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Rulebook Story: Fall of Otosan Uchi

One Question
by Rich Wulf

Shortly after the invasion of Otosan Uchi. . .

In the last several years, Daigotsu had seldom been alone. Seldom was he without numerous bodyguards and attendants. Seldom were the Onisu far from his sight. Kyoden and Shahai were always at hand. Now, the Onisu had been dispatched on various missions, and Kyoden lay dead. Shahai had remained behind, ruling the court of the City of the Lost in his stead. Save for one man, Daigotsu walked alone through the darkest regions of the Shadowlands.

Behind him, Chuda Mishime stumbled over a loose stone and cursed sharply. Daigotsu glared back at the weedy little shugenja. "Silence, Mishime-san," he commanded. "This deep in the Shadowlands there are creatures not even I would wish to face. Stealth will serve us well."

"My apologies, Dark Lord," Mishime said, leaning on his knees as he caught his breath. "I fear that our climb through the mountains exhausted me and I cannot continue. While my loyalty to you is boundless, I fear such physical activities are not my strong suit. Would not Kokujin or Nokatsu have provided you better protection on this journey?"

"Kokujin does as he pleases and Nokatsu would not be welcome where we go," Daigotsu said. "In any case, I do not require protection."

"Then why bring me along?" Mishime asked.

Daigotsu gave the young maho-tsukai a speculative gaze. "I know that you are powerful, and I know that you are loyal, but other than these things I do not truly know you, Mishime. Only pawns should be used blindly; I will not have a servant that I do not trust. The wilderness tends to bring out the worst in people, I find, so by traveling through the heart of the Shadowlands with you I may yet find out how thoroughly I can rely upon you. It was our journeys together in my youth that led me to know Omoni, Kyoden, and Kokujin so well. It was through hardship that we came to trust one another."

"And I have disappointed you with my frailty, Dark Lord," Mishime said, bowing in shame.

"Not at all," Daigotsu said. "You are correct. It is time we rested."

"As you say, Dark Lord." Mishime bowed again.

Daigotsu seated himself in the shadows of a large overhanging stone. With a small gesture, he summoned a dark flame on the earth before him. The strange fire radiated heat to ward off the chilling cold but gave off no light to attract the local creatures. Mishime carefully seated himself opposite the Dark Lord, huddling near the flame and holding out his hands to warm them.

"We should have reached Volturnum by now, according to the maps provided by the Lost Kaiu," Mishime said. "Are you certain that we are yet headed in the correct direction?"

"I am certain that the maps are useless," Daigotsu replied. "The Shadowlands is a living place. It shifts and moves at a whim. Volturnum is never in the same place twice; the maps merely gave us a general idea where to begin searching. Should we draw near, I am certain I can find the way. I have been there before, and the aura of magic that surrounds the place is unlike anything else in the Shadowlands."

"I hope you are as confident as you seem, Dark Lord," Mishime said, sounding unconvinced.

"You are an honest man, Mishime," Daigotsu said with a chuckle. "That is rare even in the Empire."

"Lies only delay the inevitable," Mishime said. "The truth is far more useful, and often more unexpected."

"Your words reflect my own philosophy," Daigotsu said. "I think I chose well from those who answered the call. You fear me, yet you speak your mind. You will make a most suitable hatamoto."

"I am honored, Dark Lord, but reluctant to accept," Mishime said. "I think that Lady Shahai would not approve of my presence in the Temple."

"Because you once led a rival cult of Bloodspeakers?" Daigotsu asked.

"The only thing a Bloodspeaker fears more than the Jade Magistrates is another band of Bloodspeakers," Mishime said. "It was Iuchiban's command that we fight for his pleasure, to weed out the weak and leave only his strongest servants alive when he returns."

"You need not instruct me in Bloodspeaker philosophy, Mishime," Daigotsu replied. "I was raised amid it."

"Is that so?" Mishime replied, suddenly interested. "I had not known you were a Bloodspeaker."

"Few people know the full truth about my past," Daigotsu said. "That was essential. Now, the time for secrecy is over."

"Since our defeat in Otosan Uchi?" Mishime said.

"Defeat?" Daigotsu replied with a small smile. "The truth need be known only so that the Lost will realize that it was not a defeat at all. Shahai, Omoni, Kokujin, the Dark Oracles, and the Onisu already know the true reason behind our attack on Otosan Uchi."

"And what was that?" Mishime asked.

Daigotsu's eyes gleamed. "I have sundered the boundaries of the Spirit Realms and released the soul of Fu Leng into Tengoku, the Celestial Heavens. Now an army of demons marches beside the Dark Kami, raging against the home of the Kami. I have fulfilled my destiny."

