All Things Have a Price
By Lucas Twyman
Edited by Fred Wan
The sun rose slowly, its scorched light painting the cliffside a brilliant red; warm hues danced across the sky, matching the torn robes of the three men crawling from the cave. The shugenja looked up at the sunrise and realized that he never thought he would see its like again. He thought the darkness had lasted forever – could it have been a single night? Behind him, the yojimbo coughed, and then his voice slowly rose, a cry of excitement echoing out across the fiery mountains. The snow on the peaks flickered, like a pyre – they had escaped. The shugenja held the saya of his new blade in his right hand, and he could feel the sword pulsing warmly through its sheath.
Nonetheless, his heart was heavy; the sight did nothing to lift his spirits, no matter how beautiful the vast expanse looked after the dark, cramped night. Behind him, he heard the poor boy moan, and the yojimbo whisper comforting words to him. Beneath them, there were the signs of their earlier battle – broken shards of armor, wooden arrow shafts, torn pieces of orange and red cloth fluttering through the air. The shugenja fell to his knees, finally aware of what they had lost.
If sorrows could be drowned, then there was not enough water in the world to drown his.
* * *
The oni’s claw churned involuntarily, making a grinding sound, the sound of stone scraping against metal, as it slowly opened. Isawa Takesi could not help but stare. Somehow, the inhuman claw managed to be more terrifying than the pale, hulking thing it was attached to: Yasuki Nokatsu, the Dark Oracle of Earth. The Dark Oracle commanded nearly limitless power over his chosen element, but supernatural power was easily comprehended by the Isawa. The loss of a hand, and the disgusting incompleteness that resulted, however, was impossible for Takesi to fathom, and the hand’s replacement with something so& horrifying – to do such was beyond all comprehension. Even worse, the claw seemed to move of its own volition, clattering open and closed without any effort on Nokatsu’s part or regard for Nokatsu’s own actions.
“Idiots!” Nokatsu roared, his voice clattering across the mountainside like an avalanche. “How many intrusions must I endure? One? Ten? A thousand?”
The Oracle swung his claw in a lazy arc, dashing a volley of arrows to the ground. “Should I plan a weekly schedule? Will it alternate between you and those tattooed fools in the Dragon Clan?” He paused for a moment and pointed to his side. “Crumble.”
A few paces to Takesi’s right, the ground fell out from under the small unit of Asako bowmen accompanying him, and they tumbled down the mountainside. Their screams snapped the young fire Tensai to attention, and he began a whispered prayer. He could feel the kami around him crying out in fear, an ominous prospect indeed – the kami do not think as humans do, so for them to feel anything that approximated a mortal’s emotions meant that the being he faced was unearthly indeed. He made several hastily uttered prayers, but they were only enough to prevent a single, small fire kami from fleeing from the dark entity before him.
“Please,” Takesi whispered, panic in his voice, “please grow, little one. Strike out at that demon and I will burn a thousand candles in your honor.”
Nokatsu’s terrible smile was like a scar torn across the earth. His claw scooped up Takesi’s yojimbo, whose cries quickly were drowned out by a loud snap. As he let out a final, painful gurgle, Nokatsu lifted the poor man to eye level and watched the life drain from him. “At least the monks managed to banish my poor Toichi no Oni before I killed them. But you? You will only manage an early death.”
Rubbing his hands together, Takesi managed a simple plea. “If you do not help me now, little flame, the demon will surely douse you with stone and swallow us both.”
A gout of fire exploded around the Dark Oracle, and Takesi found himself momentarily blinded by the sudden light and lingering smoke. The young priest nearly had to stifle a laugh – the little elemental spirit was stronger than he had thought. When the smoke cleared, nothing remained of Nokatsu.
