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Test of Enlightenment Rulebook Story

Scans by Yasuki Keisuke, transcribed by Shinjo Mikeiko, Jesse Baez and Evil Spock

The Wanderer Part 1

The Castle of the Emerald Champion was more than just a residence. It was the primary dojo for the Emerald Magistrates and often served as a training ground for the Imperial Legions as well. Currently, it was almost deserted. The Emerald Champion himself was overseeing the installation of new personnel in Ryoko Owari Toshi, as well as handling a dispute there involving several Scorpion of rather high renown. As a result, there was virtually no one to notice when the heavily robed traveler reached the estate and entered the smaller, secondary dojo.

The traveler knew this, of course, because he had sent Yasuki Hachi away himself.

"Emperor," a voice said from the shadows.

Toturi Naseru removed the heavy outer robes to reveal a nondescript kimono and simple armor that could be found in almost any province in the Empire. Everything about his appearance was completely commonplace. Except, of course, for his rather distinctive features. "Paneki", he said. "Have you done as I asked ?"

"Of course," the Scorpion Champion said, stepping forward from the shadows and bowing. "Nevertheless, my lord, I must strongly urge you to reconsider this course of action. Nothing good can come of this."

"That remains to be seen." Naseru took the package Paneki offered and removed the lid. Contained within was an ancient porcelain mask, once used to terrible effect by a dark god. "It was been purified, as we discussed ?"

"If you are asking, whether or not the mask has any connection to Jigoku, the answer is no," Bayushi Paneki said. "It is, however an extremely dangerous artifact and I beg you not to use it."

"You must have intended someone to use it," Naseru said. "Else you would never had gone to such difficulty and expense to attempt purification."

"It was never my thought that you would attempt to wear it," Paneki said darkly. "I would have destroyed it before I risked corrupting the Emperor."

"I require anonymity," Naseru said plaintively. "If you can guarantee any other means of accomplishing that, then I will consider them."

Paneki frowned and looked down. There was, of course, nothing he could say.

"There is rarely certainty in anything, my lord." A sudden overwhelming presence filled the room, as if something massive had just entered. Neither the Emperor nor Paneki appeared ill at ease, however.

"You were to tell no one of our meeting," Naseru said disapprovingly.

"I spoke to no one," Paneki answered. "Not even him, my lord."

Togashi Satsu was suddenly nearby, and stepped forward with a bow. "There are times, my lord, when matters of great import are made clear to me. This, it seems, is one of those occasions. I must agree with Paneki-san, however. Please, reconsider this."

"I have no choice," Naseru said. "The Empire is changing. Rosoku's return has forever altered the way in which the world is perceived by many. I must be able to adapt and understand, or I cannot lead. The Empire deserves an Emperor who is strong."

"Which we have already," Paneki insisted.

Naseru smiled. "My father called you the Defender of the Empire," he said to the Scorpion. "I charge you now, Paneki. Defend my empire. Protect the throne and the people of Rokugan until I return." He raised a cautionary hand. "You are instructed, however, to speak of my whereabouts to no one, for any reason. And you are not order others to help me either."

Paneki pursed his lips. "As you wish," he said quietly.

Naseru turned to Sastsu, "Do you give your word of honor that you will abide by the same instructions from your Emperor ?"

Satsu raised an eyebrow, "Is it possible to convince you of the folly of this undertaking?"

"No," Naseru said.

"Then of course I will abide by your wishes," Satsu said with another bow. "Your path cannot be chosen by another, even if sees with eyes of a Kami." He paused, regarding the mask for a moment. "If you will permit me, however, I can be of assistance in ensuring that Paneki-san's mask does not affect you adversely."

"That thing does not belong to me," Paneki said.

"How so?" Naseru said.

Togashi Satsu withdrew a small pouch from his obi.

From it, he drew several needles and a small bottle, as well as a tiny blade. "There will be some discomfort," he said apologetically "but this shall protect you during your wanderings."

"Wanderings," Naseru said with a wry smile. "How appropriate."

Whispers of War

The Dragon encampment was relatively small, positioned as it was near the northern border of Dragonfly lands. Odd to have such a small position near the front lines, but presumably the Dragon did not wish to tempt their opponents among the Crane and Lion to stage an attack by cutting through the Tonbo provinces to reach them. It seemed likely that neither clan would be eager to attract the ire of Isawa Sezaru, the Empire's most powerful shugenja and the self-proclaimed guardian of the Dragonfly lands, but one could never accurately predict the depths of foolishness inspired by war.

