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A Hero's Legacy
By Rich Wulf

Yoritomo Komori moved at an unhurried pace through the shadowed halls. Ancient lines of worry creased his face as he concentrated on the path ahead. Few men were ever invited to enter these regions of the palace; most would have considered it an honor. Komori had lived too long, seen too much to be deluded by such arrogance. Whatever lay ahead would bring only trouble. In times such as these, the last thing a man needed was more trouble.

Komori paused at the doors. A pair of menacing guards in golden armor looked at him with unmasked suspicion, neither stepping aside. Komori opened his arms to his sides and turned around slowly, allowing them to see that he carried no weapons. One nodded at the satchel of scrolls that hung from his shoulder and frowned.

"I was told I would be required to practice magic," Komori said in even, unthreatening tones. "I cannot practice my magic without my scrolls. Do not fear, everything in this bag has been examined and verified to be without harm by the Hidden Guard." Komori held out the bag so they could see the thick black ribbon and the wax seal that held the bag closed, marked with the symbol of the Seppun family.

The guards stood aside, sliding the doors open so that Komori could enter. The room was small, undecorated. A small, well used writing table stood in the center of the room. A samisen lay propped in the far corner. Large windows opened one entire wall to the night air, displaying a breathtaking view of the city skyline. Toshi Ranbo wo Shien Shite Reigisaho Violence Behind Courtliness City. Komori could not imagine a truer name for the Imperial City, especially of late. The courts had become splintered into brutally bickering factions, each with a strong opinion about how the Empire should deal with the conflicts in Kaeru Toshi, with the Bloodspeaker attacks, with the growing tensions between his own clan and the Phoenix, or with a thousand other minor squabbles that were all major to someone.

Beside the window stood the man who was at the heart of it all, the man whose duty it was to tie together that which eternally strove to tear itself apart. Komori could not help but notice how young he looked, how uncertain. Yet when he turned to face Komori, the sudden glimpse of youth and uncertainty were gone, replaced by the firm resolve that had earned the Anvil his nickname.

Yoritomo Komori bowed deeply before the Emperor of Rokugan, as deeply as his aging bones would allow.

"Rise, Komori-san," the Emperor said in a tired voice. "I am pleased that you answered my messenger so swiftly."

"When the Emperor calls, there is no option but haste," Komori replied. Though he had visited Toshi Ranbo in the past and met the Emperor before, this was the first time he had spoken to the man on a personal level. Komori had seen and done much in his life; few things seemed to impress him in his old age. Yet even though the Emperor was several inches shorter and seemed distracted by the view outside the window, Komori could not help but feel vaguely intimidated. "How may I serve you, Your Majesty?"

"I have heard many tales about you, Komori-san," the Emperor said, arms folded behind his back as he studied his city. "Many rumors, many legends. Yet even an Emperor can have difficulty separating fact from fiction. I wonder how much of what I have heard about you is true?"

"If you tell me what you have heard, Your Majesty," Komori replied, "I shall speak the plain truth of it."

The Emperor turned to look at Komori for a moment, leveling a piercing eye upon him. Komori's eyes were already averted; he knew better than to disrespect an Emperor by meeting his gaze.

"I have heard that you take your name from an ancient folktale," he said. "There is a race of bat-spirits with a similar name, the koumori. They dwell deep in the forests and jungles and are benevolent guardians, chasing away gaki and other evil spirits. Kaimetsu-Uo is said to have made a bargain with them, striking down a deadly evil that hunted them on the Islands of Spice and Silk. In turn, the koumori taught Kaimetsu-Uo and his followers how to make a life on the islands, and the destiny of the Mantis Clan was truly born."

"The tale is true," Komori said. "The koumori still protect the Mantis, though they hide themselves from sight."

"You have seen these creatures?" the Emperor asked.

"My father was one of them," Komori replied.

The Emperor studied Komori again, seeking any trace of humor or guile in his words. He found none. "I expected to hear that your family bore some trace of spirit blood," he replied, "but I confess I did not know you were half-spirit yourself."

"None living know except my father, and he has returned to Chikushudo," Komori replied, "but I promised you the truth."

"I do not blame you for concealing it," the Emperor replied. "Some things are beyond the common folk's understanding. Few could understand that the koumori could be so alien and yet benevolent. Most who bear the blood of spirits can find little sympathy from their fellow man, especially since Oblivion's Gate fell."

