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The Ruins of Otosan Uchi, Part 1
By Shawn Carman
Developmental Assistance & Editing by Fred Wan

The Imperial Palace, year 1159
The Dark Lord Daigotsu fell deeper into his trance, his chanting now echoing through the halls of the Imperial Palace. Outside, the sounds of battle drew nearer with each passing moment. The air was plagued with the acrid stench of smoke from the fires the Imperial Legions used to burn away the debris blocking the roads. The air was thick with screams, not only those of the Legion, but the countless demons and other creatures they slaughtered as they slowly cut a path to the palace.

An entity hid in the darkness, watching the Dark Lord. Its body, its very essence, was so diffused into the darkness throughout the palace that concentration was difficult, but spreading itself so thinly was the only way to avoid detection, and the creature that had once called itself Chochu could escape Daigotsu's notice, and consequently his wrath. It hesitated, its murky body little more than a series of barely visible tendrils drifting around the room's shadowed perimeter. If it wished to view the Dark Lord's actions, it took a much greater risk of detection. And the notion of Daigotsu discovering its intrusion& even a shadow could know fear.

Ultimately, there was no choice. Chochu's master had instructed it to learn all it could of Daigotsu's plans. Chochu was not bound to the Shadow Dragon's will as so many others of its kind were, but it still feared failure. If Daigotsu discovered it, the end would be swift at least, and then blessed oblivion would be Chochu's for eternity. Coalescing only slightly, it drifted forward and swirled around the oblivious Dark Lord, reaching into his mind to peer through his eyes.

Chochu saw the Realm of Waiting, and witnessed Daigotsu's confrontation with the Fortune of Death, Emma-O. It watched as Daigotsu hurled himself upon the Fortune's spear and placed the Porcelain Mask of Fu Leng on its face, tormenting the Fortune with exquisite agony beyond any it had known. In desperation, Emma-O acceded to Daigotsu's demands and summoned a waiting spirit to pluck the mask from its face. Chochu stared in confusion until it realized who stood before it.

Fu Leng. The Dark Kami. The Lost Brother.

Chochu struggled with the urge to flee screaming back to the material world. This was no mortal sorcerer, but a divine entity with power undreamt up by any of Chochu's kind, even the Shadow Dragon itself. No matter how much power Daigotsu might wield, Fu Leng's was immeasurably greater. He could destroy Chochu with but a thought, and perceiving its presence would be almost immediate.

And yet, Fu Leng did nothing. Chochu's panic subsided, and it realized that by fleeing it would only draw attention to itself. Doing so would spell its doom. Instead, it hid deep within Daigotsu's spiritual avatar in this realm. Perhaps distracted or befuddled by his long imprisonment, Fu Leng did not notice. The two spoke for a short time, and then Daigotsu offered forth an artifact that allowed Fu Leng to depart for Tengoku, the Celestial Heavens. Daigotsu began the ritual that would return him to his body, and Chochu withdrew in an instant, vacating the chamber long before the Dark Lord returned.

It reached out to the others like it throughout the city. Not the crude, brutish Goju or any simple demon, but the other Ninube. They were creatures of ambition and deception, just like it was, and together, they could perhaps capitalize on what it had learned.

If the creature had a face, it would have been split in a sinister grin.


Otosan Uchi, the outer city
A choking cloud of smoke hung over the decimated courtyard like a shroud. The fighting had been fierce, and the Imperial Legion had put up a valiant effort, but there had simply been too many enemies. The skirmish had been a failure, and the Legion retreated to strike again elsewhere. Now, a carpet of broken and dying bodies littered the uneven cobblestones. Blood pooled everywhere, and the stench of burning flesh was powerful.

Daidoji Munabu gasped as he awoke. He instinctively tried to rise and then barely stifled a cry of pain. He reached down to his abdomen, and his hand came back dripping with blood. The oni that had torn him open lay a short distance away, dead. He could see the arms of at least two men crushed beneath its bulk. The pain was incredible, but it receded after only a moment. A strange emptiness came over him, and Munabu felt a flickering of panic. This was surely death. He was not ready.