The Wanderer quietly made his way through the Dragon camp, seeking to draw as little attention to himself as possible. He would carefully through the many tents until he found an almost unoccupied campfire. Hesitating only a moment, he nodded and stepped from the shadows in the firelight. "Good evening," he said in a quiet voice to the woman sitting near the fire. "May I share your fire?"

The young woman did not seem startled by the Wanderer's approach, although she did turn to scrutinize him carefully. She was a lovely creature, although her hair was wild and unkempt. Her deep green eyes, however, more than made up for her disheveled soldier's appearance. "Who are you?" she asked after a moment. "How did you gain entrance to this camp?"

"Only a wanderer, seeking a bit of rest," he answered. He reached to the traveling back slung around his shoulder and rooted around for a moment before producing a scroll. "I have travle papers for the Dragon lands and the contested region."

The woman took the papers and glanced at them before handing them back. "This is signed with Lord Satsu's personal seal. Impressive."

"A favor from a grateful former employer," the Wanderer said with a smile. He gestured to the log near her. "May I sit?" At her nod, he took his seat and stretched his back, grimacing at the popping sound. "I understand you are Mirumoto Hakahime. The peasants say you are like a vengeful spirit, creeping into any destination you choose and returning home before the sunrise."

"Peasants say many things," Hakahime said with a shrug. "One told me he was the son of Bishamon. Should I believe that as well?"

"No," the Wanderer said with a chuckle, "All the same, I believe what they say about you, especially now that I have met you."

"How is that?" she asked.

The Wanderer shrugged. "You seem... certain. I find that certainty can lead to singularly impressive achievements."

"Perhaps," she said quietly.

"So how did you achieve such certainty? the Wanderer asked, watching her carefully.

The master scout said nothing for a while. "I do not know," she finally admitted. "I was once quite ambitious. I longed to serve as an officer, like Mirumoto Kei-sama. I wanted to lead, to wage war against our enemies. It was not until I was placed under Kei's command during the Lion that I saw the truth."

"A revelation?"

"Hardly." She pulled aside her armor and revealed a terrible scar on her neck. "An arrow in the throat. It very nearly killed me, as did several other wounds I received. And yet I lived, and in each case I returned to my lord with the information she needed to wage war for the Dragon." The scout shrugged. "I accepted that my place had been chosen, and that the Fortune's had spared me for a reason. My destiny is clear. Who am I to question it?"

The Wanderer nodded. "You are wise," he said softly. He rose and shouldered his bag once more.

"You are not staying?" Hakahime asked.

"Thank you, but I cannot," he said, walking into the night. "I have a long way yet to travel."

Ancient Tomes

The Lion dojo was small, but had garnered a reputation for excellence over the centuries. It was stationed near the northern Lion border, close to the narrow, empty region separating the Lion from their traditional enemies among the Dragonfly. Consequently, it had seen considerably more traffic in recent months, given the conflict between the Dragon to the north and the allied forces of the Lion and Crane. For the moment, however, the dojo was relatively deserted.

The Wanderer waited outside for nearly an hour before deciding that there was no one else in the area save the one he sought. The man waited within, and had been there without interruption for most of the day. If he hoped to speak to him without others interfering, now was the time. With a last quick glance around, the Wanderer crossed the courtyard and stepped into the dojo.

Inside, a small man sat near the front, reading from a large series of scrolls. His face was a mask of concentration and study, and it seemed that he had not noticed the Wanderer at first. For several moments, the Wanderer simply watched the man read. Finally, the man looked up suddenly, as if he had heard a sound. "Oh," he said. "Excuse me. I had not seen you there. I am Akodo Anshiro welcome to Righteous Heart Dojo."

"Thank you, Akodo-sama," the Wanderer said. "Your apology is gracious, but unnecessary, as I have only just stepped in a moment ago. Forgive me for interrupting your study."

"No, its quite alright," Anshiro said. "I have many duties to which I should be attending. It is quite selfish of me to indulge in reading at such a hectic time."

"Indulgence is a strange term for reading," the Wanderer said. "It is a virtue for a soldier to be well educated."

"Perhaps," Anshiro admitted, "but I fear others might not understand."