“Mizuhiko!” Takesi cried, and he turned and looked to his left, scanning the mountainside for the Jade Magistrate. It only took Takesi a few seconds to find his superior. To most, Mizuhiko’s short form would be hard to pick out amongst the Shiba troops, but Takesi needed only to look for the swiftly-swirling water kami that always were near to the water Tensai. He grinned widely at Mizuhiko.
Takesi’s smile was quickly wiped away when he saw the horror in Mizuhiko’s eyes. There was a rumbling behind him, and he turned to find Nokatsu looming over him. Nokatsu squinted down at the young Phoenix in disbelief for a moment, and then his mouth twisted into a smile, a mockery of real human emotion, devoid of any joy or feeling.
A loud crack sounded through the air, and Takesi found himself thrown from his feet. A heavy blow fell on his head, though he was uncertain whether it was the Oracle or the tumbling stones. Reaching back, and the young Tensai felt sticky blood on his fingers. The sound of the earth trembling grew louder, and the last thing Takesi felt was a strange warm wetness before everything went black.
* * *
The chop felt substantial in Mizuhiko’s hands, dense and slightly heavy. The small handle was made of a fragrant cherrywood, with jade embedded on the head of the stamp, the pieces raised so they could be used to imprint a symbol on paper. The symbol itself was quite elaborate: the kanji for Jade overlaid Imperial Chrysanthemum, and beneath it was Mizuhiko’s own name. He had yet to put it to use, but simply having it was a surprising development; it was both symbol of a level of authority of which he once thought himself unworthy and a sign of the great trust now put in him.
“I am glad that they finally have recognized your worth, Mizuhiko-san,” Asako Juro said, smiling. The old monk sat cross-legged in the center of his stone garden, directly opposite Mizuhiko. He had presented the chop to Mizuhiko, pushing it forward gingerly, like a priceless work of art. Mizuhiko always felt a profound sense of calm when meeting Juro at his home; the old man’s family estate was located relatively close to Morning Glory Palace, but just far enough into the nearby forest to feel remote. The garden was always flush with the sounds of nature – red squirrels chittering in the trees, the splashing of a nearby stream as it rolled over a cascade, and the regular calls of birds, including the periodic screech of wild hawks as the traveled over the woods to reach the nearby fields in search of prey. Mizuhiko once asked Juro how he managed to stay centered while meditating, with so much changing activity around him, and Juro simply replied that the activity never changed. “Nature,” the old monk explained patiently, “is a constant. Only the individual elements change. When meditating, one should seek to remove the self from the whole, not to remove the individual distractions.”
Today, however, even Juro seemed impatient and distracted. He tilted his head slightly and looked past Mizuhiko, asking, “Must you practice that now, Takesi?” Mizuhiko had wondered what the young fire Tensai was doing in the sand behind him that made so much noise, and had his answer when he turned to see the young man re-sheathing his blade.
“There is a time and place to practice iai, Takesi-san,” Mizuhiko said, “and right now is certainly not it.”
“Yes. My apologies, my lords,” Takesi said. He bowed deeply, his arms straight at his side, and his thin face looked even longer than usual with his lips pursed tightly together in shame.
“Sit, Takesi,” Juro said, pointing an outstretched hand at a empty place in the sand. “There is no need to honor me with such a title while we are working together. I see Kyoko is not with you.”
Takesi nodded, stifling a frown. “No, my& my friend. She is traveling to Dragon lands with Lord Sawao. After our discovery of Isawa Tsuke’s journals during our search for the Dark Covenant of Water, we received word that the Dragon had been assaulted by forces seemingly controlled by the Dark Oracle of Fire. Sawao hopes that his expertise with the fire kami and our research into the Oracles could help root out the Dark Oracle’s plan.” Takesi looked down at the ground. “He also said& it may be best if Kyoko and I worked separately, to avoid any potential unpleasantness.”
Juro raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Instead, Mizuhiko looked up from his contemplations. “Clever. Hopefully, they will be able to determine the location of the Dark Oracle, or at least his Covenant. Until then, we have much to keep us busy, do we not, Juro-sama?”