There was a stirring from across the courtyard. Someone else lived, although he could not turn his head to see who it was. There was whispering, and the unmistakable sound of flesh being torn by steel. It was a sound no trained soldier would ever forget.

Something flickered just outside of Munabu's field of vision. He rolled his eyes to the side, but could not summon the strength to move his head. The pain was gone, and so too now was the emptiness. He wanted to scream in panic and cry out for help, to call for someone to heal his wounds and save his life, but he could do no more than croak weakly.

The form stopped and knelt. He could make out other forms behind it, but they were hazy and indistinct. Only the closest could be made out, and even then his face was lost in the shadows of his wide hat. "Do you wish to live?" he asked. Munabu only groaned and moved his head ever so slightly. "Even if your wounds are treated, you will be Tainted from the oni's touch," the stranger said, his voice still a whisper. "You can only survive if you accept my blessings. If you do, others will seek to kill you. Only through guile can you hope to survive. Do you understand?"

Munabu hesitated. He had received his appointment to the Legion for political reasons, and had feared he would be a disappointment to his family. He struggled with his weaknesses, keeping them hidden from his comrades and superiors. But now& now he had no choice. It was death or betrayal, and he was too fearful of death. "I do," he rasped. "Please, I do."

"Excellent," the stranger said. He waved his hand over Munabu's wounds, and suddenly there was clarity. It was a cold, distant sensation, almost as if he was observing himself from another vantage point, but he felt whole once more. He slowly climbed to his feet, studying his limbs with an odd detachment. "Everything must seem to be as it was before," the stranger said. "Even though nothing is."

"Who are you?"

"Names have power. I need no name," the man said. "We are your benefactors. Your patrons. Your masters."

At the stranger's words, Munabu suddenly became aware of others. There were a handful like himself, who appeared to have survived the battle, but of more interest there were others still. All around the courtyard, wherever there were shadows, a lone figure stood staring at him. He could not make out their features, but he found it did not trouble him. "What is it you wish of me?"

"You will return to your family and clan," the stranger said. "We will come to you now and again, and you will provide all the information we require. We will ask services of you, and you will perform them. They will be difficult, but you will discover you have& abilities, that will allow you to serve us properly."

Munabu nodded slowly. He stared at the others. One was a monk covered in tattoos of winding, serpentine dragons. He was smiling strangely, as if he had just been told some great secret. The other was a Crab woman, lean and athletic. Her kimono was torn in several places, and Munabu could still see the lingering wound around her midsection. It must have nearly torn her in half. Darkness seemed to seep into the wounds until they were closed, and the woman stared at her own hands as though she had never seen them before. "A powerful vessel," she muttered softly.

"Master," the monk said. He pointed toward the opposite end of the courtyard. There was another form still stirring there, and the stranger drifted over to it. Munabu followed almost without thinking, drifting behind his new master.

The thing lying on the courtyard was like a man, only larger. Its armor and flesh were different, somehow. Munabu could not identify why, but they seemed wrong to him. There were two gigantic moth wings protruding from the man's back. As he struggled to rise, Munabu could see that both his eyes had been torn out in the battle. This was no man at all, but some mad dream conjured by the Shadowlands. For whatever reason, Munabu felt no fear.

"An ashura," the stranger whispered. There was something like joy in his voice, although it was chilling to hear. "Magnificent."


Some time later
"Commander," the scout said, surveying the city around them. "Are you certain of our orders? There is so much here that has not been damaged."

Akodo Tamiko looked up at the young man with a stern expression, but it softened slightly as she saw the doubt on his face. He was young, no more than a year past his gempukku, perhaps, and from his wide-eyed expression she knew that he had neither seen the results of real battle nor been to the city before. "Listen to me very carefully," she said. "Do you understand why we are here?"

