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War in the Heavens

by Ree Soesbee

The Kami, Shinjo, child of the Sun and Moon, marched east from the Unicorn Provinces, toward the city of Otosan Uchi. Her armies, the allied legions of the Scorpion Clan, and those few brave samurai who dared stand by their side made their way toward the Emperor's city. It was dark, and the moon hung silently above them: a jealous eye, watching the soldiers pass. As they marched, Shinjo sent word to all the clans of the Empire -- her brothers' and sister's children -- and all their allies. Soon, the bushi who could come to her summons swelled the mighty army. But the sending was small. Some -- the Phoenix and the Lion -- could spare only a few, and the Master of Fire, newly anointed, stood beside the imposing Lion General, Kitsu Motso.

Only 20 Crab came from the farthest south, bound by their ancestor's ancient oath to his sister. Only 20 men, hardly a full command, but they stood their ground with the strength of mountains. Only 20, but if those 20 are Crab, then they are as two hundred!

Ten Duelists came from the Crane, with their bright steel and flashing eyes. A mere ten -- and their hundred students. "Observers," say the Kakita.

As the armies camped at Togashi's hill, to the east of the Imperial City, a figure came from the night. His eyes burned like fire, and smoke poured from his hands and mouth. "Hear me," shouted Togashi Mitsu "All you who would wage war this day, hear my words.

"You believe that you have come to fight the Emperor, but you are wrong. You cannot cut away a wounded limb to heal a dying man. The battle you are about to fight is greater than emperors and thrones, greater even than Kami and mortal man.

"This is not a war to win an Empire, but to destroy a God!"

* * *

The armies looked down on Otosan Uchi, and they saw the truth. Its walls were covered in shadow, creeping from building to building. Tearing at the ancient walls. The Imperial City had been fouled, touched by darkness, almost consumed by shadow. The magnificent wall that once surrounded the palace was now crumbling with age, as if time itself had turned forward, changing the stone into dust. It was faded. Lost.

The city, like the Empire, is dying from the Shadow's touch.

The Shadow, which serves the Moon.

* * *

"If you wish to save the Empire," continued Mitsu, "you must destroy its greatest foe -- and take the risk of setting the Shadow free. You must take the city, drive out the darkness, and free the Emperor of the Shadow's Taint."

"And the moon?" growled a Lion samurai.

"Do not fear, Kitsu," smiled the Dragon. "He will come to you."

* * *

On a mountain, high in the Dragon's Teeth, a black hand raised an obsidian katana. "Come, Onnotangu!" she challenged. "You must choose: your city or your honor! You cannot defend both!"

A laughing rumble shook the clouds, and the Moon smiled in the sky. "We shall see."

*****

More than 1000 years ago, the Sun and the Moon walked the Celestial Heavens, at peace with their realms. They loved, and they laughed, and all was well with Onnotangu and his bride, Amaterasu. They spoke of immortality, and of creation, and Onnotangu built a wonderland for his bridal bower, filled with trees and plants, and all the beautiful things of the world.

The Lady Sun, enchanted with his gift, begged him to let her populate it with children, but Onnotangu was jealous of his bride's love, and would not hear of such a thing. Yet, as he loved her, they created the animals, and the beasts of the sea, and spread them across the world. But still the Sun was not satisfied. They created man, and still, she wanted more.

At last, Onnotangu's love for her broke through his fear, and they created the Children, the sons and daughters of the Heavens: the immortal Kami. The babies became the light of Amaterasu's world, and she adored them. So much, that she forgot her love for Onnotangu, and turned her face from him. As the Moon and the Sun gave names to the world, she forgot to hide her love for the children, and she spoke of each thing as another gift for her children. She no longer needed the Moon.

Onnotangu grew bitter. He began to hate his wife, their children, and the world they had made -- seeing each as a reflection of the Sun's false love. So, as he gave Amaterasu the names for each beast and tree, he held one name for himself, and did not tell it to her. He kept that one name -- the last of all names.

When the Children of the Sun fell from the sky, screaming their mother's name, Onnotangu cursed them all. He watched the Sun weep as her children were cast down, and he cried, "My wife has betrayed me, and for her crime, I will chase her through the heavens. She will have no rest, no peace, and she will forever be alone -- apart from her children. As she took her love from me, so will she be forever without love.