Juro turned and pulled a scroll from the satchel behind him. “Indeed, Mizuhiko-san. There is one recent report that requires immediate investigation. Recently, a Unicorn delegation led by Moto Akikazu traveled to our lands to aid in the construction of a temple dedicated to the new Lords of Death-”
“Why did we allow them to build that temple?” Mizuhiko interrupted, “Aren’t the Lords of Death some sort of ancient foreign gods?”
Juro nodded, and rubbed his bald forehead with his fingertips. “Yes, but remember, Mizuhiko, that we revere the Seven Fortunes, the ancient, once-foreign gods of the Tribe of Isawa. Is that so different?”
Mizuhiko leaned forward, his right hand pressed against the sandy ground. “The Tribe of Isawa, my lord, were among the earliest to join the Empire, and the Fortunes are the foundation of your family as much as mine. The Fortunes are holy by Imperial decree, an essential part of the Celestial Order.”
The old monk smiled widely. “Indeed, and now the Lords of Death are minor Fortunes, and as such, they are at least worthy of study, if not reverence. There are more shrines to fortunes in Phoenix lands than any other clan. It would be a shame, or even a violation of our duty, if we were to ignore them.”
“Juro-sama, please,” Takesi said, scratching his head, “we can debate theology some other time. What is the significance of the Unicorn delegation to our mission?”
Juro looked over the scroll again and frowned. “They are of grave significance, if what they say is true. On their way to our lands, they came upon a lone traveler, battered and bleeding. He said that he was the only survivor of a group of Togashi monks who were patrolling the mountains. Since the eruption of Agasha’s Furnace several decades ago, the Dragon have monitored the activities of regions known to contain potentially active volcanoes. The Togashi said that his brothers were investigating a disturbance in the regular activities of Sleeping Thunder Mountain, near our lands, when they were attacked by the Dark Oracle of Earth.”
“Yasuki Nokatsu?” Takesi asked, his eyes wide in shock, “How could he be so close to our lands? What could he want with a volcano?”
“Unknown,” Juro replied, gravely, “but the last time an Oracle interacted with a sleeping volcano, it caused thousands of deaths and sparked a war between the Dragon and us. Mizuhiko, you and Takesi should assemble a force to investigate the area around the mountain, then report your findings back to me. I will contact some old friends of mine to see if we have any idea where the Dark Covenant of Earth is located.”
“We can do more than that, Juro-sama.” Mizuhiko stood rapidly and placed his hand on his daisho. “With my authority, I can levy troops to face down the Oracle before he is ready.”
A voice called out from the edge of the garden, steady and clear, laughter dancing at its edge. The two shugenja turned towards its source, and Mizuhiko’s eyes grew wide.
“Mizuhiko, it is good to see you haven’t changed,” a young woman said as she stepped into the garden. She was thin and pale, with rosy cheeks and a large forehead. A taciturn man with dark features and robes emblazoned with the Shiba mon followed behind her. She smiled at Mizuhiko. “You always want to act before your enemies have the chance, don’t you?”
Juro nodded at the woman, “Takesi, Mizuhiko, this is Isawa.”
“Oharu,” Mizuhiko interupted. “It’s been nearly a year.”
Takesi shrugged. “You know each other, then?”
Isawa Oharu bowed deeply to the old monk, then took her place next to the two shugenja. “Yes. Mizuhiko served under Lady Tsukimi with my yojimbo Shiba Sakishi and I, during the War of Fire and Thunder. He saved my life several times.”
Mizuhiko nodded, and smiled. “And Oharu saved all of ours.”
* * *
It was high tide, but the sounds of the surf were drowned out by the tides of battle – line crashing against line, shugenja calling down fire and thunder on ships hoping to resupply the two armies. Here and there, the waves were tipped with red, as honorable samurai fell into the sea, clutching their wounds. Monstrous sea creatures clashed with men wielding the raw power of the elements themselves.
