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Blood Dawn, Part XI:
The Tale of the Khadi and the Emperor's Brother
By Rich Wulf

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"Meat does not seem surprised that Adisabah was once the jailer's ally," the rakshasa said with an amused grin. "It was only with my aid that Jama passed the khadi's tests and became what he is became the jailer, became Iuchiban. This does not surprise you?"

"Should I be surprised?" Katamari replied, arms folded across his chest.

"Adisabah supposes not," the rakshasa replied. "Does meat not find it so odd that Adisabah now offers to help?"

"I do not fully trust you, creature," he replied. "You may not have noble intentions, but so far you have shown me no reason not to trust you. Without your aid I would be dead. You claim to have once been a wicked creature, but you have treated me only with honor and respect."

"Wicked?" the rakshasa replied with a chuckle. "If meat could see into Adisabah's soul, or what passes for it& If meat could see the things that it and its siblings have done& A rakshasa is not a creature that dies easily, or changes easily. A rakshasa is beholden to no one. Such a creature finds eternity a heavy, tedious burden and inevitably turns its energies toward destructive mischief on a grand scale. Your mortal world is a game to Adisabah's kind. Rakshasa have built empires only to destroy them on a whim, inspire hope merely for the satisfaction of watching it die. This is the creature with whom you have allied yourself, Doomseeker. In its homelands the Kshatriya, holy warriors much like your samurai, would destroy a rakshasa on sight. Adisabah is a demon."

"In Rokugan, even demons are not beyond redemption," Katamari replied.

"Redemption?" Adisabah said, quickly plucking the pipe from his mouth. "You think that is what it seeks? Forgiveness for its faults and transgressions? And who would forgive Adisabah? Who stands so high? Who has that right? Rakshasa are above forgiveness, Doomseeker. Our power is absolute."

"Then how did Iuchiban capture you?" Katamari replied.

The creature silently drummed its fingers upon the floor of the cave, steel talons leaving light gouges in the stone. "Humility," it said in a low voice. "A valuable lesson, Doomseeker."

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Three figures marched single file through the dying sandstorm. Each was garbed in thick black robes to ward away the stinging dust and bitter chill of night, anonymous and silent. Endless dunes stretched in all directions, swallowing any signs that life had ever touched the desert. As they crested a dune, the lead figure extended a hand and stopped. The others paused, watching silently. For several minutes nothing moved, nothing changed. A slow howl built behind them as the storm gathered its strength. The solitary figure looked back at the leader of the other three with patient expectation.

"This is useless my lord," spat one of the others, glancing back the way they had come. "I sense nothing here. You should not have trusted this outlander creature. He has led us to our doom."

"Patience," the leader answered in a calm voice. "In this place we are the outlanders. The elemental spirits are strangers here. Our power is greatly reduced."

"Power?" cackled a mocking voice. "What do you Rokugani know of power? All the power you possess is stolen, cajoled from pathetic kami too mindless to seek their own destiny and pathetic kansen eager to lap at the leavings of a corrupt soul. You know nothing of power!"

A cacophonous sound of thunder echoed and the sandstorm parted in their path. A figure twice the size of a man with coal black skin and a mouth lined with razor sharp teeth stepped into being before them, standing inches above the ground. He wore only a black vest and loose silken pants, bound by a belt that also held the scabbard for an enormous bronze sword. The creature folded its thick arms across its chest and regarded them with menace.

"Your master knows of our approach, Jinn of the Dark Hour," the leader said confidently in the Mekhem tongue. "Let us pass."

"Four strangers approach the stronghold of the heartless," the jinn said with a sneer, speaking in perfect Rokugani. "The forgotten brother of a distant Emperor, his guardian, his shugenja henchman, and a strange creature born in these lands. I look upon you four and I think that my master has made these mistakes before."

The leader pulled back his hood and pulled his veil aside. Long white hair spilled over his shoulders. He regarded the jinn with a steady, implacable gaze. "Your master has business with us," he repeated in Mekhem. "Stand aside, Jinn of the Dark Hour. I will not tell you a third time."

