The Conclusion, Part 5
By Shawn Carman
It required all of Moto Jin-sahn’s will not to fidget idly as he stood waiting in the room outside Kyuden Seppun’s main audience chamber. His kinsmen had been assisting in the defense of the palace for months, but despite the comforting familiarity of so many Unicorn guards, he still felt grossly out of place. A distant part of him, somewhere deep within where he hid weakness, demanded that he flee and never look back, but he crushed the voice as quickly as it had arisen.
All of this, Jin-sahn reflected, was because of the tournament. He had emerged victorious that day for reasons he still could not fully understand. Had that been only yesterday? How was that possible? Jin-sahn knew that the Lords of Death had blessed him, and it was only through their strength and their power that he had won the day. He knew that all that would come from his victory was an opportunity for him to champion their cause. Whatever came of it, he must remember his purpose.
The Moto warrior bowed deeply as the unmistakable form of Togashi Satsu emerged from the room beyond. “Hai, Satsu-sama.”
“The Empress wishes to see you,” Satsu said. “Would you follow me?” Jin-sahn nodded and followed the broad-shouldered monk into the audience chamber.
The chamber had been stripped of all but the most essential ornamentation. It was possible that it had always looked stark and austere, but Jin-sahn could not know for certain. The dominating feature of the room at present was what appeared to be a raised dais with a large screen in front of it. Lanterns burned behind the screen, and in their light Jin-sahn could make out the clear outline of a woman sitting atop the dais, watching him. On either side of the dais, sitting on smaller platforms that were not obscured by the screen, were the Voices of the Heavens, both the Voice of the Jade Sun and the Voice of the Obsidian Moon, regarding him frankly and without any display of emotion. Jin-sahn immediately knelt before the screen. “My Empress,” he said, his voice nearly cracking with emotion. To be in her presence was to know that she was the will of the Heavens made manifest.
“The Empress is greatly pleased with your victory at the Celestial Tournament,” Satsu said. “She can find no fault with the assessment of the Heavens’ Voices. You are a man of great virtue. Piety. Loyalty. Selflessness. You are an example for all warriors.”
Jin-sahn closed his eyes to prevent tears. “Thank you, Divine Empress. I am not worthy of such praise.”
“That remains to be seen,” Satsu said. “The Empress wishes to know your rank and title within the armies of the Unicorn Clan.”
“I am proud to serve as chui of the fourth company of the Forty-seventh Legion of the Khol, in service to the Khan Moto Chen.”
“And you have served with distinction,” Satsu said. “You personally commanded the scout patrol that rescued Yasuki Jinn-Kuen, Crab representative to the Imperial Court, from bandits in the Iuchi Pass, did you not?”
“I could not permit travelers through the Unicorn lands to be imperiled,” he answered. “To do so would call into question the honor of my Khan.”
Satsu nodded. “The Empress wishes to hear of your devotion to the Lords of Death.”
Jin-sahn hesitated for a moment, as this was an unexpected avenue of discussion. “The Lords of Death are the gods of my family, from centuries before our return to the Empire,” he explained. “I honor them, and my ancestors by doing so. Once they were granted the endorsement of Tengoku, and their worship became more prevalent, I could embrace my faith to the fullest.” He paused for a moment, considering, then added, “They give me strength and surety. With their blessings I am never weak, I never falter.”
“Can you envision a situation in which your faith would place you at odds with the will of the Empress?”
“No,” Jin-sahn answered at once. “The Lords of Death exist to pass judgment on the unworthy, and to foster strength in those who follow their code. The Empress is the will of the Heavens made manifest, and they serve the Heavens just as do we all. There can be no conflict.”
Satsu glanced at the screen, and Jin-sahn saw the Empress’ silhouette nod once, slowly. “It is the will of the Divine Empress that you accept the position of Shogun of the Empire,” Satsu said. “As such you will take command of the remnants of the original Shogunate, as well as a portion of the Imperial Legions.”
Had Jin-sahn not been kneeling, he felt certain that his legs would have collapsed beneath him. “If it is the Empress’ will, then I will serve in whatever capacity she wishes.”
