Torn Asunder, Part 2
By Seth Mason
Edited by Fred Wan
The Imperial City
When Hakige’s narrative paused, Doji Makoto stepped forward, a question plain on his face. “If I may, Lord Ikoma?” he asked.
The Lion daimyo turned to the man and nodded, holding back his annoyance at the interruption.
“First, I should say you are doing a superb job explaining all of this to those who are hearing about this for the first time. You are to be commended, Ikoma-san. It is through the efforts of you and your family that the samurai of this Empire understand the truth of history.” The Crane Champion folded his hands before him and looked to the side for a moment. “However – and I am certain you meant to get to this in your own time – what of the matter of Kuni Renyu’s betrayal?”
Hakige narrowed his eyes at the Crane, and a slight murmur of whispers went through the Imperial Court. “I am uncertain what you mean, Doji Makoto-sama.”
The lithe man took a few steps towards the center of the Court to address Hakige more directly. “I am to understand, from this accounting, that the siege of the city might have extended days, even weeks… possibly indefinitely… if it had not been for Renyu’s intervention. Is that correct? As a historian and a Lion warrior, I believe your perspective on this matter would be especially insightful.”
Hakige gave a lopsided smile, showing equal bemusement and irritation at the man. “Yes, I believe I even stated as much directly.”
“Yes,” Makoto replied, his tone apologetic. “Of course you did. That very thing, I believe. How thoughtless of me, Lord Hakige, I hope you can forgive me. I merely wanted to be certain that the reasonable conclusion was that Kuni Renyu allowed a situation that might have extended weeks – eventually coming to an end through diplomacy – to devolve into senseless violence.”
“Listen to me, Crane,” the deep voice of Kaiu Iemasa surprised several members of the Court, all of which turned to see the man step forward from their delegation. “I will not stand here and listen to you slander the brother of my Champion. His actions were in accordance with true loyalty to the Imperial Throne. We have come here to hear an accounting of what happened and listen to the judgment of the Child of Heaven. Not endure the opportunistic insults of men such as you.”
“I must agree with my friend,” Bayushi Nitoshi added, adopting a thoughtful look and holding his chin. “Makoto-san, as valid as your concerns might be, do you not think they are a little out of line, given the circumstance? We wait for the Empress to give word, not for any of us to do so in her place.”
“That is enough,” Shiba Tsukimi said quietly.
The entire Imperial Court fell silent as every eye turned towards the Phoenix. Their Champion had not spoken in the Imperial Court in years, and all were now trapped by burning curiosity or deep respect for the aged woman.
“Please, Hakige-san,” the Phoenix Champion’s covered gaze never left the downward direction it had taken since her injury, but all could feel that her attention was on the Ikoma daimyo. “If it is not presumptive of me to say so, perhaps it is best if you continue and these interruptions cease.” She shifted slightly towards the Voice of the Empress, the question remaining unspoken.
“Hai,” Togashi Satsu said, fondness creeping into his commanding voice as he looked at Tsukimi. “The venerable Shiba is correct. You are not disrespecting the Voice, Tsukimi-san.” Satsu folded his arms once again, and gestured with his hand slightly. “Continue, Lord Ikoma.”
* * * * *
The Second City
The fighting around the gate between the Peasant and Military Districts had continued, off and on, for a full day. There had been an uneasy break in the fighting during the night, but it did not last.
The Imperial Legion overmatched the City Guard and Ivory Legion in many ways – numbers, armaments… and, Akodo Tsudoken had to admit to himself, skill. The City Guard had never faced a truly organized threat, instead dealing with small reports of animal, gaijin, or native spirits attacking or causing problems. Less deadly and more frequent were the occasions where the Guard had to cope with the usual issues of city life – thieves, drunk samurai, and the like.
The Ivory Legion had surprised the Captain in a great many ways. Shinjo Tselu had apparently not taken the task of forming his military unit lightly. They were supremely disciplined and effective warriors – especially their archers and skirmishers – but they were not a traditional fighting force. They were trained to be the Ivory Champion’s scouts, agents, and enforcers of law. They were familiar with the concepts of full engagement, but they were obviously not accustomed to it.