The jinn sniffed and rolled its eyes, but moved to one side. Behind it, a passage through the storm still hung open like a curtain. Behind it, a scarlet tower rose from the sands, invisible save through the jinn's portal. "Very well, Dark Lord," the jinn said, "but know that our eyes are upon you."

Daigotsu bowed deeply to the jinn, then turned to his guide. "Th'lazz, my gratitude for leading us here," he said.

The ghul nodded rapidly. "I have business in Medinaat-al-Salaam," it answered, pressing a hand to its chest as it bowed to the Dark Lord, "but when you are ready to return to Rokugan, I will be with you." It stepped back into the swirling sands and vanished.

"Noekam," Daigotsu continued, turning to the hooded figure that had not yet spoken. "Katsu and I will continue from here alone. Return to our troops and await my return in the camp."

"There may be danger, my lord," Noekam replied in a dry, corpselike voice. His gaze shifted momentarily to Katsu.

Daigotsu seemed to ignore the implication. "Go, Noekam," he said. "If I have not returned in three days, return to Rokugan."

"Yes, my lord," Noekam said obediently.

Daigotsu and Katsu stepped through the jinn's portal toward the Crimson Stronghold of the Khadi. The sands wove together behind them, leaving Noekam alone in the desert.

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Though the interior of the Crimson Stronghold was much warmer than the frigid desert, Katsu shivered as the iron doors closed behind them. Not for the first time, he regretted having accompanied his master on this mission. His service to Daigotsu was troubling even at the best of times. Katsu was unlike most that joined the ranks of the Lost. Though the Shadowlands Taint suffused his being, his will remained his own. Every perverse act that his dark masters commanded weighed heavily upon his soul, but as the son of a Dark Oracle he could not disobey. Over time, he had learned to rebel in small ways, to help those who were not yet fully lost to the Taint to find freedom.

He had rejoiced when Fu Leng was banished from the heavens years ago, taking it as the fist sign of hope that Daigotsu's rule might truly be at an end. But when Daigotsu returned from his grave, Katsu's hopes were crushed. When Iuchiban rose to knock the Daigotsu from his throne his hopes fell even further. Where Daigotsu was a merciless tyrant obsessed with order, Iuchiban was a bloodthirsty, murderous maniac. Using the same underground routes he utilized to sneak refugees from the City of the Lost, Katsu made his escape and joined Daigotsu in his exile.

If he must be bound to serve evil, let it be the lesser of two evils.

Though he was uncertain why Daigotsu had brought him on this expedition, far beyond the borders of Rokugan. The journey had been long and difficult. It was no secret that Daigotsu valued him only as a powerful pawn; Katsu's magic had served little purpose, growing steadily weaker the further they traveled from home. He could easily have left him behind to bolster Kokujin or Kyofu's efforts in Rokugan.

"Always sad to see a journey come to an end, don't you agree Katsu?" Daigotsu said with a sigh.

"All in all this has been more pleasant than many of our voyages," Katsu answered.

"Oh?" Daigotsu asked. "I thought you enjoyed our visit to Otosan Uchi."

Katsu said nothing, forcing aside the visions of fire and murder that echoed from that day in the former Imperial Capital. Instead, he concentrated on his surroundings. He, the Dark Lord, and the jinn stood in a dark circular chamber built of dark gray stone. The floor and walls were covered with arcane symbols beyond even his considerable knowledge.

"So where is your master, jinn-san?" Katsu asked, turning to face the Jinn just as the creature's heavy fist collided with his jaw. Katsu flew into the air, his world exploding into painful light striking the wall to collapse unceremoniously on the floor. Katsu's senses reeled. He called upon the elemental spirits to protect him, but their voices were distant and weak in this place. His vision swam, but he saw the Jinn of the Dark Hour draw his blade and turn to face Daigotsu. The Dark Lord calmly turned to face the large creature, letting his heavy cloak drop to the earth. He drew a mask from his belt, white porcelain painted with red to form the image of a demon, and placed it upon his face.