The Wanderer raised an eyebrow. "Do you not read Leadership, the defining work of Akodo One-Eye himself ?"

"That was my belief initially, yes," Anshiro admitted. "I received a copy from an old acquaintance, someone I had not heard from in many years. It was accompanied by a note that said this copy has been discovered recently, and that it had many notations from an unknown author. He asked me to investigate and see what I could discover about the authors origins."

The Wanderer nodded, "And what have you discovered?"

"This text is not Leadership," Anshiro said with a frown. "It contains certain passages in the beginning, but after that it is a strange combination of Leadership and the Tao." The warrior looked down. "I am ashamed to admit I did not recognize it at first."

"Surely you have read the Tao before," the Wanderer said.

"Of course," Anshiro said. "But among the Lion there is a certain degree of...bias, against the Tao. Even as students we do not read it with an impartial mind. And once we have passed our gempukku, we read it only rarely, for the most part. There are exceptions, of course." He shrugged. "To read it without preconception, to recognize its wisdom without bias, it has been most enlightening." He paused for a moment. "Why am I telling a ronin about his?"

"Perhaps a stranger is more receptive than your brothers," the Wanderer mused. "And of course if I told anyone about our conversation, you could easily refute my words and no one would believe me."

Anshiro smiled slightly. "That is true I suppose."

"What of your friend?" the Wanderer asked. "The one who sent you the book?"

"I tried to seek him out after reading this...this revelation," Anshiro said. "I learned he died years ago in the fighting at Kaeru Toshi. He did not send me this." He paused again and shook his head. "Who could have sent me this, if not my friend? And why would they lie?"

"Interesting questions, the Wanderer said. "And of course there are no answers." He sighed. "There are never answers."

The Ronin and the Mystic

The village of Nanshi Mura was famous throughout the Empire, although the reason for that fame varied wildly depending upon the region in which one was traveling. To the Dragon, it was a stronghold of the noble ronin devoted to maintaining law and order, and had been since the Clan War. To the Lion, it was the home of presumptuous wave men who dared believe themselves the equal of a Great Clan. To the Scorpion, it was a collection nave fools that were useful only as pawn in their grandiose schemes. And so on.

A lone man trudged down the path toward Nanashi Mura. His face was obscured with a simple cloth mask, and his features further obscured by a battered kabuto. His armor was likewise old and scarred from many battles, but it was clearly in good condition and has obviously allowed him to survive many previous encounters. As the traveler drew nearer to the village, a quartet of ronin appeared and blocked the road. "Good day, traveler," one called out. "What is your business in Nanashi Mura?"

The traveler stopped and wiped his sleeve across her forehead. "None to speak of," he said. "I was told ronin are welcome here, and I could use a rest. I've walked a long way."

"Ronin are indeed welcome here," the men's leader said, "so long as they understand our rules."

"I see," the ronin said. He looked at the men curiously. "Interesting chop you are wearing."

The leader raised his eyebrows. "You are familiar with out order?" he gestured to the open eye sigil each wore on their kimono.

"Prehaps," he said. "Are you Kolat?"

The men bristled at the word. "We are the Eyes of Nanashi. Our duty is to protect those within the village." The leader stepped forward and placed his hands on his blade. "You understand that we will tolerate no violence in the city?"

"Of course," the traveler said. "And I have no intention of causing problems. As I said, I need rest, nothing more."

The gunso nodded. "Welcome to Nanashi Mura," he said with a quick bow. "Stay as long as you like."

"Thank you," the ronin said. "My say should be fairly brief, however. I was in the nearby Dragon village and I heard that a man I've been interested to meet may have been through here recently. He calls himself the mystic."

The men exchanged an uncomfortable glance. The ronin looked from one to the other and nodded. "Where is he?" he asked.

***

Although mountains surrounded the village along its northern arc, Nanashi Mura and the surrounding lands were remarkably flat. The rocky outcropping the city guards had described were easy enough to find, and as the ronin approached he could see a man sitting atop a large boulder, meditating. He waited for a moment, then coughed politely.

The mystic turned to regard the ronin with eyes devoid of any emotion. "Hello, brother."

The traveler reached up and pulled away the cloth covering his face. "I knew it," Kaneka said, removing the helm as well. "Who else could it be but you?"