The young scout nodded. "Lord Nimuro has ordered& ordered that the city be destroyed," he said, looking downward.

"Yes," Tamiko answered. "And we will obey his orders, no matter how strange or unusual. He is our Champion, and a Lion's duty is to obey. If there are sins to be paid in the next life, I will face them knowing that I did not waver in my devotion to the Lion. Will you?"

"Yes," the scout nodded vigorously. "Yes, commander, I will."

"Then rejoin your patrol," she said. "The second battalion will be here shortly, and you are to have secured the perimeter."

The scout bowed sharply and disappeared, leaving Tamiko to smile slightly as he departed. Had she ever been so young and uncertain? Almost certainly. But she could not remember it, and perhaps that was for the best. She returned to the scroll detailing where each battalion would be arriving and when. The schedule was staggered, but ensured that advance groups like hers would never be long without reinforcements in the event that they discovered something particularly dangerous lurking in the city streets.

Tamiko stopped suddenly, looking up and scanning the area off to her left. It was a region her scouts had already cleared and reported as uninhabited. The commander listened intently, certain she had heard something. Just as she decided she had been mistaken and returned to her orders, she heard it again. It was a faint hissing sound, like a whisper just out of audible range. Something about it seemed wrong, and Tamiko's frown deepened. She rolled up the scroll and tucked it into her obi, placing her hand on the hilt of her blade as she did so. Ever so cautiously, she stepped forward through the rubble-strewn street and sought out the noise.

For nearly half an hour, the aging officer walked slowly and silently through the maze of streets and ruins. The noise was stronger now, and she could not put it out of her mind. It seemed to provoke some strong reaction, like a memory that was just beyond her grasp. She was captivated by it. She had to find it.

Finally, Tamiko stepped into an open doorway and found herself within a small building that was relatively intact. There was little within save a few pieces of rubble from small damaged portions of the walls. Nearly a dozen people stood within the building, facing one another and seeming to communicate, although Tamiko could not see their mouths moving. The whispering sound was louder here, and she placed one hand on her temple without meaning to, wincing with the intensity of it. And then, in an instant, it was gone.

"Hello, Akodo Tamiko."

She glanced around, instinctively knowing that none of the samurai standing within had spoken. Those individuals had now all turned to face her. Their faces were utterly devoid of expression. "Who said that?" she said softly. "Who is there?"

"You know who we are. We knew each other, long ago. You can almost remember it, can't you?"

Tamiko groaned slightly. There were some nights, thankfully rare, when the dreams came, and she would awake with a scream, the faintest memory of the nightmarish time she had spent with no identity of her own, before the name Akodo had been returned to her at Oblivion's Gate. Now, those scenes were rising in the back of her mind. She could feel them coming, and she struggled against them. She did not wish to remember. "Please, no," she said through clenched teeth. "Not that."

"Be at peace, Akodo Tamiko," the whispers from the darkness said. "You need not join us. A fraction of what is now the Shadow Dragon is hidden deep within your soul. We know the secrets of awakening it, but that does not serve us. We shall allow you to retain your identity and go one your way, in exchange for your silence."

Hope bubbled up in her chest. "Silence?"

"Yes," the whisper returned. "We have need of this place for a short time longer. You will ensure that your Lion allies leave it standing. It is to be avoided as your bloodthirsty brethren vent their impotent rage upon the city."

Finally, Tamiko felt her mind returning. "I have been commanded to destroy this city and all evil within it," she said. "I will not be cowed into submission, Ninube."

"As you wish," the voice was almost disappointed. "Then you shall be taken into our number, and you will prove a deadly weapon indeed against the Lion. They shall be punished for your temerity. Your daughter and her new husband as well. They had hoped for a grandchild for you this season, had they not? They are within your thoughts always."

Tamiko took a step backwards. "Do not speak of my family," she snarled.