Despite all of this, though, the city’s defenders had an advantage the Imperial Legion had yet to negate – the opening they were coming through was not wide enough to simply march through en masse. Tsudoken had quickly deployed his soldiers to counterattack the Legion from the east, and the Ivory Legion had swept in from the west, catching the Imperial Legion off guard as they attempted to organize and hold position once they had moved into the Military District. That quick strike had pushed the Ninth Legion back almost completely through the gate, and now the opposed forces attempted to fight both through and over the wall. The Ninth Legion had made several attempts to muster and press through, only to be thrown back each time. The defenders had made an equal number of attempts to push the invaders out of the gate’s area completely and hold the fortification, but to little gain. As of now, the Ninth was currently in the midst of performing another charge.
All the while, of course, Tsudoken and Asako Karachu were coordinating ongoing movements from the other side of the Military District wall. It would be foolish to think the Ninth would simply stay at this particular gate and commit all its forces. The other gates had to be maintained against possible attacks… or further betrayals. When word of Renyu’s actions and the Imperial Legion’s incursion spread through the city, some samurai decided it was the end of the Governor’s rule and made choices of pure opportunity.
Tsudoken had already cut down one such samurai himself. A pitiful man named Yakusho, of the Tsuruchi family, was caught attempting to contact the Ninth Legion in the north. The Captain knew that the Mantis were expelled from the Second City, save those that the Governor or Empress had sent on official business. For a man like that to have such liberty and feel he could turn his back on the Governor was pathetic – Tsudoken almost relished executing him personally.
“I have further reports, Tsudoken-san, if you care to hear them,” the quiet voice of Asako Karachu carried over the sound of the conflict.
“Any word of Shinjo Kinto?” Tsudoken asked, feeling he knew the answer.
The monk shook his head, “No,” Karachu replied, frustration edging into his voice. “We must account for his whereabouts, for it is certain to be where a surprise strike will emerge.
“Agreed. Give me your reports for the time being.”
* * * * *
Mirumoto Niwa regarded the shallow cut across the back of her hand. The Legionnaire was quite skilled – the soldier’s position as a gunso in a Imperial Legion must have been well-earned. Her own strike would possibly have touched her opponent, but she knew she had been defeated before the swing was complete and stopped it short.
The Imperial gunso bowed. “The duel is concluded, you are bound to leave this temple – this whole District – and return to your embassy, Mirumoto-san. You stood in defense of the temple out of duty, and have acquitted yourself well. I would not see your honor stained by being taken captive. I will escort you to the gates to ensure you reach them safely. Nikutai!” the man barked.
Another Legionnaire, one Niwa recognized immediately as a student of the Mirumoto style by how his swords were arranged, stepped forward.
“You will keep this squad here. Allow none to threaten these grounds. Kinto’s chui will arrive shortly with light reinforcements. We cannot occupy this District through brute force, but the chui is clever enough to hold it with few men.” The gunso turned back to Niwa. “The temple will be well-protected, and still by the Dragon. No harm will come to it or its occupants while a single man in this unit draws breath.”
Niwa, and the Togashi monk that had witnessed the whole fight, both looked back at the Temple of the Rising Dragon one last time before being escorted away by the Imperial Legion.
* * * * *
Akodo Tenari signaled the riding party to slow. He and his guardsmen were now returning to the Second City after an expedition from the Imperial District. Bargaining for safe passage through the Legion had been difficult, but now he realized it may just be impossible to do so again. In the time he and his charges were gone, the quiet, tense siege seemed to have exploded into a full assault. The Peasant District, to the north of them, was overrun with members of the Ninth Legion.
Peasants staggered out of the wide gates of the Mouth – the main entrance of the district – in handfuls. The haggard people carried sacks of their belongings or pushed rickety carts. Beside them, wounded samurai were being carried away from the battle.
The Lion realized a moment too late that signal fans were waving with sudden movement. A shout came up from a column of Legionnaires nearby. Two units of fifty a piece broke off from the column and began to charge the group – a group being escorted by members clearly marked as city guardsmen.