“Take command of your forces,” Satsu said. “Make any changes you deem necessary. In three days time, you will lead your men to the Shinomen Mori and purge it of any and all influence by the so-called Spider Clan. You will likewise dispatch forces to the ruins of Otosan Uchi to search for any presence the Spider may have there.”
“Hai, Empress,” Jin-sahn said. “Should I anticipate the Great Clans participating in this military endeavor as well?”
“The clans will not know the purpose of your campaign,” Satsu answered. “If they inquire, then you will inform them that they will be told at the Empress’ discretion, and that interference with the execution of your duties will lead to an immediate and severe sanction from the Empress herself.”
Jin-sahn showed no sign of surprise. “As you command, my Empress.”
“Go with the blessings of the Child of Heaven,” Satsu said
* * *
Jinn-sahn sat mutely in a temple, struggling to focus on his daily prayers, but his mind continued to wander to other topics. He chided himself inwardly for allowing worldly matters to cloud his mind so, but he could not help himself. He would have to commit some act of atonement later to make up for his failure.
The Khan had been greatly pleased by his announcement, and had wished to hold a festival in the Shogun’s honor. For his part, Jin-sahn was horrified by the very idea, and explained that his duties would prevent his immediate return to the Unicorn provinces. Moto Chen’s exuberant mood had not been diminished, and he had simply resolved to hold the festival in Jin-sahn’s absence instead. Jin-sahn was grateful that he had not been asked the nature of his duties, for he did not relish the notion of withholding information from his Khan. His duty would permit nothing less, however, and he had to prepare himself for the inevitability of it all.
Jin-sahn knew that someone waited for him at the temple doorway. Had he been any less familiar with the perfect silence of the temple setting, he would not have known that the man had entered at all, so silent and reverent was his movement. Whoever it was, he had waited silently for nearly an hour, never moving, never drawing attention to himself. Jin-sahn respected that, and given that he had accomplished little of finding his center during this prayer session, he offered a quick apology to the Lords of Death, vowing to double his time in prayer in the evening, then rose to see who had come for him. It was something he imagined he would have to get used to very quickly.
The man waiting for him was a Phoenix, and although he bore a scroll satchel, he also carried both blades. Jin-sahn looked at him curiously. “I did not think that Phoenix shugenja chose to carry the blade, on average.”
The man smiled slightly and bowed. “I am not a priest of the kami, Jin-sahn-sama. These are not prayer scrolls. They contain vital information necessary for the execution of your duties.”
“Oh? You are a messenger from the Legions, then?”
“No, my lord,” the man answered. “My name is Shiba Danjuro. I was privileged to serve as Kaneka-sama’s second in command, and have overseen the Shogunate following his death.” He offered the satchel. “I have prepared extensive reports detailing all existing resources at your command, including the current location and dispensation of all forces remaining under the control of the Shogunate.”
“I have heard of you,” Jin-sahn said, accepting the satchel. “You are a good and honorable man.”
“You are kind to say so, my lord,” Danjuro said simply.
“You also know more of the Shogunate than any living soul,” Jin-sahn said. “What will you do now?’
“Return home, I imagine,” Danjuro said. “There is a new Champion whom I have never had the chance to serve. I hope that I will find a position within her armies. I am a soldier. It is my lot to serve.”
“You are respected and admired by the men who follow the Shogun,” Jin-sahn said. “If you would consider it, I would value your service as my shireikan.”
Danjuro seemed genuinely surprised. “I& thank you, my lord. I had imagined you would wish to reorganize the army into a form more suitable to your clan’s less conventional tactics.”
“I must be Shogun first, and Unicorn second,” Jin-sahn said. “I must embrace what is, not what I am accustomed to.” He paused and weighed the satchel. “Will you stand as my second in command, and serve me as well and loyally as you served Kaneka?”
Danjuro bowed deeply. “I would be greatly honored, my lord.”
Jin-sahn smiled. “Good. Then come, Danjuro. We have much to do, and I fear for the first few days at least, I will need to lean heavily on you.”