"There will be no need," the voice assured her. "Simply turn away and leave. You will be free to live the rest of your pathetic mortal life a free woman, and your family and clan shall be spared. Insist upon your anachronistic ways, however, and all shall suffer for your foolishness."

The officer wiped the back of one hand across her face. She did not fear death, but she did fear the loss of her self very much. And even more so, she feared that she would be turned against those she loved, and those she served. "I will& I will turn the scouts away."

"You were always wise," the voice said. "Now take your leave, before they notice your absence. We have much to accomplish here as yet, and the Lion's interference will prove most annoying. It would be best if you avoided that."

Akodo Tamiko nodded and backed away slowly, finally turning and running back to her command post. She hoped that when she made an accounting of her sins in the next life, those who judged her would understand that she had only done what she must.


Shiro Shinjo, present day
Shinjo Genki occasionally had difficulty sleeping. It had plagued her ever since she was a child, when she would lie awake at night and wonder if her father would ever return from his duties as an Emerald Magistrate. Now that she was the lady of the Shinjo family, it would only make sense that she would be weary enough to sleep through the night without difficulty, but that was rarely the case, even when her husband was home. Tonight, she and Shono had entertained guests. It had been a wonderful evening, but as usual she had awakened after only a few hours sleep, and it would doubtless be another few hours before she could return to bed.

Genki closed her eyes and leaned against the railing on the balcony. She loved the design of her home, and relished the times when she could stand on the balcony and feel the cool evening breeze on her skin. It was the closest thing to the joy of riding she could experience without leaving the palace.

There was a short, garbled cry from somewhere within the palace. It was high-pitched and brief, and under other circumstances Genki might assume that some of her guests might be enjoying one another's company. In this case, however, she recognized the sound instantly. Any mother would recognize the sound of her child.

Genki raced through the hallway, calling out for her husband. It was foolish, of course, as their chambers were nearly an entire corridor's length away, and Shono was a heavy sleeper even under ideal circumstances. She reached the chamber where her young daughter slept and threw the door open, allowing lantern light to spill into the room.

A Shinjo yojimbo lay twisted on the floor, his armor having cracked in several places from the force that was used to kill him. A dark form stood in the center of the room, looking around the room. "Where is she?" it hissed. "I know she is here!"

Genki leapt across the room, sinking her dagger into the man's shoulder with all her might. There was surprisingly little resistance, and the man's grunt was more of annoyance than pain. He struck her once sharply across the brow, and the sheer force of it nearly snapped her back as she flew over backwards.

Another form appeared in the room, moving so fast that Genki could barely track it. There was a thud of contact between the assassin and the newcomer, and the assassin suddenly screamed. It was a jagged, agonized sound that electrified the entire room, shocking even her crying daughter into a stunned silence with the sheer emotion of it. The form swung about wildly and suddenly ran at the chamber's outer wall. There was a crashing sensation and then it was gone, a large piece of stone missing from the border around the aperture.

Shono appeared in the doorway, his hair wild and his crystal eye agleam. His blade was in his hand, and Genki could hear others shouting in the hallway. "Are you alright?" he bellowed. He glanced from Genki to their daughter in a panic.

"We're fine!" she answered. "He escaped through the window!"

"No, he didn't," Shono snarled. He disappeared into the corridor and there was more shouting.

Genki looked at the other woman in the chamber. "Akasha," she said breathlessly. "Are you injured?"

The lithe young woman shook her head wordlessly. She dropped her knife, and Genki saw the glint of the crystals inlaid in its hilt. She rushed over to a smaller mat and gently lifted a tiny bundle, an audible sigh of relief escaping her as she did so.

"Is she unharmed?" Genki said, her heart in her throat.

Akasha only nodded, clutching her infant daughter tightly in her arms.


The City of Remembrance
The Temple of the Seven Dragons was quieter now than usual. The state of war between the Phoenix and Mantis had not abated, although the city was completely avoided by the Mantis for reasons as yet unknown to anyone. Still, its relative safety did not protect those traveling to and from it, and that had effectively reduced travel to the temple by a considerable margin. This morning, there was but a single visitor, a young Dragon samurai-ko who had not moved from the temple's primary shrine for several hours.