"My children, too, deserve no mercy. One by one, I shall hunt them and their people, until the world is as red as blood, and as black as night. I shall destroy them, for daring to steal what is my own.

"But I shall have one child," said Onnotangu, gnashing his teeth with fury, "a son of my own choosing, who has never betrayed me. A child who has never known the Sun." And he went to the last of the world's creatures, the unnamed Shadow. The Moon spoke to it as a father, and he lifted it up from that place, and carried it to become the blackness between the stars.

So began the Moon's Revenge.

* * *

Breaking through the gates, the armies of the Clans struggled against the Shadow, their war-cries bitter and brave. Shinjo hovered above the city gates, her sword slicing through the shadow-minions as a stone through water, watching with horror as they reformed. The Lion stood at the gate, the spearhead of the invasion, and nothing escaped them. With courage, and with crystal weapons given to them by the Naga, they were the first to break through the veil and enter the City of Shadow.

Behind them, legions of Unicorn soldiers howled strange battle-cries. The Crane stood, a bodyguard to the Phoenix shugenja whose spells threatened to tear open the world.

* * *

Still, on the mountaintop, Hitomi stood ready.

"I accept your challenge, daughter of mortal man," said Onnotangu, drawing a katana made of starlight. "But if you fail, then I will take your head to the sky with me, and I will see your people destroyed. One by one, you will watch, as your brothers are slain and their children forgotten.

"I will destroy you, and your Emperor."

*****

For two days, the battle had raged through the city, and yet, the sun cast little light in the pale sky. The men of the Shadow died, their faceless corpses littering the streets, but they took their toll upon the armies of the clans. A toll that was paid in blood.

* * *

The Scorpion led the way to Otosan Uchi's palace gate, and the shadow fell back before them. Each step it made, they countered, and it was if they knew its movements -- for they had learned its secrets, and they knew the Shadow well. Beside them, the Moto fought, drawing their spears and yari down upon each creature as it arose, each brother as he turned his faceless sword against them.

The Shadow stood before the Moto, and the road fell away into darkness. "You cannot defeat them," a Bayushi warrior shouted, turning to find another way.

Moto Soro, daimyo of the living Moto, raised his horn and sounded Shinjo's battle call. "You are wrong, Bayushi. We cannot defeat them... and live." With that, his men charged across the widening pit, and threw themselves into the shadow's maw. Their white armor shone for a moment, then vanished into the night.

A hundred Moto died that day, but a thousand more lived to tell the tale.

* * *

The Phoenix drew their spells around them, breaking slowly through the gates of the palace. Some used the spells of the Kami, but others, darker in their lore, called upon the forbidden magics of the ancient Isawa city -- and they made the elements bleed. One stood before them all. "Where is your honor?" cried the Crane who stood to defend them. But when the gates crashed open and the Shadow howled in pain, the Phoenix shugenja turned to his Crane yojimbo. "Do your duty well, as I have done mine."

The Crane understood, and the Phoenix fell, sacrificed upon the altar of honor, but remembered with valor for his deeds that day. As the Phoenix fell, the Crane drew their swords. "His life shall not be in vain!" they shouted. "Death to Onnotangu! Death to his shadow-son!"

* * *

The Matsu were scarred, beaten and bloodied by the twisting shadow. From every side, they were attacked, but they responded with bravery and strength. One fell, and then another, and the few who remained stood deep in the blood of their brothers. Kitsu Motso screamed a battle-cry, and tore open the palace gate. Behind the wall, the Crab had been slaughtered, but one still moved in the pile, torn by a shadow with claws like ice. A broken tetsubo rested on the ground beside him, shattered and destroyed. As the Lion knelt to lift the weary Crab from the ground, placing his own sword in the Hida's hand, he shouted, "True courage knows no doubt!! Stand, Crab! This is your duty!" Hida Unari rose, clutching the Kitsu's sword, and he let out a scream of anger and hatred as the Shadow descended upon them both. He was the wall upon which the Shadow crashed, and the Lion, armed only with his hands and his wakizashi, was the sword that brought their death.