In the midst of all the chaos, Isawa Oharu was dancing.
Shiba Sakishi, Oharu’s new yojimbo, watched his brethren set their naginatas and prepare for the Mantis’s charge. Shiba Tsukimi, a taisa in the Shiba army, stood near the front of the lines, shouting orders or encouragement to her men. There was such courage in her – were he on the front lines, Sakishi mused, he would gladly follow her to glory or death. Storms raged over the ocean, and Sakishi could see a monstrous Orochi being flung into a ship by winds generated by the Isawa Hurricane Initiates. A thousand paces to his left, a unit of Shiba troops was falling painfully under a hail of dark arrows.
Oharu’s long robes fluttered in the wind as she gracefully ducked and turned. Her hands turned delicately, twisting her sleeves around her arms. She took deliberate steps, leaned back, leaned forward, like a flower in the wind. It was beautiful to watch. Sakishi was enraged. Before Sakishi could confront his obviously mad charge, a short man with strange, dark eyes stepped between Sakishi and Oharu. Sakishi looked down at him – another Isawa. He thought he recognized the man; he certainly knew the man’s guardian – Shiba Ikku had trained with Sakishi at the Eternal Phoenix Dojo.
“Is something wrong, yojimbo-san?” the shugenja shouted over the din of the battle.
Sakishi looked over the man again, silently. He noticed the elemental symbol for water emblazoned on the man’s kimono, and recalled his name – Isawa Mizuhiko, a young water shugenja of some skill. Sakishi nodded to the shugenja and pointed at his charge, yelling, “What, exactly, is she doing while our men fight and die?”
Mizuhiko looked back at the young woman, then turned back to Sakishi and shrugged. “She is dancing, yojimbo-san.”
Sakishi’s lip curled. “Then she should stop!” he barked, “This is war! There is no time for eccentricities or foolishness!”
Sakishi was unnerved as Mizuhiko’s eyes seemed to glow briefly. The Isawa leaned in close to Mizuhiko and said, “You have not spent much time with Oharu, have you?”
Sakishi shook his head. Mizuhiko narrowed his eyes, and asked “You spent many hours training with shugenja, yes?” Sakishi nodded, and Mizuhiko continued, “Then you know that most of us are like the Elemental Masters, capable of bending the elements to our will as we whim. Oharu is not as skilled as most of us, but she makes offerings all the same. The air kami like Oharu’s dance. If Oharu stops dancing, then the arrows of the Tsuruchi will fall on our unit like rain, and the thunder and fire of the Storm Riders on the edge of the battlefield will tear through us like a wildfire through brush.”
Sakishi turned his head slightly to the side. Behind Mizuhiko, Oharu never stopped dancing, but her eyes met Sakishi’s for a moment, and Sakishi bowed his head.
“We are the Phoenix, Shiba-san.” Mizuhiko said, raising a fist to the heavens. Thunder pealed, and rain began to fall around the unit, swirling towards Mizuhiko before it hit the ground. The water tensai smiled. “Even our simplest acts have power beyond normal comprehension. Never forget that.”
* * *
Mizuhiko shook the boy gently. “Wake up, Takesi. Get up.”
With a moan, Takesi slowly opened his eyes. “You’ll be fine, the kami and I have seen to that,” Mizuhiko said reassuringly, “Nokatsu has moved on. We have followed him into his lair.”
Takesi sat up suddenly, panic in his eyes as he peered into depths of the cave. “Are you mad? I thought that creature destroyed us already!”
Mizuhiko frowned. “Get up and brush that dirt off. I already sent my yojimbo back to the nearest outpost. He will send word to Juro and tell him what has happened here. He should arrive there within the next couple of hours, but Nokatsu is definitely up to something, and if we leave, we may be too late to find out what.”
The fire tensai blinked. “So you and I are to face him alone? Two shugenja against the Dark Oracle of Earth?”
