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Fire and Shadow Rulebook story:

The Campsite was cold and the rocky ground felt like bones, but Hiroru didn't mind. Though the Shadowlands spread out around them like a sea of waste, there was nothing to fear. Another man huddled beneath the blanket did not shiver in the cold. The small fire, built more for warmth than for light, flickered uncertainly and did not warn them. The world was silent, and the land was dead. But this was the future, and now is the past ...

They were beyond the edge of the southern wastes, through the Shadowlands and past the great Kaiu Wall. Shadows clustered around them, and only their speed and the strength of Ginawa's good sword arm had led them this far. Now the ruins of a desiccated city opened above them like the petals of a dying lotus flower.

The city of Volturnum.

In its depths, shadows danced. The darkness of this place was thick, unbreachable ... unconquerable. Only the fact that they were two people, and not two hundred, enabled the ronin and his companion to enter Volturnum's hidden gates. Silence was their ally, and they stayed hidden beneath the Shadow's gaze.

They moved from crypt to crypt, and the Darkness ignored them. Faceless warriors leered from the ruined pillars of stone, and shifting creatures passed them by, first on two legs, then four, then none at all. The empty grins changed to drifting smoke.

"She was right, wasn't she? Kaede-sama sent us ..."

Hiroru knelt before the cowled man.

Very slowly the man nodded. There was a pause, a long, open silence. Even the fire did not whisper. "He sent you to me."

Hiroru's kusari-gama danced to a pause, its steady whirring finished. The fight was won. Beside him, Ginawa drew his Bloodsword, strangely silent, from the still-stirring corpse of the Goju guardsman. A lightning flash descended across the heavens, and the deep chasm was lit by the fire of the sky. There would only be moments, barely time to discover what the Shadow held below: The rain was cold and slithered strangely against his skin, but the lightning guided his path as if by the hand of an unknown ally.

Below them, the vast chamber was silent and still.

The small flames guttered, and dawn approached. Soon, it would be time to leave.

"The Emperor. You could speak to him. He will know what to do, how to answer this riddle," Hiroru challenged. The fire hissed and smoked, but the stranger did not notice the sudden chill. Hiroru continued, "He was once ... a man of honor."

The man gave no response, but changed the subject. "We must leave your friend ...."

"Iye," Hiroru bowed his head in respect, regretting the word as he said it. The voice of the Matsu daimyo, Ketsui, echoed strangely in his thoughts, a snarling memory out of place : "Go, now, ronin, and take your ghost with you." Only now Hiroru realized Ketsui hadn't meant the white ninja by Ginawa's side.

The stranger paused for a moment, then said, "Ginawa has his own demons to destroy."

It was difficult to see and harder to move one bloodied foot before the other. The image of the cavernous well struck deep inside him, and he remembered it as if he had seen it in a dream. Beyond the deep cavern he glimpsed the form of a shapeless land, illuminated by hopes and darkened by fears. A single bridge crossed the wide span, enough for a thousand people to cross and become lost in the fog that embraced the other side.

It was Jigoku, land of the dead, city of the ancestors ... ravaged by Shadow. A great torii arch stood between this world and the next, but Hiroru remembered only the savage strikes of each guardian he passed. Ginawa's roar told him that the ronin had met his own share of difficulty, but at last nothing stood in their way.

"Where are you?" Ginawa howled madly, his sword silent and pale. A thousand ninja flowed through the gate, tearing at the walls and seething through the arch, but no one answered his challenge. twisted Goju charged though the cavern, and Ginawa shouted again.

At last, through the death and shadow, the two could see their destination. One man, dimmed by the Darkness that moved about him as lithe as a serpent, clung to the archway to the land of the dead. He stood upon the threshold, half in this world and half in the next. The burdens of a thousand years bowed his back and dimmed his brow -- a thousand years in the city of the dead, guarding the spirits of Rokugan's past. Defending an empire he had never known.

As blood pooled about their feet, his too-white eyes flashed open.

"Only a thousand people," the powerful voice echoed through Hiroru's soul once more. "Fore each one that falls, the Shadow grows stronger. Tell the Clans: one thousand people, and no more."

"I should return. Ginawa ..."

"No." The voice was steady, but weariness ached through his words. "He knows where his destiny lies. You must end this journey apart, samurai, and he still has a duty to his lord."