Tenari calmly signaled his men to form up, and spoke to his charges, “Be ready to ride for the city. We will buy your safety.” The Akodo knew the time for explanations had passed. He was the army’s enemy, and they would cut him and his group down before he had time to explain. Oddly, instead of eagerly embracing the battle like he had done so many times before, he could only feel a deep sadness in his heart. The charge was well-executed, but a poor choice, given the terrain and the City Guard’s positioning. He would kill a great many of them before they were finally overwhelmed.
As he looked at the Imperial banners flying over the soldiers rushing towards him, none of that brought him the peace he had always thought death in battle would earn his soul.
* * * * *
Mirumoto Shujyo rounded the corner into the common room of the Dragon embassy. Kitsuki Horume and Kitsuki Hayaku were already there. Togashi Ango and Mirumoto Niwa were just entering behind them, their faces calm but their eyes bright with concern. They’d just come from the Temple district. Horume was donning his armor
Ango looked to Horume. “With your permission, I must go to the Peasant District. Renyu’s actions may have caused structural damage to the city, and there will be people in need of aid.”
Horume shook his head as he reached for his helmet. “It would be a death sentence, Ango-sama. The Imperial District is surrounded.”
Ango frowned. “There is a saying in the colonies, Horume-sama. ‘When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ In situations like these, it is easy to overlook the heimin. If I can help them, then I must try.”
Horume was undeterred. “You going to the peasant district will not help anyone,” he said.
Ango looked as though he might press the point, but Niwa approached and shook her head. “Fate has placed us here, Ango-san,” she said, “we must make the most of that.”
The monk looked into her eyes, and then relented. Niwa held her gaze. “We have to learn what is going on,” she whispered.
Shujyo watched as the delegation discussed their options, all the while feeling a great weight around his heart. The implications of the Kuni Daimyo’s actions were harrowing. The Dragon struggled all season to maintain diplomacy despite the Legion standing outside the gates. In an instant, Renyu proved how little he thought of the lives dwelling within these walls. His impassioned act of betrayal answered no questions. They did not even know why the Legion was here, although Shujyo had heard his share of disturbing rumors…
Shujyo stared into his empty hands. None of this made any sense. What could he… what could any one of them… do to stop it?
“What’s going on?” From the doorway, Kakita Maratai walked into the room, concern plain on her features. She’d been a guest of the Dragon Clan for several days now, a favor granted by their ambassador to his former student. They’d been sworn to secrecy, telling no one that she was here. The Kakita had wet paint on her hands, evidence of a project that was apparently interrupted when the tremors shook the embassy.
She looked from one Dragon to the next. “I heard people come in. What happened? Are we…?” There was an odd tone to her concern, as if she was anticipating something particular.
Horume answered, not bothering to look up from threading his helmet-cord. “Niwa and Ango have been forced out of the Temple District. The Ninth Legion has claimed it, and they are threatening to break through the gate at the Peasant District.”
There was a long pause. And then, to Shujyo’s amazement, Maratai gave a relieved sigh. “Oh,” she said, smiling, “It’s just the Legion. I see.”
* * * * *
Karachu shook his head sadly. “Such chaos, such death. It is unlike anything I have seen.”
Tsudoken looked at the man quizzically. “You do not strike me as the sort who would recoil from the realities of war,” he said.
“No,” the monk said, “it is not just the battle, Tsudoken-san. It is the… wrongness of it. These men and women do not deserve to die like this, at the swords of their fellow samurai. To have endured so long in a place like this, against the horrors and dangers of the Colonies, only to die like this. It is simply wrong.” The monk took a moment to compose himself, his calm demeanor returning. “Regardless, my friend, we simply cannot empty out the Military District and retreat all non-combatants to the Imperial District. There is no room.”
“The Temple District,” Tsudoken said quickly. “Reports so far indicate the Ninth Legion sent only a token force to secure the area and ensure there were no hidden ambush groups waiting. They seem unwilling to shed blood there, and I understand their hesitation. If we create a quick show of force, they will likely surrender rather than endure the shame of fighting in such a place. They will not want to enter into a protracted battle to take the area back, either.”