"So you are what they call a Dark Lord in your lands?" the jinn said, walking slowly toward Daigotsu. He held his weapon loosely in one hand, its blade five times the size and weight of a katana. "What a sad, pathetic land your Rokugan must be. I have smelled more magical potential in particularly gifted mules."

"I apologize for wasting your time, Jinn-san," Daigotsu said, drawing a katana and weighing its balance carefully in both hands. "Admit me to your master's presence and you can swiftly return to sniffing the livestock."

A low rumble resounded deep within the Jinn of the Dark Hour's chest. Katsu could sense a sudden surge in the elements as the guardian grew angry; he wondered if these jinn were what passed for kami in these lands. The jinn's bronze sword sliced through the air, making a dull roar as it moved through a relatively lazy swipe. Daigotsu ducked to one side, darted forward, and slashed at the jinn's side. The jinn grunted at the thin trail of blue blood left behind and spun quickly, catching Daigotsu in the back with the hilt of his weapon. The Dark Lord tumbled forward, katana flying from his hands with a clatter. He rolled aside just as the heavy bronze blade struck the floor, taking a swift kick from the jinn's heavy foot. Katsu made a desperate lunge for the blade that now lay on the floor several feet away, attempting to seize it and throw it to his master. The Jinn of the Dark Hour moved more rapidly, snatching Daigotsu's blade from where it had fallen. The jinn looked down at his fallen opponents with a smug grin.

"I have heard it said that you samurai believe you carry your souls in these blades," it said. "What happens if I shatter your sword, then Dark Lord?"

"That is not my sword, jinn," Daigotsu said.

The jinn looked at the katana. Its eyes widened as it had made a horrible mistake, then it vanished in a cloud of swirling purple smoke. Daigotsu rose to his feet and moved over to where Katsu lay, offering a hand to hoist his servant to his feet.

"My lord, this is too dangerous," Katsu said as he rose. "These gaijin are untrustworthy. Already they have attacked us."

"Nonsense," Daigotsu replied, removing his mask as he began walking down a side hallway. "If the khadi wished us dead, we'd have faced more than one minor jinn. That was a test of our power, cunning, and resolve. Master Ghiyath expects us. I have been in communication with him for several years now."

"Communicating through dreams?" Katsu asked, following his master with a final furtive glance behind. "Kansen messengers?"

Daigotsu looked at Katsu curiously. "Carrier pigeons," he replied. "I hope you are not disappointed. Not everything need be the product of magic."

"Well said," answered a deep voice, speaking in accented Rokugani. The khadi had not entered the hallway through any apparent doorways, nor had any burst of magic or ripple in the elements marked his arrival. One moment he was simply there, a dark-garbed figure standing before them. His thick veil only revealed dark eyes, narrowing in curiosity as he studied his visitors. "You understand an essential truth, Dark Lord, one that we have learned in the difficult years since our Caliph's demise. Magic has its place, but one's efforts need neither be mystical nor fantastic so long as they are effective. That is why I have approved of our alliance. The elder members of my sect and I have agreed to your request."

"Excellent," Daigotsu replied. He drew the katana from his obi, still in its saya, offering it to the khadi. "A gift, Master Ghiyath."

The khadi studied the katana as he accepted it carefully. "Exquisite," he replied. "Though the hand guard&"

"Tsuba," Daigotsu corrected.

"Yes, the tsuba seems excessively ornate for a Rokugani blade," Ghiyath said, tracing one finger over the tiny piece of metalwork hanging from the handle. "I did not believe bronze lanterns were a typical feature of Rokugani tsuba. Presumably, the Jinn of the Dark Hour was even more surprised."

"As you said, magic has its place," Daigotsu replied. "The Scorpion learned many things during their imprisonment under the Caliph, and some of their children serve me now."

