which it was my honor to inherit. The jade does not tarnish, even in the heart of the Shadowlands. The Crab may not have enough jade to protect an army, but this will be enough for each of us.”
“For what little good that will do,” Naseru replied. “Without an army, how can we hope to assault the Dark Lord’s Temple?”
“We shall have an army,” Tsudao replied. “Sekawa?”
The Jade Champion stepped forward and bowed deeply before the Four Winds. “Some time ago,” he began, “my agents discovered something strange and powerful hidden away by the Phoenix Thunder, Isawa Tadaka. They were weapons meant to be used against Fu Leng. Perhaps they might still serve that purpose.”
The doors of the throne room opened, and through them marched two dozen armored soldiers made of pure clay. The warriors marched in perfect formation, in perfect time, and knelt before the Four Winds. When they ceased moving they were so still it was difficult to believe they had ever moved at all.
“There are hundreds more,” Sekawa said. “They are immune to the Taint, and adept at fighting the minions of darkness.”
“Hundreds against thousands?” Kaneka replied. “That gives us slim odds.”
“Better than no chance at all,” Tsudao replied fiercely.
“And you will not be alone,” said another voice from the doorway. A young woman entered, dressed in scandalously revealing purple silk. Her features were dark and exotic, and her eyes shimmered with a pale green glow.
“I introduce Akasha, Legacy of the Naga,” Tsudao replied.
“The Naga, like Sekawa’s soldiers, are prepared to fight,” Akasha said.
“The Naga sleep,” Sezaru replied. “Only a handful remain awake. How can you aid us?”
“The Tsuno have used Yume-do, the Realm of Dreams, to torment my people long enough,” Akasha said, her voice filled with steel and anger. “Today, we will show them that they are not the masters of dreams. When you reach the City of the Lost you will not need to worry about the Tsuno. The Naga shall draw them to the Realm of Dreams and fight them there.”
“Excellent,” Sezaru said with a small chuckle. “Perhaps we might have some chance after all, then. And Kaneka? What do you offer our alliance?”
The Shogun scowled and drew a handful of rolled maps from his obi. “I have spent much of my time among the Crab, as you know, and only a foolish general would not make himself aware of the Shadowlands threat so close to the wall. The Hiruma have given me their most recent maps of the Shadowlands, though given the nature of that wretched place they will not remain useful for long. I can show us the swiftest, safest way through the Shadowlands. There is only one difficulty.”
“And what is that?” Tsudao asked.
“None of the Scouts know the location of the City of the Lost,” he replied, “much less Daigotsu’s temple. Perhaps no uncorrupted man knows.”
“I know where it is,” Naseru said.
The other three Winds all turned to face the Anvil, looks of surprised upon their faces.
“Months ago a spy from Daigotsu’s ranks approached me,” Naseru replied, “hoping to enter an alliance with me. Using magic, he showed me where I could meet Daigotsu and secure our bargain.”
“And what happened to the spy?” Sezaru asked.
“He made the fatal mistake of underestimating my character,” Naseru said simply.
Kaneka laughed. “So we have jade. We have an army. We have a route, and we have a target. What else do we need?”
“Courage,” Tsudao replied. “Courage to defeat a foe who has never been defeated.”
“Then let us find it, my sister,” Sezaru replied, “together.”
And, for the first time in two years, the Four Winds stood together.