“A fine plan,” Karachu agreed. “It is good to see they retain some semblance of honor.”
“That remains to be seen,” the Lion grunted. “I will lead this charge and I will send word when the area is secure. For the time being, you have command of this front. I will instruct my gunso to report to you.” The Captain reached for his helm.
“Carry the Fortunes, Tsudoken-san,” the Phoenix said quietly.
Akodo Tsudoken looked back to the combat area, watching as an Imperial soldier – a Hida by his features and the family mon he could barely make out – cut his sword through a Kaiu Ivory Legionnaire Tsudoken had known for years. Something inside the Lion whispered an unnamed dread into his soul at the sight.
“Good luck to you,” the Captain could only respond, feeling the Fortunes had turned their backs on them all.
* * * * *
“Shinjo Kinto,” Kuni Renyu said, bowing slightly. “It is excellent to finally meet you.” The Crab looked to the man standing at Kinto’s right, and nodded slightly. “It is good to see you have returned unscathed, Kurabi-san.”
The Imperial Commander took a step towards Kuni Renyu, “I must say that I find this all very unusual, Renyu-san. I believed from your missives that perhaps you intended to convince the City Guard to stand down. Or you would have negated their defense in some… more subtle matter. This is still practically a war.”
“The city must be taken from the enemy. That is the basis of a great many wars,” Renyu replied.
Standing in the southeast corner of the Peasant District, Kinto waved a hand out to the northwest, where the fighting over the gate continued. They were far enough removed from the fight that they could not even command the battle if they wanted – which was Kinto’s intent. Spies would not look for him here. “Is that the enemy, then? Men and women who have sworn a duty to defend this city, dying?”
“If their blood must be spilled to depose the Governor, then yes. They are the enemy. If they were true samurai, they would see their obligation to the Empress superseded their oaths to one such as her.”
“Indeed, Renyu-san,” Kinto said, frowning. “I am not a well-seasoned commander, so perhaps I am simply viewing this incorrectly. But when I look at the men and women defending that gate, I see honor and fervor. They do not seem to have the hesitation or resignation of a soldier who has thrown themselves into a duty to someone as despicable as the Governor your letters have described.”
“I assure you, Kinto-san, she is all I have said and more. She plots against the Imperial authority. She entices the clans to war against each other. Her actions invite and reward dishonorable conduct. And she has turned you away without a word when you have come. Had she nothing to fear, would she have sealed the gates of the Military District? What other proof do you need?”
Kinto looked at the man, dissatisfaction clear on his face. “Perhaps,” he said at last. After a moment of consideration, he finally continued. “I believe you are a ranking man of authority here in the Second City. There are others of such rank, but they have not moved against this Governor as you have. Though I will assume control of this city once the Governor is removed, I cannot stay indefinitely. I believe I will have you appointed interim Governor until we can get word from the Imperial City.”
The Kuni daimyo did not exactly smile, but gratification was plain on his face. “A wise choice, Shinjo Kinto. I will ensure this level of lawlessness and dishonor does not happen again.”
* * * * *
“The fighting will not last,” Shinjo Tselu said, his tone concerned. “It is perhaps wise to move you to a safer position.”
“Safer?” The Governor nearly laughed the word out. “My Champion, this is my city, and I am in the heart of it. Where could be safer? No, if this area is compromised, there will be nowhere to go.”
The Ivory Champion’s voice grew frustrated. “It does not make sense,” he said. “Why such an attack? Why such a response? Did the Ninth Legion have some justification to strike at the city? They must believe you are guilty of some manner of great treason or dishonor.”
Otomo Suikihime’s eyes bore into the man as a strange look crossed her face, one Tselu was almost confused to see. The Governor looked sincerely concerned as the next words left her mouth, “Tell me, Tselu-san. Do you think they have such justification? A reason to bring me down? Do you think I am so low and base to deserve this?”
The Unicorn cast his eyes down, again fearing that there would be no answer he could give that she would not twist against him.
Remembering the philosophy of movement and avoidance every Shinjo bushi was taught, the words came. “Kinto has abused his authority. Renyu has escalated the engagement. Something has happened here that I do not understand, but I believe if you are given time it would be possible to resolve.” The Ivory Champion looked from the private chamber to the direction of the Peasant District. “Time we do not have… unless you flee.”