“Three shugenja,” came a woman’s voice from the entrance to the cave. Two figures stood, their profiles dark against the setting sun behind them.
“And you are all Isawa, the greatest shugenja in the empire. I would say that the Oracle is doomed,” said her yojimbo dryly. He turned his head to Takesi as he walked past. “Be ready, Isawa. You’re the Oracle-hunter. We will need your knowledge.”
The caves wound unnaturally, but the correct path was easy to follow: always downwards, always towards the sound of rumbling; if the pit of Mizuhiko’s stomach felt like he was approaching his death, if his senses screamed for him to run, he was going the correct direction. Finally, when the rumbling grew deafening, the small group saw a sickly green glow around a bend. Shiba Sakishi drew his blade and began to creep forward, but Takesi stepped before the yojimbo and motioned for him to stop.
“I have a plan,” the young shugenja whispered. “Follow me.”
* * *
The chamber was cut into the earth with unnatural precision, with a tall, sloped ceiling and strange, blasphemous sigils carved into the walls and painted over in the blood of their fallen comrades. Each symbol gave off a faint glow that lit the room enough for the four Phoenix to see. Beneath each of the symbols lay piles of corpses, both Phoenix bushi and Togashi monk. Mizuhiko could barely keep himself from gagging as he saw the bodies – their skin pale, dry, and waxy – lying haphazardly on the ground, but his bile was quickly replaced by white-hot anger. The Oracle would pay for desecrating the fallen forms of these honorable men.
At the far end of the cave, Nokatsu stood over a small altar, his back to the entrance. His claw snapped open and shut as he ran his hand along an ornate katana sitting on the altar. It was hard to see it clearly from across the room, but Mizuhiko could see a small, drop-shaped ruby on the blade’s hilt, and he could clearly feel the sword’s power. As Takesi entered the chamber, the fallen corpses lifted from the ground and wailed, then settled again on the floor once Nokatsu turned to face the young Isawa.
Takesi visibly trembled at the sound of Nokatsu’s voice, though whether it was out of fear or the room itself shaking, Mizuhiko was unsure. “I thought I killed you, but never mind that. You are stupider than I thought to return here.”
Steeling himself, the young Isawa stepped forward. “Oracle, I ask a question as is my right: for what purpose have you traveled to Sleeping Thunder Mountain?”
Nokatsu rubbed the sides of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “By the Last Hantei’s tainted breath, I hate Oracular codes of conduct.” Nokatsu twisted his neck slightly, cracking it, and the sound echoed through the chamber. If Mizuhiko did not know better, he would have sworn that the echoing sound was another avalanche. Nokatsu’s eyes began glowing purple-black, and he seemed to grow in influence and size. Glaring at the young fire shugenja, the Dark Oracle of Earth spoke in a gravelly monotone, “The answer to your question is simple, mortal. The Heavens now judge mankind, and will almost certainly find it lacking. With the aid of Yajinden’s blade and the angry spirits of Memui Kamiari Yama, I will inspire the earth to do the same.”(
Sakishi’s eyes met Takesi’s and the yojimbo nodded. “Oracle!” the Shiba cried, and Nokatsu turned suddenly, with a snarl. “What do you mean by Yajinden’s blade?”
The Dark Oracle of Earth’s eyes flashed again. “One of four, one of four made to doom an empire. Its sister drove a hero to the sea; its brother fed on the thirst of a thousand Lions. Its youngest sibling tasted the blood of three emperors and almost toppled an Empire. It has grown jealous of Ambition, the blade that wrote the story of all Rokugan for a decade. Its passion is to seek revenge on the Empire that has forgotten it. It calls you all forth to Judgment!”
Nokatsu stepped backwards, seemingly shrinking back to his regular – but still inhumanly large – size as the corrupt energies of his station subsided. He smiled monstrously. “But first, I will kill each of you and hang you from the ceiling of this cave, so that I can feel your blood drip down on me. A warm spring shower, as I continue my work!”