They mystic's features swam busily, then shifted completely. The smooth, bald pate was gone, and in it's place were long white braids. The cold, dead eyes shimmered and were replaced with the piercing gaze of Isawa Sezaru, voice of the Emperor. "I fear my attempt at anonymity has met with failure repeatedly," he said in his flat, toneless voice.

"Anonymity?" Kaneka said. "You are of course aware that you have allowed others to see you with your head wreathed in flame? Have the Phoenix lands changed so much in my long absence that you consider that a sight unworthy of notice?"

Scathing sarcasm. "I did think, however, that using magic for something so meader as a disguise would seem unusual for me, as would traveling in tattered robes and keeping to secondary cities and roads."

"True enough," Kaneka admitted. He sat down on the rock and looked north to the Dragon Heart Plain that Sezaru seemed to have been studying. "Why are you out here?" he asked after a moment.

"I seek clarity," Sezaru answered. "It has proven difficult to come by of late, I fear."

Kaneka grunted in assent. "That may well be the most truthful thing I've heard in a very long time." He removed a piece of fruit from the bag hanging at his hip and took a bite. "I did not imagine we would speak again so soon after our discussion at the Imperial City."

"Nearly a year without speaking to one another, then twice in a matter of months," Sezaru said. "Our family is quite strange, I think." The shugenja closed his eyes and seemingly resumed his meditations. After several minutes of silence, he suddenly asked a question. "Do you seek the Wanderer?"

Kaneka did not answer at once, seemingly to savor the final bites of his meal before finally commenting. "I do not know what I seek. Perhaps I seek the Wanderer, to ask him what he is doing. Perhaps I seek the same thing he seeks. Or perhaps I am looking for something altogether different, and I do not even know it."

"An accurate assessment of a man seeking enlightenment," Sezaru mused.

"Enlightenment." Kaneka almost spat the word. "Why has something so foolish gripped the minds of the entire Empire? I do not understand it. Suddenly, everyone seeks a test to find enlightenment. It is nothing but foolishness if you ask me."

"We are all tested, in our own way," Sezaru said. "It has been so throughout history. Only now, people have begun to seek out the test in search of the prize. It is a fundamental flaw in their reasoning."

"A flaw? How so?"

"The Keepers," the Wolf answered. "Do you know of a single Keeper who actively sought their position? No. None did. Each of them achieved their new perspective by overcoming their preconceived notions. None sought a challenge to overcome. None scoured the Empire in search of an obstacle worthy of their prowess. They found their path through happenstance. It cannot be sought, only discovered."

"Someone should warn the Brotherhood," Kaneka grumbled. "I'm sure they will be annoyed to learn they have wasted the past thousand years."

Sezaru actually smiled at that. "The monks of the Brotherhood do not seek enlightenment. They seek understanding and harmony, and through that path, some among their number discover enlightenment."

"What is enlightenment if not understanding and harmony?" Kaneka demanded.

"It is different for everyone, of course," Sezaru said.

"Bah!" Kaneka said, hurling the remnants of his fruit to the ground. "This is madness. I was a fool to follow Naseru in the Empire. For what? Enlightenment? I do not believe it even exists. That misguided buffoon Rosoku sought to save the Empire, and instead he has done nothing but make fools of us all."

"A hasty judgment," Sezaru warned. "The end result of this journey he has placed all of us on has yet to be revealed."

"Perhaps, but I want nothing more to do with it."

"Sezaru nodded. "What will you do?"

"It is long past time for me to return to Toshi Ranbo," Kaneka said, reattaching his mask and hat. "I swore to defend the city, and that is exactly what I shall do." He paused for a moment. "I have walked the paths of others my entire life," he said in a low voice. "My father's path. My brother's path. Rosoku's path. No more. From this moment on, there is no path but my own."

"A difficult path," Sezaru said. "Remember your honor, brother. Keep to it, and your path may yet lead you to greatness."

"Keep to my honor," Kaneka repeated, setting off down the path. "What else do I have? And I care nothing for greatness. I will do what I must because it is right for me, not because of what others think." He took several more steps, then stopped and looked back over his shoulder. "What of you, then?"

Sezaru lowered his dead. "My path is difficult to see. I must continue to seek it out. If I should falter&it could be disastrous." He looked back at Kaneka, and for a moment, his eyes were as clear and bright as the Shogun ever remembered seeking them. "Promise me that if I should fall upon a false path, you will do all you can to end the threat I pose to our father's Empire."