* * * * *
“Well, this is a day full of surprises,” Daigotsu Subudi noted.
Subudi, Doji Rengetsu, Doji Iza, Yoritomo Sachina, and Yoritomo Hameko stood outside the estate where they had only moments before received word that the Imperial Legion’s siege had broken into the inner city.
And now, they were witnessing a great fleet of Crane and other vessels invade Kalani’s Landing. Several of the boats had already reached the ports, and countless others were behind them.
Yoritomo Sachina’s practiced face showed none of the complete fear she felt in her stomach. She was not a general, but she vaguely knew of the Mantis’ attack plans on the Crane. The bulk of the Mantis navy in the Colonies was at this moment breaking through the ports of the Aerie to move upriver. Emoto believed a quick, damaging strike on the Crane port would leave them powerless to counterattack as the Mantis moved north. Few ships were left behind at the Landing – it seemed so impossible that the Crane would both attempt an attack and also have the strength to do so.
“Fortunes,” Hameko swore quietly.
“I think I forgot to mention this,” Rengetsu said thoughtfully. “I was here to check up on the negotiations and retrieve Iza-san before the assault.”
Yoritomo Hameko turned to the soldiers near the estate entrance. “Guards!” she commanded. “Seize these Cranes. They will make valuable hostages.”
Iza stepped in front of Rengetsu and placed a hand on her sword.
“A moment,” Sachina said, laying a hand lightly on the younger Mantis’ shoulder. “They are still our guests, and they were invited to these talks in good faith. It would be easy for the Crane to further turn others against us were we to take them into custody at this opportunity. Let us not make their job any easier.” The courtier turned to Rengetsu. “A pity. Your attack will likely cause a great deal of damage, but there is no possible way for them to take the city. You will lose… what? Half of your fleet at least, I think.”
“That is not the point, Sachina-san. Word will reach your commander, Emoto, soon. He will have to choose between continuing his assault, or leaving Kalani’s Landing to its own devices. We will suffer losses, but it should most be untrained gaijin and ronin who were eager to leap at the sight of Crane koku. What we gain is to show the Colonies and the Empire that your mastery of the sea is little more than a memory.” She motioned to Doji Iza. “Come now, Iza-san. I believe I know which ship belongs to Daidoji Tametaka-sama. We will meet them when they take the docks.”
“Tametaka is dead,” Sachina said with a snort.
“Oh?” Rengetsu replied, making no attempt to look as confused as the word indicated. “Perhaps the Tsuruchi are not so excellent at gathering war intelligence as we thought. And, I suppose, the Yoritomo are not as efficient at killing their targets on the open water. Interesting. No, Tametaka-sama lives, and has learned a great deal from our new friends.” The Crane turned to leave, adding, “I am sure you will see what he learned very soon.”
Watching the Cranes leave, Hameko frowned. “Why let them leave? We could have them killed and blame the conflict itself. We could easily avoid accountability.”
“Because your mistress wants to find out which ship is the general’s, Hameko-san,” Subudi said, smiling. “And then, of course, see if she can’t have it tracked back to whereever the Crane came from when they inevitably leave.”
Sachina said nothing, but smiled slightly as well.
* * * * *
“You stand on sacred ground!” the voice of Akodo Tsudoken boomed out as his men flung open the gates to the Temple District. They quickly formed a semicircle around the few defenders the Ninth Legion had left to watch the gate. “Surrender and you will be escorted away. We do not wish to shed blood here!”
“My men will not be taken into custody by the likes of you!” another called back, and a man stepped forward from the ranks of the Ninth Legion. Tsudoken almost immediately recognized him. “Akodo Tsudoken, you dishonor your name by standing against the Empress’ Legion. You will not find surrender here.”
“Suoh?” Tsudoken asked, his resolve faltering. “Suoh, stand down. I have no wish to harm you, my cousin.”