Mizuhiko charged and was the first to reach the hulking former Crab; he swung a bo formed out of pure elemental water at the monstrous creature in a wide arc. The Dark Oracle countered his strike with a casual upward swing of his claw, dispersing the staff and causing the kami to cry out in Mizuhiko’s head. Mizuhiko barely had time to leap out of the way as the oni claw swung back downwards, smashing into the ground where he once stood and causing shards of stone to fly. Mizuhiko quickly drew his wakizashi, but the Oracle was already ready and grabbed the sword in the oni’s claw. With a deft movement, the blade snapped and the top half fell to the ground. Nokatsu laughed. “No prayer, no hope, and now no honor. You are not worth my time!”
To the Dark Oracle’s right, Takesi finished his prayer and a twisting katana of flame burst from his hand, but the Oracle simply pointed at the young fire tensai and uttered a single word – “Douse!” – and a geyser of dirt and rock exploded from the ground and knocked the boy from his feet. Nokatsu then turned his attention to Oharu and Sakishi, still standing near the entrance to the cave. He lumbered slowly towards them, the ground shaking as he walked, each footstep seismic.
Nokatsu leered at Oharu. “I thought I told you to run when we met on the mountainside, my pretty little flower. Now what will you do? Try to dance at me again? I will enjoy killing you more than the rest of these put together.”
In a smooth, practiced motion, Shiba Sakishi stepped between the Dark Oracle and his charge, his katana held in his right hand. Without looking away from his opponent, Sakishi raised his left hand to push Oharu back. “You won’t go near her, demon,” he growled, “You’ll have to deal with me first!”
Nokatsu chuckled dryly. “Easy enough.” Shouting, Sakishi charged him, but sparks flew as the samurai’s katana only scraped against the oracle’s supernaturally tough hide. Nokatsu grimaced and swung widely at Sakishi with his claw, catching the Shiba cleanly across his back. The yojimbo was thrown from his feet by the blow and knocked into the far wall of the cave, his cry of pain was cut short by the impact. He let out a soft moan as his sword clattered to the floor.
Taking a few steps further, Nokatsu bent over, his massive frame dwarfing the small shugenja before him. His face was inches from Oharu’s, and his claw was raised, grinding in anticipation. She looked down at the ground, and her mouth moved with a final prayer, but no words could be heard.
“IDIOTS!” Nokatsu roared at the woman’s face. “I am an aspect of Jigoku itself! The very elements fear me! There is nothing you can do! By challenging me you have only gifted yourself a thousand years of torture in the demon realm, tormented by the tender embrace of ten million kansen!”
Oharu looked up slowly at the dark oracle, her eyes wet but unwavering, her jaw set. “You will give me my question first, Nokatsu, and it is a simple one. Do Oracles need to breathe?”
The Dark Oracle took two steps back, his eyes wide. There was a loud rushing sound, and Mizuhiko could feel the Air kami fleeing from Nokatsu’s lungs. Nokatsu grabbed his neck in shock with his still-human hand and stumbled backwards another step. Oharu stood motionless, with her left hand held sideways before her face, two finger extended, and her right arm outstreched, an open palm facing the oracle.
Behind Mizuhiko, Takesi whispered, “Of course! Nokatsu was never a shugenja, and has no natural kinship with spirits, be they kansen or kami – he needs to speak to command the earth!”
Before Takesi could even finish his sentence, Mizuhiko had called the few remaining water kami around him and darted forward with tremendous speed, his muscles bolstered by the kami. Nokatsu tried vainly to take in air and stumbled forward, but Mizuhiko leapt swiftly, tumbling under the Dark Oracle’s wildly flailing oni claw. Mizuhiko reached out, feeling out for his broken blade, for Sakishi’s katana, for anything he could use to somehow harm the Oracle, and his hand closed around a familiar-seeming cloth hilt.