The Emperor fell silent for a long moment. The Emperor's father had passed through Oblivion's Gate, a returned ancestor from the golden fields of Yomi. The Emperor himself was half-spirit. Komori wondered at the connection. Surely the Righteous Emperor would not have summoned him all this way because he was merely lonely. The old shugenja kept his mouth shut and waited patiently; either the Emperor would reveal his intentions or he would not. It was not for him to judge.

"Oblivion's Gate," the Emperor said in a hollow voice. "A portal between the lands of the living and the dead. It is closed now, but the wounds it wreaked upon the Empire when it opened still remain. Had it never opened, the Steel Throne's heir would have been obvious."

"But your brother, the Shogun, would be Emperor now," Komori answered, "and both you and your siblings would never have been born."

"And would that be such a cruel fate?" the Emperor asked with a bitter smile. "My sister was sacrificed herself to defeat Daigotsu, and the Unicorn report even now that Daigotsu is not dead. My brother is a tormented spirit, plagued by the power of his own magic. Would I unmake my own birth so that the events that surrounded it had never been? Wipe away the War of Spirits and the countless thousands that died to no good purpose? My throne rests upon a mountain of the fallen. I prosper as Emperor atop a mountain of the dead. My life was never mine to begin with; why should I hesitate to give it up if such would have made the Empire a better place?"

"I mean no disrespect, Your Majesty," Komori answered, his tone slightly confused, "but I cannot help that note that, living in the temple, I often hear the younger monks become absorbed in such dark speculation. There is a piece of advice that I give them when such a thing occurs. I would offer it to you now, but please understand I mean no insult."

"What is this advice?" the Emperor demanded.

"Get back to scrubbing the floors," Komori replied, expression still carefully blank.

The Emperor blinked, staring at Komori in surprise for several long seconds. He laughed, a quiet sound, just under his breath. "Well said," he replied, "and there are many floors in dire need of cleaning in this Empire. Yet I fear that I still require counsel."

"I will offer whatever counsel I can," Komori said, bowing again.

"The koumori are, if my brother can be believed, often called ghost-herders," the Emperor continued. "When a hungry ghost becomes a danger to itself and to the living, they chase it back to where it will do no harm. When in innocent spirit becomes lost after death, the koumori guide it wherever it belongs. They are masters of the spirit paths, custodians of the dead who have lost their way. Sezaru also tells me that the ghosts are often grateful to the koumori. Sometimes they offer tokens, items of power that were important to them in life. When the bat-spirits are threatened, they can call upon the dead for advice and protection. Is this true?"

"It is," Komori answered.

"Then I have one more legend for you to confirm," the Emperor said. "During the War Against the Darkness, when you were a young man, it is said that you commanded magical powers far beyond those of other Mantis shugenja. One legend says that you summoned an army of phantom samurai to defend Kyuden Gotei from the Shadowspawn. Is this story also true?"

This time, Komori only nodded. "I suspect I know what you are going to ask me, Your Majesty," he said in a grim voice.

"Oh?" the Emperor replied.

"You wish to know if my father taught me the koumori magic," Komori answered. "You wish to know if I can restore the spirits of the dead to this realm."

"Can you?" the Emperor asked intently.

"I can," Komori replied, "but I recommend against it. Ghosts of the dead never remain long they do not belong here. Such meetings with the living invariably only cause greater pain and loss."

"But it can be done," the Emperor said.

Komori looked at the Emperor for a long moment. "Yes," he said. "The Kitsu are also adept at speaking to the spirits. They can easily&"

"I do not wish for an interpreter," Naseru said. "My questions must be asked directly. Can it be done?"

Komori nodded. "It can be done A spirit can return if it still bears a emotional connection to this realm, perhaps unfinished work that it feels is important. Yet that is not all; there must be a physical connection as well, some object that belonged to them of extraordinary sentimental value or perhaps great magical power."

"You will do this for me," the Emperor said.

The tone of his voice made it clear his words were not a request.

Toturi Naseru, also known as Toturi III, the Righteous Emperor, now sat alone in his quarters. He plucked idly at the strings of this samisen, his single eye closed as he listened to the haunting music drift through the palace halls. Naseru was a talented musician, though he seldom practiced. It was one of his great regrets; the demands placed upon him were too great to do the things that he enjoyed. Some days it seemed there truly was no Naseru, only the Emperor, only the obligations that had become his entire life.