Akodo Suoh shook his head slightly. “Then surrender, Tsudoken. I am Kinto’s chui for this unit, and it falls to me to make sure the Temple District will not be occupied by the city’s defenders. If you did not wish to harm your kinsmen, perhaps you should not have taken up arms against them.”
Behind Tsudoken, the City Guardsmen seemed ready to fight, but were unused to seeing their Captain show any hesitation.
“We cannot,” Tsudoken said. “You will die here if you do not lay down your arms. You have a poor position and you are outnumbered.”
“You would compound your folly by killing me here, among the temples?”
“We stand within the area of the gatehouse – a structure built for the security of this city. Our ancestors will not look disfavorably upon my actions.” Tsudoken moved up, his hand on his sword. “But if you wish to avoid bloodshed…”
The other Lion looked at him, and his face hardened. “Very well,” he said, emotion gone completely from his voice. He drew his sword and held it in a neutral position of the Akodo style.
Opposite him, Tsudoken did the same. They would duel, but not as the Crane understood it. The two Akodo veterans moved slowly around one another, seeing the skill and resolve of their opponent in every small detail – the position of their fingers, the way their feet moved, the details of how their armor was worn and maintained, and the places their eyes went to scan each other. Akodo taught that it was the details other warriors missed that gave victory to the superior soldier.
In a quick flurry of movement – it was impossible to say which Lion began first – the two stepped into each other’s range and exchanged a series of quick, precise blows. The first few strikes from either man did not land as they tested each other’s defenses of movement and armor, but finally, Tsudoken made a clean strike that cut across Suoh’s torso. The wounded Lion fell back, pain clear on his face – but it was not the sort of pain a soldier felt from an injury. Blood spilled everywhere from the wound as Suoh’s mouth moved as if to speak, but the man’s lung had been sliced open.
Despite himself, Tsudoken reacted out of sheer horror – slicing through the man’s neck before he had to endure further misery.
Tsudoken now held his katana in a guarded stance, out of nothing but sheer habit. It was the proper stance to fall back to after such a strike. He watched his cousin’s blood run on the ground, and he began to speak, “I…”
The words would never come. There was a quick whistling noise, and an arrow sped through the air – striking Tsudoken through his dominant sword arm. The Lion yelled in rage – not pain – but dropped his sword. He had been betrayed again.
“Archers!” a voice called out, and a volley fired from the north and south of the gatehouses. A dozen city guards fell immediately, and another single arrow flew from a different direction, impaling the Captain’s left leg.
Tsudoken fell on one knee and bellowed, “Retreat! Secure the gate!”
His soldiers – well trained Lions, all – fell back into a retreat formation immediately, and rushed through the gate, closing it behind them before the hidden archers could charge the opening.
From behind the Legionnaires that had witnessed the whole scene, an archer moved forward, his bow readied to fire as he held it down.
“An excellent feint,” Tsudoken panted through the pain. “I was in error to believe the only soldiers here were the ones I saw. It is sad that Suoh’s honorable death is clouded by your actions.”
“A common mistake for an inexperienced commander,” the archer said with a sneer, ignoring the second comment. “I would have expected so much better from a man such as you. I admire the Akodo greatly. Suoh was a mentor to me.” He stood over Tsudoken and grabbed the arrow that had pierced the Lion’s arm. “And Yakusho was my brother. I hear he died at your hand, Lion, attempting to return a missive from the Second City to the Imperial Legion.” WIth a jerk, the man pulled the arrow through Tsudoken’s arm.
To his credit, the Captain did not cry out.
“I am Tsuruchi Yashiro. If I were a lesser, honorless man such as you, I would kill you on this very spot. But we have standing orders to capture you if possible.” The Mantis looked at his captive in disgust. “Be thankful that Shinjo Kinto wishes to speak with you so badly, or I would send you to answer to your ancestors right now.”
* * * * *
From a darkened alley nearby, the ronin called Fukuzo watched the exchange with some interest. He crouched over a city guardsman who looked dazed… almost as if someone had come behind him and struck him with great force on the back of the head. Fukuzo watched the guard retreat and watched Tsudoken get taken into custody. Things were quite interesting now, he thought, looking down at the guard. He should very much like to meet this Governor if he could.