The water tensai felt a warm pulse travel up his arm, an unnatural rush of strength that revitalized his tired and sore muscles. A cold fear gripped his heart, and a voice echoed in his mind:
“Give me to drink.”
Righteous fury flooded through Mizuhiko as he stood and turned to face the Oracle. “Only this once,” he whispered to the sword.
The Dark Oracle wheeled around to face Mizuhiko, his mouth wide, his eyes bulging and bloodshot. The veins on his neck throbbed as he trundled forward. Mizuhiko sprinted forward, elemental Water giving him impossible speed, and dove towards the Oracle’s outstreached claw. There was a spurt of black blood and the unmistakable sound of steel scraping against stone, and the Oracle pulled back a bloody stump. Yakamo’s claw twitched involuntarily and rolled into the shadows of the chamber. The Oracle roared, air finally filling his lungs again, but he was too slow – there was the song of steel through air; the song of metal against rock; and the Dark Oracle slid to the ground, the black blood of the earth mingling with the mud and dust of the cave floor. The world slowed down again, and only Isawa Oharu remained in Mizuhiko’s sight. She stood with one hand covering her mouth and one at her side. A few drops of Nokatsu’s blood stained her kimono, and as Mizuhiko approached, they evaporated into nothing, as the katana he held glowed a soft red.
Oharu’s eyes were filled with fear. “Oh, Mizuhiko& I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
Mizuhiko let the bloodsword fall from his hands and stumbled, painfully, towards Oharu. “You& you did not dance. How did you do that to him?”
Oharu smiled weakly. Sweat ran down her face; the color had gone out of her cheeks. “I offered.” she said, breathing shallowly, “I offered the kami something else.”
Mizuhiko’s eyes widened – she couldn’t have. A cry of “No!” escaped from his lips as Oharu fell limply to the ground. Still strengthened by the water kami, he was on his knees at her side almost before she hit the ground. Mizuhiko cradled her head in his hands. “Why?”
Oharu stared blankly at the ceiling. Her voice was barely more than a whisper. “I know they’re not at all human, they don’t understand us always& but when I was little, I always called them my sisters.” She smiled weakly at Mizuhiko. “I never had any other sisters. Now I will always dance with them.”
Oharu’s eyes grew distant. Mizuhiko bit his lower lip, fighting back the emotions that threatened to wash over him. He felt Sakishi approach behind him and looked up at the yojimbo. Sakishi’s face was a blank mask, pulled tight to avoid giving anything away. He looked to Mizuhiko, then to Oharu, and then back to Mizuhiko.
“At the end of our days, we all burn in the fires of this world,” Sakishi said, his voice a forced monotone.
Mizuhiko nodded and finished the phrase, “But in those fires, the Phoenix is reborn.”
* * *
The three travellers made their way slowly down the mountainside. From his vantage point, he could see a force headed towards the base of the mountain, led by a group of horsemen clad in a deep violet that offset the orange and red of the sunrise. Behind him, the yojimbo, Sakishi, whispered to the boy, “Look, Takesi! Look at the banner!”
A small army was headed towards Sleeping Thunder Mountain, its forces varied, but common in purpose. The symbols of the Moto and the Iuchi flapped in the wind, flanking a legion of men in gold and green carrying a huge banner emblazoned with the words “Defy Definition.” Mizuhiko immediately recognized a small group of shugenja as the Tsunami Legion, and their back banners displayed the Master of Water’s own personal mon. Beneath the three men, the mountain rumbled for a moment, but fitfully returned to its sleep. “We saved them,” the yojimbo whispered, “If not for us, the Oracle would have ambushed them.”
Mizuhiko felt alone, buoyed in the darkness of the receding night. His tears, now dry, had worn grooves into his face.
“Give me to drink,” the blade in his hand whispered.
There was not enough water in the world.