"You have my word," Kaneka grunted. "And in return, should I lose my honor," his voice trailed off. "You will know what to do," he finished.

"Yes," Sezaru said. "I will."

Heart of Dragons

Beiden Pass, the great crossroads of the Empire, had been destroyed long before the Wanderer was ever born. He had read the stories, of course. Imagining vast armies marching through the Spine of the World Mountains was difficult, since what remained of the once great pass was now barely wide enough for a single patrol to fit through, and even then it would be a difficult trek. The nearby Shamate Pass was not a great deal larger, but was much more accessible and, as a result, far better patrolled. No one in their right mind would attempt passage through Beiden, and so it made a much better choice for lone travelers seeking to avoid detection.

The magistrate of the village of Beiden had been easily turned away by one of the Wanderer's many sets of travel papers. It seemed that the Scorpion had little zeal for his job, almost certainly viewing it as punishment for some failure in the past. It mattered little to the Wanderer. As long as the man's attention was diverted, he did not care. What he did care about, and very much, was a traveler he had heard of passing through Shamate Pass only days before, and who he hoped to find somewhere south of the mountains.

"Excuse me," he said to a passing peasant woman. He inclined his head in a respectful matter, as one could never be too courteous or cautious when passing through the Scorpion lands. "I seek a priestess, one affiliated with the Phoenix. Might you have seen such a woman in the village?"

The woman bowed her head quickly, and seemed to hesitate. She was carrying a small, meager bundle of fish, most likely purchased for her family's dinner. "Your burden seems light, little grandmother," the Wanderer said. He seized her hand and deposited a trio of small copper coins. "Be certain your grandchildren are well fed this evening."

The woman looked up with a flash of gratitude, then remembered she was dealing with a samurai and quickly looked down again. She reached out with one gnarled hand and pointed down the dusty path to a small temple. "Thank you," the Wanderer said, and she hastened off toward her home.

Stepping into the temple, the Wanderer marveled at the beautiful calligraphy adorning the walls. The temple was apparently devoted to Tengen, the Fortune of Literature. That particular Fortune was disproportionately popular in the Scorpion lands, and he had purposely avoided spending any time thinking about the reasons. There was a small woman, dressed in robes that revealed more flesh than was traditionally appropriate, sitting before the altar. There was a strange radiance surrounding her, as if she radiated some beautiful inner light. There was a shimmering in the air about her, although he could not discern what caused it. "Hello," she said in a soft voice without turning around. "How have your travels been?"

"Tolerable," he said, his tone cautious. "You know me?"

"I know something of you, yes," Agasha Miyoshi said. "The spirits have told me of your approach. They have told me you are not what you appear to be, but that is not my place to discern."

"Thank you," he said with a bow. "Then do you know why I've come?"

"I know what you seek," she answered. She rose and turned to face him, her expression saddened. "I would give it to you, if I could, but I cannot."

The Wanderer nodded. He had become accustomed to such things, and in truth he wondered if he even expected to find that which he sought anymore. "Can you tell me of your experiences, at least?" he asked. "I want to understand."

Miyoshi nodded. "Shugenja speak to the kami. The kami are elemental spirits. For reasons I cannot understand, the Elemental Dragons have chosen to speak with me, and the very act of communing with them has opened my eyes to the elements and the world around me. The dragons are in a very real sense the elements themselves." She shrugged again. "I cannot explain it. It is as if I suddenly realized something so profound and simple that I cannot comprehend how I did not realize it sooner, and yet I cannot explain it to others." She smiled sadly. "That is of no help to you, I know, but I do not know what else to say on the matter."

The Wanderer smiled. "Your candor is refreshing, at least. There are so many who have strange theories on such matters. Yours, at least, makes sense to me, and I thank you for it."

"Where will you go?" she asked as he turned to leave.

"There are lands left unexplored," he answered. "Perhaps my path begins there."

Distant Mountains

The sound of breaking stone filled the small valley. The Wanderer froze at the sound, his hand resting idly on the hilt of his blade, but then he chided himself and took it away. It was not as though he was a masterful swordsman, even under ideal circumstances, and if this was an indicator of potential conflict, the wisest choice would be to avoid it altogether. After a moment, though, the sound continued without any sign of foul play.