"Remarkable," Ghiyath replied, tucking the sword under one arm. "I shall release the Jinn of the Dark Hour once you are on your way home. That should give him time to meditate upon his own foolishness. In the meantime, let us discuss your problems."

Daigotsu nodded. "I am certain by now you must know what has happened," he said, "and recognize that these developments threaten more than just my rule."

Ghiyath nodded. "It is troubling to hear that Iuchiban has returned, but it is not a matter that we can address. Our order has not fully recovered from the loss of our Caliph, who united us for centuries. We are split into many factions now, each seeking to betray and dominate the others. Turning my attention to Rokugan would only leave my sect vulnerable. Iuchiban has been defeated twice before, they will say. Why should we meddle? It will take him years to conquer your Rokugan, and by that time we will be ready to destroy him and seize your Empire for ourselves."

"What worth is there in inheriting a graveyard?" Katsu said tersely.

Ghiyath looked at Katsu, eyes wrinkling in annoyance. He looked back at Daigotsu. "Rokugan is surely a wonderful Empire, where servants can wag their tongues so freely while their betters speak."

"Katsu," Daigotsu said sternly. "Ghiyath speaks frankly only so that we realize that not all members of his organization feel as he does. We cannot expect the khadi to fight our battle against Iuchiban, but they are willing to aid us. We need to understand the power that Iuchiban draws upon."

Ghiyath gave Daigotsu an appraising look. "I fear you will not be able to understand it in the manner you might desire, Daigotsu," he said. "To become a Heartless, your soul must first be drawn to and bound within the heart. Your soul is no longer your own, Dark Lord. At a glance I can tell it is far beyond your grasp. The loss has affected you& greatly&"

"Irrelevant," Daigotsu said with a dismissive wave. "I did not come here to become a khadi. I came merely to witness the process."

"I understand perfectly," Ghiyath said, eyes twinkling with sudden amusement. Katsu felt an uneasy feeling as the khadi master turned to look at him again.

Then pain lanced through is body, followed by merciful unconsciousness.

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"Katsu," Daigotsu whispered. "Are you awake?"

Katsu sat forward with a gasp. He found himself lying shirtless on a stone altar. To one side stood Ghiyath, holding a crooked dagger in one hand. Daigotsu stood beside the khadi, arms folded in the sleeves of his kimono. Katsu's hand flew to his chest, but found the flesh there smooth and unmarred.

Ghiyath said something in Mekhem, indecipherable to Katsu's ears. Daigotsu nodded as the khadi master bowed and left the chamber. The Dark Lord remained where he was, watching Katsu silently.

"Daigotsu, you must not do this," Katsu said in a hushed voice. "We do not understand this gaijin magic. It could be dangerous."

"It is indisputably dangerous," Daigotsu replied. "This is why we must understand it. How do you feel, Katsu?"

"Well enough, considering that lunatic was preparing to scoop out my chest," Katsu retorted.

Daigotsu frowned. "Katsu," he said with a sigh. "What has become of you? Once you understood the meaning of honor. You served me without question, because I was your lord, and such was your duty. On the Kaiu Wall, in Otosan Uchi, in battles across the Empire you fulfilled my every command no matter how much you privately detested me. I thought you were the shining example of what it meant to serve Fu Leng to do what was required, no matter the cost, regardless of human failures such as compassion, regret, or remorse. But then I realize that it was not for my sake that you obeyed. Your mother was a Dark Oracle, and so long as she was my ally your duty was bound to my will. Now that your mother has returned to Jigoku, your bond to me grows weaker. You are no samurai, you are merely a powerful, occasionally willful slave."

"That is not true, Daigotsu-sama," Katsu said desperately. "I escaped the City of the Lost to help you fight Iuchiban."

"Perhaps," Daigotsu replied. "Then again, perhaps I was merely the option you found less offensive. After all, given your level of corruption it is unlikely the Crab would stoop to aiding you. They put mad dogs like you to death, as I recall."