Mishime's eyes were wide. "How did you do this?" he asked, not even thinking to question the truth of the words. All who served Daigotsu knew better than to do that.

"It was my destiny," Daigotsu replied. "At the dawn of the Empire, you may know, Fu Leng was first defeated by the Seven Thunders. His soul was bound within the Twelve Black Scrolls and his body was destroyed. During the Clan War, he returned in the body of the Last Hantei and was again defeated by the descendants of those same Seven Thunders, including the future Emperor, Toturi. Having died while bound within a mortal vessel, his soul was dispatched to Meido, the realm where souls who have not resolved their kharma go to await reincarnation. The Fortune of Death bound Fu Leng's disoriented soul before it could attempt escape, and there it has waited ever since."

"A sad end for the Dark God," Mishime said.

"But not the end at all," Daigotsu said. "Fu Leng was more clever than he was given credit, and even as he was slain he had put plans into motion for his own rescue. Years before the Clan War, a cell of Bloodspeakers living near Otosan Uchi discovered an ancient prophecy. This prophecy, well hidden by the Scorpion Clan, stated that Fu Leng would arise when the Hantei was the last of his line in the Empire. The Bloodspeakers sought to quicken this apocalypse by kidnapping the Emperor's wife and children. Sadly their tendency toward melodrama betrayed them, as they chose to slaughter the family ritually instead of simply killing the lot of them and being done with it. While they prepared the ritual, a ronin by the name of Yotsu infiltrated the Bloodspeaker Camp, exchanged one of his own children for the Hantei's son, and escaped with the heir. The Bloodspeakers never knew the difference, and might not have known, had not fate intervened."

"What happened?" Mishime asked.

"Though he was but a child, Yotsu's son was as proud and bold as any samurai," Daigotsu said. "When the Bloodspeakers prepared to sacrifice the boy, he spat in their faces and laughed. He knew that his father had already escaped and he wished the cultists to know how they had failed. The plan had been ruined, so the Bloodspeakers saw no purpose in slaughtering their prisoners. Rather, they saw their worth as hostages as they fled for Unicorn lands. By the time they arrived, it was clear that the Empress' wife was with child. The idea of raising an Imperial heir to be a Bloodspeaker was quite appealing, so they allowed the Empress to live for a time. I was the resulting child."

"You are a true Hantei?" Mishime asked, brow furrowing quizzically. "That cannot be so. If you were alive during the Clan War, then Fu Leng could never have returned, for Hantei XXXVIII would not have been the last Hantei."

"I was not in Rokugan during the Clan War," Daigotsu said. "Hantei XXXVIII was the only Hantei in existence. But that takes me away from the course of the tale somewhat."

"I apologize for interrupting," Mishime said, confused.

"Think nothing of it," Daigotsu replied. "I will explain all in due time. During my birth, the Bloodspeakers performed an experimental ritual that would bind me body and soul to an unnamed oni. Thus when I was born, I combined the strongest qualities of both demon and man. This is what makes my maho so much more potent than others, and this is what allows me to possess the bodies of the Onisu at will."

"The results cannot be disputed," Mishime said. "But it seems careless for the Bloodspeakers to experiment with something so precious as an Imperial Heir."

"There were tests. I was not the first to undergo the ritual," Daigotsu said. "The first subject, a child named Omoni, was markedly less successful. In his case the summoning failed and instead of an oni he was bound to the unquiet spirit of a bakemono. The second attempt, which they performed upon the child of Yotsu, was far more successful. He eventually grew to become Kyoden, who was like a brother to me."

"I heard he was slain during the invasion of Otosan Uchi," Mishime said. "You have my sympathy, Dark Lord. I have lost much of my family as well."

"I thank you, Mishime-san, but do not give up on Kyoden yet," Daigotsu answered, his tone suddenly cold and distant. "But back to the tale at hand. I was the third subject, and without egotism I can say that I was the most powerful of the three. The Bloodspeakers were well satisfied, but they knew they could not hide a child of Hantei for long. They performed another ritual not seen since the time of Iuchiban. Omoni, Kyoden, and myself were all physically exiled into Jigoku. Though not even an instant passed by our reckoning it was nearly two decades later when that same cult of Bloodspeakers, now led by Iuchi Shahai, summoned us to Rokugan again."

"Strange," Mishime said. "I have heard rumors that Toturi's illegitimate son Kaneka was similarly transported to Tengoku for a time. It seems like an extraordinary coincidence that something so similar would happen to you."

