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A Part of Destiny

by Ree Soesbee

The shadow of the pines spread across the ground in stark contrast to the unbroken snow. Winter blanketed Rokugan once more, the season of ice and cold forcing armies to return to their homes, safe from the bitter winds of the northlands.

In the south, where the trade winds brought some respite from the chill, boats laden with supplies and weapons were readied. Prepared for a long journey to the Isawa provinces, Yoritomo's fleet floated gently on the grey waves like seaweed after a storm. The only movement on the morning beach was the figure of a small boy, no more than twelve, who walked restlessly on the sand.

The ocean tossed, hurling itself against the high rocky outcroppings of the Islands of Spice as if to escape the beach's unwavering grasp, and the boy paused to look out at the mighty fleet.

“You are a Scorpion.” The voice was matter-of-fact, flat and toneless. The boy's stare did not waver from his study of the ocean, even though only a moment before, he had been alone.

The man was tall, lanky, his arms curled about his armored chest as if to ward away the cold. Where he stepped beside the boy, the sand did not move – no footprints marked his passage. He looked out at the boats in the shifting waves, and brushed a non-existent thread of hair from his transparent face.

“Have you come to haunt me, as you have followed all my line?” The boy hissed, his anger apparent, directed as much as the sea as the spirit. “Will you plague me, as you did Shoju? Baku. With no sword to guard, have you grown so weary of your eternal imprisonment?”

“You know my history.” The ghost's voice, toneless and gray, held a faint glimmer of surprise.

“We all know, Baku,” Aramasu turned his head, the golden chains of his mask catching a shred of sunlight through the thick veil of clouds. “All the Bayushi have heard your tale.”

“The Lady has said you must stay” The ghost began.

“And I have. As she commanded.” A sneer, “But by my own will, not her ‘edict.’”

“You are a Scorpion.” The spirit repeated, sunlight passing through its translucent form. “You must obey.”

“Did you, Baku? Did you truly only obey, when the Bayushi ordered your death?” Turning, Aramasu flung a small round stone, watching as it vanished into the ocean's white foam. “Ordered to seppuku, you met death heroically, loyal to the clan through hundreds of years of death. Guardian of Temptation. We all know the story of ‘honorable Bayushi Baku, spirit of the Scorpion Clan,’ but how true is the tale?” As if to himself, the boy continued, “How true is anything we are taught in the Scorpion lands”

“You are”

“I know what I am, old man.” Aramasu tore the mask from his face, feeling the thin gold chains break and snap beneath his rough movement. “I am what the Scorpion have left behind.”

“Aramasu, son of Aramoro, son of”

“Shut up. Shut up, Baku, don’t you understand? My father's ways are not mine. What am I to him? The son of a geisha – not even a wife. Not a courtesan. A Yogo geisha, and I am cursed to bear her stain forever.” He sank to his knees in the sand, watching as the snow drifted lightly from the heavens. Soon, the boats in the harbor would be moved into the nearby port, safe from the storm. “I’m a stone on the go board, you fool. A token of the Scorpion's good will to the Mantis, and nothing more.”

For a moment, the spirit was silent, his form wavering in an unseen wind. The boy's hands clutched at the pale grains beneath his fingers, feeling the sand slip away from the pressure of his fists. Around them, the light snow began to grow stronger, falling in thick flakes against the ocean and melting in the waves. “I died with honor” The ghost began, “And you live with none.”

Aramasu leapt to his feet. “Honor?” He snarled, “You claim that honor led you to spend eternity in a hole, watching the sword of Iuchiban. The clan has praised your courage, standing forever in the darkness, alone with the sword but was it courage, Baku? Or was it desire?”

Baku's face shifted, his eyes turning to black holes. “The sword”

“That's right, Baku. The sword you were given, so long ago. The sword you bound your spirit to, in the vaults of Bayushi Castle. The sword that destroyed our clan.”

“Ambition”

The echoes spun eerily, and Baku's form began to shred, faint pieces of light spinning down into shadow. “I did not serve the sword. I gave my life so that my soul could stay by it, watching it, protecting it”

“And so that you could remain forever near it,” Aramasu pressed on, cruelly. “Wasn’t that it, Baku? To truly own the sword, you had to give your life.”

“I am a Scorpion.” The voice was faint now, weeping.

“You are a coward. You, my father, and his brother, who fought against the Empire. If they had only been as strong as their ancestors, the sword would never have been released. And you, Baku, you are the greatest traitor of all. Sworn to protect the sword, you coveted it instead, and led Shoju to its hidden power. Without the sword, Shoju would never have killed the Hantei, never begun the fulfillment of the prophecy.” Now the boy stood, allowing the sand to fall between his fingers. “All of you betrayed our clan, and destroyed our heritage.”

“Scorpion”

“Not anymore, Baku. Not until all the traitors that served under Shoju are at last dead, and the sword is put to rest.” Though barely more than a child, Aramasu's face took on a dreadfully serious tone. “But to prove my loyalty, spirit of the Scorpion, I will do one last thing.

“I will show the Mantis the way to the Phoenix lands, teach them our secret paths into their palaces, and watch, as they suffer the way our people have suffered. And while I am there, I will lure my father into a trap that he cannot resist, and I will see him dead.”

As Aramasu lifted his golden veil once more, staring down at the dull metal wires. “Yoritomo is my father now, and I will serve him well”




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Togashi will return!