The path he followed led through the rockiest lowlands of the central Crab provinces. It was difficult travel, but there were few interruptions and it gave him plenty of time to consider. The realizations he came to during this time were troubling. He had scoured the empire in search of something, anything, that could set him on the path to enlightenment. How could one lead if he could not see the truth? And yet, thus far, every avenue he had pursued had failed him. In the time spent alone over the past days and weeks, he had begun to wonder if he was even capable of achieving enlightenment. As the Wanderer topped the rise and looked into the empty hollow before him, he was greeted with a most curious sight.

Within the depression, standing amid several large boulders, there was a single Crab warrior. The man had doffed his armor and his kimono, and was standing bare-chested in a hakama and sandals, repeatedly striking a large stone with his open palm. After each strike, the man hesitated, studying the stone. Then he would strike again, producing the same loud slapping sound that the Wanderer had first heard.

The Wanderer frowned. How could he have mistaken such a sound for breaking stone? It seemed ludicrous. There were many smaller stones scattered through the depression. Perhaps the Crab had been striking them against one another before he arrived, and had begun the open palm strikes only afterwards.

Even as the thought occurred to the Wanderer, the Crab warrior drew back and delivered a powerful strike, causing a thunderous report as the boulder cracked through its center. The top half slid downward and crashed into the ground, breaking into multiple pieces and scattering more shards across the depression. The warrior grinned fiercely and turned around, noticing the Wanderer. "Hello!" he called, wiping rock dust from his hands. "Are you a bandit?"

"No," the wanderer said flatly, caught off guard. "No, just a traveler."

"Ah," the man said. He seemed disappointed. "That's too bad. I was hoping to test my strike on something other than stone. Oh well, nothing for it. Come down and have a drink with me!"

The Wanderer descended and sat upon a boulder, still staring at the cracked boulder. He took the cup of sake the Crab offered and sipped it idly. "How did you do that?" he finally asked. "Who are you?"

The man puffed up his chest. "Hida Sozen," he claimed. "As for how I did that& it's a bit difficult to explain."

"I would very much like to hear it," the Wanderer said. "Even if it is something I could never master."

Sozen nodded and finished another cup of sake. "I was born a Dragon," he began. "I came to the Hida as a hostage, and eventually was released by Satsu-sama to swear fealty to the Crab. This is my home, and I have spent years atop the Wall defending it. The violence was& well, strangely comforting. Some of my old colleagues among the Dragon expressed concern over my zeal, but in time I have come to realize it is all a part of the natural order."

"The natural order?" the Wanderer said.

"All things decay. All things die. Well, all natural things anyway." Sozen pointed at the rocks around him. "The wind and rain would wear these stones down in time. If I shatter them, how is it different? It is not. I am enacting the natural order upon the world. I am a part of it." He smiled broadly. "Is it not amazing? We all have a role to play, and I have found mine at last. It is as though a weight I did not know I carried has been taken away." He paused. "I did not ask your name, forgive me."

"I am really a wanderer," he said with a smile.

Sozen nodded. "Where are you traveling to?" he asked. "Or do you know?"

The Wanderer glanced to the south with an uneasy expression. "I fear I do, yes."

The Wanderer, Part 2

Toturi Naseru stopped in his trek, leaning for a moment against a jutting boulder of obsidian while he caught his breath. He had read much of the Shadowlands since his childhood, always knowing it would be a threat he would have to face upon reaching adulthood. He had not anticipated facing it quite so directly, however.

Naseru withdrew a small clay bottle from his traveling bag and took a quick sip, careful not to drink too much. He did not know how far he would have to travel, and he dared not replenish his supplies south of the Great Carpenter Wall. Still, he seemed to grow more weary and thirsty with each step. It was as if the land itself was exerting some sort of force on him, drawing his strength out by force and leaving him weaker by the moment. He checked his jade supply again, and found it the same as it had been when he last checked. It was decaying at the normal rate, which meant that the effect he was enduring was altogether separate from the corruption he had feared.

The former Wanderer straightened, stretching his weary back as he did so. He had been in the Shadowlands only once before, and it had not been like this. With his siblings at his side, it had been considerably different. He did not remember the oppressive gloom that hung over him now. Was it because he was alone? Or had Sezaru shielded the others from its effects upon his previous visit. He did not know.