* * *

On the cliff, a woman in armor of gold and green lifted her sword high to block Lord Moon's first blow. It came, driving her back against the cliffside and tearing a bloody hole in the sky above them. A maelstrom was forming, and the stars were peeping through the Sun's pale sky. Another blow, and another, and Hitomi was driven back to the cliff's edge. The Moon was ancient, filled with hatred and power, and as he lifted his sword to strike her down, he laughed, and his voice echoed through her obsidian hand.

But another voice spoke, deep in her heart. It filled her soul, and screamed from her throat. "NO! For too long, Onnotangu, you have worked your evil across the land. I was there when you destroyed Akodo, when you crashed the mountain down. I saw you, as you used lies and treachery to drown Doji in the sea, and when your envy and hatred stole away Bayushi's only love. Your shadow has spread too far, Father, and your revenge is finished. Now, a mortal shall undo what a god has done!"

With that, she tore her sword from the ground and the obsidian cut deep into the Moon's foul body.

The Moon staggered back, smiling through his pain. "Now you shall see mortal man pay the price for your arrogance."

* * *

In the city of Otosan Uchi, a terrible darkness fell. It killed sight and sound, and only one voice broke through the Moon's great spell.

"The Law proclaims it, and the Celestial Heavens have claimed me as heir! Those who deny me, deny their oaths to the Empire. I am your Emperor!" With that, the darkness became complete, and pain spread through the samurai legions, crippling all who stood within its walls. Even Shinjo, kami above all else, shouted in pain, and her soldiers fell to the ground. With one blow, the Moon had crippled the Empire, and Day had turned fully to Night.

"Now, see the revenge I will have upon you... my _children_." A figure of pale light appeared before the Emperor's Throne. The Moon's armor encased it, empty as the blackness between stars, and it lifted a spectral sword in mocking salute. The Moon, still standing on the cliff side with Hitomi, had also come to defend his city -- and destroy those who dared his wrath.

*****

A terrible darkness had fallen over the city, and the armies of the clans struggled to rise, to fight... even to move. In the palace, the Moon laughed, a sound that echoed from the mountains of the Dragon. Even as Hitomi struggled to match Onnotangu's terrible strikes, the armies in the palace watched as the Moon's Champion -- an extension of the Moon's power -- raised its sword in a terrible mockery of bushido.

* * *

A few bushi steeled their souls and pushed forward, breaking through the veil of pain and torment. They chose this path. They would not let their honor die for lack of courage, and so they stood, despite the anguish of the Moon's dark shadow. And so, the pushed their way forward into the throne room.

One Crab, bold and true, bleeding from wounds of duty.

One Crane, through a secret corridor behind the throne -- a secret that had been told to him by a simple storyteller, long ago.

One Lion, raising his sword and screaming Tsuko's name.

A Unicorn, blind from birth and yet his sword did not falter, stepped from Shinjo's side.

A man, born of the ronin, sworn to serve Toturi, turned from his place at his master's side, and stepped between Toturi and the Moon. "You will not have my Lord," he snarled.

A brother of the Order of Amaterasu, his soul burning with the Sun's fire.

One Phoenix, weary from the longest battle, yet unwilling to give up the fight.

A single Dragon, strong son of Mirumoto, bearing in his hand a golden sword.

A serpent-warrior, screaming of the Pale Eye, reached through the gate of pearl with swords of crystal.

One Scorpion, saluting their ancient master of shadow. "I thank you for your instruction," he smiled. "It will no doubt provide the strength I need to defeat you."

And one Mantis stood in the Emperor's window, aiming his bow at the heart of the Moon.

They had not come because they were foreordained. They did not fight to find their path because it had been written by the stars, but because their hearts and duty demanded it. Because, as mortal men, as servants of the Empire, they could not let Onnotangu claim the world.

* * *

Far away, Onnotangu smiled. "It is time for this game to end, samurai," he cursed, and the black sword flew from Hitomi's hand. One stroke, two, and blood welled from her arms, her face -- torments placed to give her pain, and prolong her death. Though her battle had been mighty, she was forced to confront her greatest weakness: She was alone.

Her Master's voice fled, and she heard only silence. Above her, the Moon's star-filled blade arched through the sky toward her throat.



 

 

 

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