"You may call it coincidence, but I feel that it is destiny," Daigotsu said. "I am kharmically tied to all of the Four Winds, each in a different manner. Like Sezaru, I was born with the gift of powerful magic. Like Kaneka, I was taken beyond the mortal realm as an infant. Like Naseru, my teachers were my true father's enemies. Like Tsudao, who is Lady Sun reborn, I am guided by divinity. Fu Leng came to me while I was in Jigoku and planted dreams within my mind, dreams that I would not understand until I came of age."

"He planned his own rescue, then?" Mishime asked.

"Not entirely," Daigotsu said. "I think Fu Leng was as surprised as any to find that I had released him from Meido. His original intent was only for me to become a great leader, to keep the Shadowlands safe and stable until the next Day of Thunder. That was not sufficient in my mind. Would the Shadowlands be taken seriously if we only rose to power once every thousand years? I think not. It is time for the cycle to be broken. It is time to show the Empire that we will not be bound by their rules they will be bound by ours. There is nothing Rokugan has accomplished that we cannot undo, not even the death of Fu Leng. There is nothing they have that we cannot corrupt, not even Heaven itself. There is no weapon they have that cannot be turned against them even the purity of the Naga's slumber we have turned to our advantage by moving our demon armies through their nightmares. We are not less than the Empire. We are not the equals of the Empire. We are greater than the Empire."

"Inspiring words," Mishime said.

"Then mark them well, Mishime, for you will be my herald. You shall carry news of Fu Leng's return to the City of the Lost and beyond. You will find others like yourself and send them forth to gather the Lost to worship our Dark Kami. With Fu Leng as our master, we will rule the Celestial Heavens and the Festering Pit of Jigoku. Let Rokugan be crushed in between."

"I would be honored, Dark Lord," Mishime said eagerly.

"But that can come later," Daigotsu said, stifling a yawn with one fist. "Now, it is time to sleep. Even the Lord of the Shadowlands requires rest. . . "

Volturnum had not changed since the last time Daigotsu had been here. He suspected it had not changed since the Battle of Oblivion's Gate, and likely would not change again until an event just as climactic. He stepped through the entrance to the massive arena in the center of the city, Mishime walking a few steps behind. The shattered semicircle of Oblivion's Gate awaited them. Seated next to it was Tonbo Toryu, the Oracle who had greeted Daigotsu and his companions on their first visit. The Oracle's golden robes were streaked with black. His face was pale and gaunt, his fine white hair matted and gray.

"Dark Lord," the Oracle said without looking up.

"Oracle of Thunder," Daigotsu said.

"No," the Oracle replied. "No longer."

"Is that so?" Daigotsu asked, raising one eyebrow.

Toryu smiled grimly. "Your actions have caused disharmony in all that exists, as you knew they would. Your murder of Toturi drove Kaede to take the throne, and in doing so an Oracle interfered with the affairs of mortals. Void, which had before been always neutral, now stood against the darkness. It was a cosmic instability that could not be allowed to endure."

"I take no credit or blame for the foolishness of others, though it pleases me to hear it," Daigotsu said. "I will take no responsibility for another's actions, even if they serve my purposes."

"I chose to correct the instability," Toryu said. "I willingly became the Dark Oracle of the Void."

"You have my congratulations," Daigotsu said with a derisive smile. "Welcome to the Lost, Tonbo Toryu."

"Save your mockery," Toryu said. "I do not revel in my Taint."

"You will," Daigotsu said. "They all do, in time."

"What do you want from me?" the Oracle demanded. "I have already given you my guidance."

"No," Daigotsu said. "All mortals are entitled to ask one question of each of the Oracles. When I visited you nine years ago I asked you no question. I have come here today to ask it of you now."

"Fine, then," the Oracle said. "Ask me your question, Dark Lord."

Daigotsu nodded. "It is my purpose, my honor, and my pleasure to now lead the armies of the Lost against the Empire. However, I fear that should I be defeated the Horde will splinter, as it did before when Fu Leng was slain. My question is this. I wish to know who will kill me and how."

The Dark Oracle's eyes widened. "Are you certain, Dark Lord?" he asked. "It is rare that I allow any mortal to rescind their question, but that is an answer few truly wish to hear. I would not wish to burden any soul with that knowledge, even one as cold and remorseless as yours."

"It is necessary, Oracle," Daigotsu said. "Now tell me."

The Dark Oracle of the Void nodded slowly, and gave Daigotsu his answer.

To Be Continued. . .

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Togashi will return!