There was a stirring sensation from the bundori sack he wore on his hip, though of course there was no actual movement. Naseru grimaced at the sensation. The thing contained within the bag had been the key to his months of deception, traveling the Empire with the Wanderer. Once it had been an artifact of great evil, but the Scorpion had managed to sever its connection to Jigoku. Still, it was no less dangerous for all that, and he had been careful to keep it in check purely by force of will. He wondered now if the damnable thing could sense that it was in the Shadowlands. Did it long for a return to its previous state of corruption? He could not know for certain, but he strongly suspected it did. He had been sorely tempted to cast it away into the rocks before entering, but could not bear the thought of one of his loyal subjects discovering it and falling prey to its sinister urges. And so he had carried it with him, directly into the heart of the land it longed for. What choice had there been?

None. As always.

The sound of a rock clattering against the boulders alerted Naseru that something was amiss. He instantly dropped to a crouch, slowly sliding his blade from its saya so as to make no sound. There was a thudding sound, and a whistle, and then instinct took over. Naseru hurled himself forward, flat against the ground. The rocks dug into his flesh and he both heard and felt a tremendous crash behind him. He rolled to the side and scrambled to his feet, holding his blade at the ready.

The towering form of an ogre loomed over him, its massive tetsubo held aloft. Flecks of obsidian were embedded into the weapon from where it had shattered several stones in the spot where Naseru had stood only a moment before. The beast's reddish skin was like something from a nightmare, and its devilish grin made his blood run cold. He was very conscious of the weight of his sword. He had trained in the dojo many times, but only intermittently, and not for quite some time. He was no warrior. "Greetings," he said, hoping to confound the beast.

To his surprise, the beast spoke back. "Greetings, human," it rumbled. "I have not seen one of your kind outside Daigotsu's minions for years. Quite a delicacy!"

"Perhaps we can find a more equitable arrangement," Naseru said.

"I think not!" the beast laughed. "I think&" its voice trailed off suddenly as its eyes widened in surprise. "I know you," it said in a low voice. Its tetsubo lowered slowly. "I have seen you before."

"I'm certain you are mistaken," Naseru said, attempting to distract it long enough to make his escape. "I have been told I am rather unremarkable in appearance."

"Eight years ago," the beast said. "You and three others attacked Daigotsu's city. The four of you were spawned of the same mother, they said. Your sister died. Your brother was a mage, and the other brother wounded me. You were the fourth. I remember now."

"Do not be confused," Naseru began.

"You are the Emperor of Rokugan!" the beast said. It began laughing, a deep, thunderous sound. "What in the name of Jigoku's legions are you doing here?"

"That does not concern you," Naseru said, his ire rising. He would fight the beast before he was mocked and slaughtered like cattle.

"You seek the temple," the beast said suddenly, freezing Naseru in his tracks. "You seek the temple where the Thunders waited before there time to die."

The Emperor said nothing, but his gaze was like a blade.

"It is hidden," he ogre said. "Until a short time ago, I could not see it, like all the others. But I have changed, and the veil has been lifted." He pointed toward a mountain in the distance. "It is there, concealed among the rocks. An island of purity amid the madness."

"Why are you telling me this?" Naseru demanded. "Why not kill me?"

"For what?" the ogre said. "Hunger? I think not. But if I spare you, then I will gain Daigotsu's favor, and you will always remember the name Moshangoru. It is the name of the glorious warrior who allowed you to live."

"Madness," Naseru said, backing away slowly.

"Perhaps," the beast laughed. "But only if I also refuse to tell the oni where you are. They may yet defeat Daigotsu, after all, and I hate the thought of losing my only advantage."

The beast roared with laughter as it walked away. Naseru waited only a moment, then grabbed his belongings and began running in the direction the beast had pointed.

The Temple of the Seven Thunders

The legend Naseru had read as a child said that the temple was built by Hida himself after he defeated his son Atarasi, and that he had interred the last belongings of all Seven Thunders within. Because it was built where Hida had died, it was yet pure, and hidden from the eyes of those who would destroy it. Naseru did not know if any of the legends were true, but there was a temple here, that much he could not deny. And he had come so very far to find it, he could not resist finding what lay hidden inside, even if it were his death.

Toturi Naseru entered the Temple of the Seven Thunders, and disappeared into the shadows within it.


Kaze no Shiro Return

Togashi will return!