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Fight For Tomorrow, Part X

Toturi Tsudao led the charge. Around her, the legions of clay soldiers marched, trudging across the endless expanse of the Shadowlands. The routes Kaneka's scouts reported had been true, and occasionally she even caught a glimpse of shining eyes or a long, rodent's tail from the shadows. The Crab had sent their allies, the Nezumi, to watch over them. Though it was unlikely they could rely upon the Ratlings when the battle grew fierce - as she understood it the creatures had a tendency to look to their own safety first - she was grateful for any allies they could call upon.

The Sword looked up at the greasy gray sky, an uncomfortable frown upon her face. Though the bleak, blasted lands were filled with an unsettling half-light, there was no sign of the sun. How horrible it would be, she thought, to die in a place like this.

She could almost hear her father's voice chiding her. "If that is what you fear, Tsudao-chan, then don't die." A small smile crossed her lips, and she rode on.

The other Winds rode beside her, each lost in their own thoughts. She wondered what would become of them in the battle ahead. The last time she had faced Daigotsu, she could easily have died. Perhaps this time she or one of her brothers would not return. All was uncertainty, as they still did not yet know the extent of the threat they faced.

Tsudao drew her horse to a halt and regarded the road ahead with a curious expression. A tall Ratling, taller than any she had ever seen, stood in the path before them. He leaned upon a heavy staff decorated with bones and feathers. Many amulets of shiny metal and stone dangled from his fur, and he looked at them with sharp, bright eyes.

"Omen-sama said you would be coming," the Ratling said, his Rokugani extraordinarily clear and precise. "Four Winds now flow together, forever chasing Tomorrow."

"We are ready to fight, if that is what you mean," Tsudao said, urging her steed forward.

"Good," Te'tik'kir said, rubbing one paw over his long whiskers. "Good-good-good. Cause ready to fight or not, Four Winds, fight be coming to you. See?"

Tsudao crested the ridge where the Ratling had appeared and looked down into the valley bellow. A small gasp escpaed her lips when she saw the vast city laid out before them, the impossibly tall city at its center, the thousands upon thousands of ebony-armored samurai that awaited them.

"Yes," Tsudao whispered, one hand clutching the sun amulet that hung about her throat. "It is time to fight."

* * * * *

Naseru shrugged uncomfortably in his armor. He had not worn such accoutrements since his bushi training under his father, and to be sure he had not missed them. The plates hung in the most awkward manner and chafed in the most uncomfortable places. Even so, he realized quite clearly, the pain would be much greater if he were to forego wearing the suit at all.

When he reached Tsudao's side and saw the city below, his expression did not change. The city looked much as it had when Daigotsu's nameless emissary had approached him with his bargain of an alliance. Only the lines of combat-ready troops that now surrounded the city were different, and they were not surprising in the least.

"We are greatly outnumbered," Tsudao said, looking at her brother gravely.

"I think not," Naseru replied. "Four to one, the odds are in our favor."

"I think you have miscounted, Naseru," Kaneka said, moving his horse beside the Anvil's. The Shogun wore a grim scowl as he tallied the opposing forces in his head.

"Oh?" Naseru replied. "Did mother send us to defeat all of these soldiers as well? I had thought we were only intended to defeat the Dark Lord. All we need do, I think, is make certain that this army is sufficiently distracted by the troops the Jade Champion has given us. Then, between yourself and my sister, I'm certain you might find some weakness in their defenses that we might exploit to rush past them and invade the temple. We need not defeat this army, only its master."

"When they realize what we have done, there may be no escape for us," Kaneka replied.

"Escape was only an option, never a certainty," Naseru replied. "We must destroy our enemy. That is the only goal that matters."

"Mercilessly efficient as always, Naseru," Sezaru said with a nod of respect. The shugenja lifted his porcelain mask from his belt, carefully placing it over his face and drawing the laces together as he prepared for battle. "Though I confess I never took you for the self-sacrificing type. Impressive."

"Well let us hope that we are fortunate then, brother," Naseru said with a chuckle. "I would still prefer to survive."