Hiroru was very still for a long time, and then nodded slowly. "Ginawa never meant to leave the city of shadows," Thunder rolled in the distance, and he looked up toward the Darkness that gathered above the southern city, remembering the horrors he had seen there.

"Take me to the lands of the Phoenix. Toturi will be there," the stranger said. "But know this: if your Emperor is truly lost to the Shadow, he cannot be saved. Death alone will free him, and nothing less."

"I will not allow you to kill the Emperor. I am a Lion."

"You may play a greater part in this than you know, but the choice must be yours alone. I cannot tell you where your future lies. You must decide that for yourself."

"We cannot kill the Emperor."

"The enemy we fight was born on the day the Sun and the Moon stepped into the Celestial Heavens. He is Goju, first of that name . He cannot be defeated with indecision. If your honor holds back your sword, then let duty guide you."

Hiroru shuddered, turning away and putting out the small fire. He stood in the darkness of the Shadowlands, staring up at the silver moon in a starless sky. "I cannot ..., " he whispered.

Behind him, the Tenth Kami lowered his head.

*****

Blood rains from the heavens as the elements despair. The very gates of Jigoku, the land of death, have been seized by the Shadow. In the Empire, the dead are returning unable to seek a final peace ...

To the south, deep in the heart of the Shadowlands, a strange, white fire rages across the heavens, shrouded within an army of ten thousand dead. The Dark Moto, feared throughout the Empire, are on the move. Their general speaks with the voice of thunder, but her heart is heavy with the burdens of oath and destiny. The Age of Man demands that the Moto be rejoined. The Burning Words have found their prophet.

The Mantis and the Minor Clans stand divided. Their alliance with the Unicorn and with Shinjo has fallen, and with it, their assault on the Phoenix lands. Yoritomo has been forced to retreat to his islands, refusing the promises of the Kami in exchange for command of his own destiny. The Phoenix, too, march south, but their armies are too weak to claim vengeance upon the Mantis ... for now.

The Crane civil war has ended, and Daidoji Uji stands before his Champion with new fire in his eyes. The Crane are reborn, but their unity may have come too late. A father returns to offer his hand in peace, but the sins of the past cannot be forgotten so easily. The Crane must learn to come to terms with the struggle in their souls. They have recaptured Shiro no Yojin, but the armies of the Lion have not forgotten the sting of defeat.

Kitsu Motso stands against the blood and fury that has swallowed his family, leading the last of the Kitsu back toward honor and glory. Yet in his struggle, he must question his Champion's right to lead, and risk his own honor in the quest to save his clan. The Lion armies stand divided, and Tsanuri marches into the Shadowlands with a small guard of loyal Matsu. There, the Lion will find death ... and begin their life anew.

The Scorpion lands, now held by a new Bayushi daimyo, gather their weapons of whispers and lies. If they succeed, they will change the course of destiny. Revenge is the killer of hope, and no clan knows more of revenge than the Scorpion.

The Brotherhood of Shinsei search throughout the Empire for their lost Tao, only to find it in the hands of a Crane commanded to defend it with her very life. Yet half of the wisdom is lost, stolen by shadows and lies, and the future of the Empire may be lost with it.

The Dragon have at last climbed down from their mountain, carrying the secrets Hitomi bled to discover. They may be the last hope of a dying Empire - an Empire with an empty throne.

Alone, the Emperor sits in the halls of ruined Isawa Palace, which are stained by his blood, and his eyes have turned as black as death. Kaede struggles to aid her dying lord, but the Shadow within him grows stronger with each falling breath. The Jade Throne is empty, and the armies march across the fading plains of a once-great Empire. Toturi's hand clenches the hilt of his sword, and he sees nothing of the world around him. He murmurs of battles past, and his eyes light with fire. But then the Shadow rises, and his eyes flicker to ash.

The Darkness has come. Goju has returned. It is the Time of Blood, the fall of the Empire, and the final days of Rokugan.

Far to the south, Hiroru stumbles from the Shadowlands, bearing a man whose face shines with the light of a thousand stars. But Hiroru's face is ashen, and his gi is stained with blood.

Ginawa is no longer by his side.

One man will kill his Master. The other will save him.



 

 

 

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