"I am your servant, Dark Lord," Katsu continued. "You need my help."

Daigotsu studied Katsu impassively. "I will admit this much, Katsu-san. You have proven something I have long believed, Katsu-san. You are a hero."

"Sama?" Katsu replied, confused.

"The Rokugani believe that the measure of a hero is his honor," Daigotsu answered, "or perhaps his purity. A hero's greatest strength is his virtue. I disagree. Neither virtue nor lack thereof make one great. Many virtuous men live lives not worth noting, and many more perish uncelebrated without any shred of honor. It is the soul that can unify honor and aggression who can embrace a cause yet who has the will to make the necessary sacrifices to see that cause become a reality this is what makes men great. This is why we terrify Rokugan so, Katsu. Because we are great men, and we are unafraid to stand against them."

The words disturbed Katsu, though he could not say why. "Perhaps so, Dark Lord, but some sacrifices are too great. We cannot risk using a magic we do not understand."

"I cannot risk it, no," Daigotsu agreed. "However, there is much I must learn. Yet there is much I already understand. For instance did you know that the khadi ritual of heart removal leaves no scar?" Daigotsu withdrew his hands from his robes. In one hand, he held a small iron box, bound tight with thin silver chains.

Even from the altar, Katsu could sense the pulse of life within it. He could feel the web of magic that stretched from the box to his chest, deep into the core of his being. He felt power well through him, coursing through those threads. Yet those threads were chains as well, binding his will to the one who held the box.

"You were right Katsu," Daigotsu said. "You are indeed my servant, and so long as I hold your heart you will be a loyal one."

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"I apologize for interrupting," Katamari said cautiously. "Please, continue your story."

The rakshasa nodded. "Jama and his allies insinuated themselves into the khadi's headquarters, deep in the lands of the Senpet. The khadi master did not fear initiating Jama, for she knew the weaknesses of her art. Those who hold a khadi's heart have power not only over death, but over life as well. A Heartless becomes a slave to whosoever holds his heart, if the holder's will is strong enough."

"So how did Iuchiban escape their control?"

"In those times, a khadi's initiation ceremony was a private ritual, only attended by an initiate, a witness, and the khadi conducting the ritual," Adisabah answered. "It was a simple matter for Adisabah to take the place of the witness during Jama's ceremony and subdue Chephren, the khadi performing the ritual, while Iuchiban stole back his heart. The khadi knew little of rakshasa in those days, so they were unprepared."

"But why did you help him?" Katamari asked.

"The risk was great, and it seemed a bold and audacious plan," Adisabah answered. "As it told you before, Adisabah was quite bored. The risk provided much needed amusement. When all was complete, Adisabah did not expect to see Jama again."

"So how did you come to be in his tomb?" Katamari asked.

"Adisabah faced Iuchiban shortly after his first escape from the Kaiu tomb, when few knew he walked the mortal realm again," the creature replied. "Its intent was to kill him, for it had been told where his heart was hidden. Sadly, it underestimated his power, and in a cruel fit of spite the jailer bound Adisabah in what once had been his own prison. Because destiny loves irony, the jailer was later returned there as well. For centuries Adisabah stood as silent witness to the jailer's power and madness. Adisabah could not destroy the jailer, but perhaps he who can kill what cannot die the Doomseeker - can."

"But why did you come to Rokugan in the first place, Adisabah?" Katamari asked. "Why did you try to kill Iuchiban?"

"As it told meat before, Adisabah is a demon," the rakshasa said. "Adisabah was summoned, and bound to put right the mistakes that it had made."

"Summoned and bound by who?" Katamari asked.

The rakshasa smiled. Its catlike eyes narrowed, shifting suddenly to the wide mouth of the cave. "The Rain of Blood has passed, Doomseeker," it said. "Conclusion: the time for tales is over. Now we return to Rokugan."

The End

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Togashi will return!