* * * * *

The clay soldiers attacked from the north, drawing the brunt of the Lost army's wrath. The Four Winds charged the city from the south, but it was not long before Daigotsu's reserves realized their gambit. Sezaru shouted a defiant cry and held one fist to the sky as he galloped into their ranks. Bolts of pure white lightning echoed from the heavens, tearing through the Tainted clouds to devour ranks of corrupted samurai. A savage thrill surged through Sezaru as he saw his enemies fall. He clutched his fist and held it toward another platoon of Tainted cavalry. A surge of wind, powerful as a hurricane, swept the samurai from their steeds, crushing them on the rocks.

[[Yes. Return to them the pain that they showed your father!]]

Sezaru clapped his hands together and a wave of inky void rolled forward across Daigotsu's legions. Soldiers screamed and scattered as the absolute power returned all it touched to nothing. Lost samurai vanished in their tracks, never to be seen again. A grotesque, jagged scar was torn across the earth as the energy crackled away.

[[Show no mercy. There can be no mercy for ones such as these.]]

A Lost samurai swung his no-dachi at Sezaru's steed, cutting the horse's legs from beneath it. Sezaru rose into the air, oblivious to the loss of his horse, and grasped the samurai's mempo with one bare hand. The samurai screamed as his helmet suddenly glowed red hot. He fell to his knees screaming with the smell of burning flesh.

[[Make them all suffer. Show them the power of the true Emperor.]]

Sezaru cut the air with a swift gesture, his concentration focused upon a platoon of mounted soldiers. He clenched his fist and felt the strings of their souls tighten in his hand. With a swift yank, he turned the soldiers upon their brethren, fighting their former companions and screaming defiantly in the name of the Wolf.

[[This is the power of vengeance.]]

"No," Sezaru said fiercely, and for once he felt a tremor of fear from the voice in his head. "This is the power of justice."

* * * * *

Akodo Kaneka remained as close to Sezaru as he dared. The shugenja smote a path of destruction all about him, and Kaneka was not entirely certain that the Wolf could still determine friend from foe. Nonetheless, he was certainly the most powerful among them, and their chances of reaching the Temple of the Ninth Kami were greatest the closer they remained to him.

Across the battlefield, Kaneka saw a withered man in dark green robes begin chanting and gesturing toward Sezaru. Without a second thought, Kaneka drew his bow and fired, leaving two arrows in the man's throat before he could complete whatever spell he had been casting. Sezaru glanced back in surprise as the arrows whistled past. His eyes fixed on Kaneka's and he nodded in acknowledgment.

"Thank you, brother," Sezaru said, and threw himself back into the battle.

Kaneka blinked. Though he did not let the words fray his focus, he could not help his surprise. This was the first time, perhaps, that one of Toturi's other children had truly acknowledged him as one of their own. Not as the bastard son of their father. Not as a competitor seeking the throne. A brother. A welcome ally. After spending most of his life struggling to be free of his father's shadow, Kaneka was surprised to find that the feeling of family was not entirely unwelcome.

But there would be time enough for such sentimental nonsense later.

"For my father and the Empire!" the Shogun roared, drawing his sword and holding it high.

* * * * *

"The Four Winds are coming, Dark Lord," Omoni said, peering down from the window of the temple. "Though Noekam's forces have destroyed most of their clay soldiers."

"Tadaka's Children are irrelevant," Daigotsu replied. He held the golden sword of the Hantei in one hand, his eyes following the black flames that covered its length. "The Four Winds would have reached this place regardless. Such is the power of destiny."

"So you will fight them," Omoni asked. "You will fight them here?"

"Of course," Daigotsu replied.

"Are you certain that is a good idea, Dark Lord?" the little man asked. "Sezaru alone is very powerful, and Tsudao has defeated you once before."

"Tsudao injured me once before," Daigotsu corrected firmly. "There was no defeat. Go now, Omoni. See to your bakemono. I will deal with the Four Winds"

Omoni looked at his master, his eyes wide like a confused animal's. "But is it wise to fight them alone?" he asked.

Daigotsu looked up at the statue of Fu Leng behind him, then looked back at Omoni with a small smile. The goblin master was overwhelmed by the sudden awesome aura of power that emanated from the statue. Unconsciously, he fell to his knees and pressed his forehead to the floor.

"As you see, Omoni, I will hardly be alone," Daigotsu replied.

To Be Concluded




Kaze no Shiro Return


Togashi will return!