The spell had been completed. Komori had done his work and now waited in the chambers beyond. If the magic worked, these words were not for the ears of outsiders. If the spell did not work, then his grief would be his own. If the spell did not function he would not truly be surprised. Naseru had always kept others at a distance, even among his own family. His need was great, but perhaps even that was not enough. A soul such as the one he wished to summon would be needed elsewhere, never the sort to shirk responsibility, never the sort to have difficulty finding a way to be useful.

Naseru looked at the golden dagger that lay upon the writing table beside him. He sighed quietly and returned to his music. The magic had not functioned. The spirit had not come.

"Naseru," said a soft voice behind him.

He looked up at the hazy figure that now hovered just within the window. The form was indistinct, impossible to discern, but the eyes were unmistakable.

"You've come," Naseru said, his voice thick with emotion.

"I hardly recognize you," came the reply, tinged with some amusement. "The robes of an Emperor suit you, I think."

"Not so well as I might have hoped, I fear," Naseru said. "I have many enemies."

"Did you ever believe it would be otherwise?"

"You would not have so many," he said. "You sat upon the throne, and you were beloved."

"Perhaps. Perhaps my enemies merely hid themselves more carefully. Why have you summoned me Naseru? Do you wish my counsel?"
"No," Naseru said. "I wish your forgiveness."

"My forgiveness?"

"I have many enemies, as I said," Naseru replied. "They are desperate men, who will take desperate actions. I fear that my actions must be equally desperate, and I fear that my people will not understand. I ask you for forgiveness because I cannot ask them. I cannot show weakness." Naseru fell silent, still plucking the strings of the samisen. "Yet within the robes of this Emperor still beats the heart of Toturi Naseru. I am not a monster, though I must become one. I carry a hero's legacy but to protect it I must become a villain. Can you forgive me?"

"You are no monster, Naseru, and you are no villain though I think you enjoy viewing yourself so. I have always known that though efficiency rules your mind, honor rules your heart."

Naseru smiled slightly. "Kind of you to say, but my question remains. Forgive me or cast me from your sight. Either way, I must know your judgment before I begin this war."

"I forgive you, Naseru," the spirit said. It hovered above him, extending one hand toward him. Ethereal fingertips brushed his brow and a shiver passed through his body. For one brief moment, for the first time in many long years, Toturi Naseru felt a sense of peace and well being.

Then the spirit was gone.

"Thank you," he said, brushing the tears from his face. "Thank you, Tsudao."

Yoritomo Ukyo stared at Komori in blank astonishment. She looked to Kalani, but his first mate only shrugged. He looked back at the shugenja, leveling one finger at the strange symbol upon his chest, the symbol of a bat.

"What is that, Komori-sama?" he asked.

"A just reward for services rendered," Komori replied, following Ukyo and Kalani back toward the docks and their waiting vessel.

"A family mon?" Ukyo asked. "The Emperor has rewarded you with a family for casting a few spells? Lady Kumiko will be most pleased."

"More than that," Komori replied.

Ukyo and Kalani exchanged glances. "More?" Kalani asked. "How could you have a greater reward than a family mon, old man?"

"Watch your tongue, Kalani-san," Komori said with a small grin. "You address the Bat Clan Champion."

"Incredible," Ukyo said. "A Minor Clan? Just like that? I'd thought Emperors only did such things after many decades."

"Emperors make careers of exceptions," Komori said.

"Kumiko will be delighted," Kalani said, though his tone was somber and thoughtful, rather than joyous. "A new Minor Clan ally means great prestige for our clan."

"I suppose it does," Komori answered. Though in truth he wondered. He knew well of the alliances Kumiko dabbled in of late. She hid them well, but she hid nothing from Komori. He had advised her against such alliances. He felt Toturi III was too clever, too powerful a man to be made an enemy. Yet now here Komori was, advisor to the daughter of Storms, invited to the Imperial Capital. He had witnessed the Emperor in a moment of weakness. He had been rewarded for his aid and his discretion, rewarded more highly than any samurai could dream of being rewarded.

If Naseru had the slightest inkling of Kumiko's alliances would he have exposed himself in such a way? Would he have rewarded a man who served a future enemy? Was this part of some greater game? Did Kumiko know the truth? Komori turned and cast a final look toward the Imperial Palace. He imagined he could feel the eyes of the Righteous Emperor upon him.

He doubted his imagination was incorrect.

 

 

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Togashi will return!