Agasha Miyoshi stood near the chamber's rear and studied the intricate carvings on the wall there. She found herself doing this more and more frequently of late, and hoped that she would at least hear something from Kyuden Isawa soon. She understood the war would cause delays, of course, but this seemed like a matter of significance.

The magnificent carving on the wall had been one of the first elements completed for the temple. Miyoshi knew it as surely as she knew the rituals she performed when she rose each morning. The seven great dragons were there: Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Void, Thunder, and the Celestial Dragon. They had always been there. What troubled her, what had given her pause and prompted her to write to the Council of Elemental Masters in search of guidance, was the sudden and inexplicable appearance of an eighth dragon on the mural.

Miyoshi ran her fingers across the as she had done every day for months. The stone had no sharp edges. It was smooth and cold to the touch. If she closed her eyes, she could not distinguish between this carving and any of the others. It was as if it had been there the entire time, and she had simply never noticed it. The carving depicted a small dragon with a head at each end, their tails joined only at the tip. It could almost be two separate dragons, but the depiction was very clearly a single entity, and this only further confused Miyoshi. She had communed with the dragon spirits in this place repeatedly, but the answers she had gotten were vague and indistinct. She had searched every historical record in the city without success for some sort of precedent or indication of what this could mean. In the end, she could draw only one conclusion. A conclusion supported, if only half-heartedly, by the cryptic replies of her beloved spirits.

A new dragon, previously unknown in the cosmology of Rokugan, had come into being.

"Good morning to you," a pleasant voice said from behind her. "I seek Agasha Miyoshi. Can you tell me if she is available this morning?"

Miyoshi turned around and smiled at the newcomer. "I am Agasha Miyoshi. Welcome to the Temple of the Seven Dragons."

The newcomer smiled. She was a beautiful woman with dark features. She wore a light mask that covered the area round her eyes, which was unusual for a Phoenix. "Thank you," she said, bowing slightly. "I apologize for interrupting your meditations, Miyoshi-san, but I was given to understand from your correspondence that the issue was of some concern."

"Correspondence?" Miyoshi said blankly. "You are an emissary from the Council?"

"Not exactly," the woman said with a knowing smile. "The Council is otherwise engaged, and has been for some time, as I am sure you know. Some among the shugenja at Kyuden Isawa thought it best to relay your message to my husband in their absence. Unfortunately, he is unavailable as well, and so I have come in his stead."

Miyoshi glanced down at the mon on the woman's shoulder, and her eyes widened ever so slightly. She immediately bowed very lowly. "I am grateful, Isawa Angai-sama. Thank you for your concern."

"I must confess," Angai said, stepping forward to look at the carving, "while I found your account fascinating, it seems somewhat far-fetched to imagine such a thing. How can you be certain that this was not done by vandals or some poor misguided soul?"

"The kami within the stone assure me no hand has touched them," Miyoshi said. "That was my first thought as well."

"Indeed," Angai mused. "So then your research leads you to the conclusion that this is some manner of divine manifestation?"

"I know such a thing is arrogant and presumptuous," Miyoshi answered, blushing. "I only know that this place is sacred to the great dragons. Perhaps it is some sort of message, or even simply a natural response to the& the&"

"The creation of a new dragon," Angai finished. "It seems mad to suggest, but perhaps you are correct."

"Mad?" The Dragon woman sitting across the room at the altar glanced over her shoulder briefly. "We are so quick to bandy that word about. I have seen madness, lady Phoenix. I assure you, nothing within this temple can compare."

Miyoshi frowned and Angai raised an eyebrow. Miyoshi noticed the Crane mon on the Dragon's shoulder and wondered, not for the first time, who she was and why she had spent so much time here of late. "Thank you for your concern, noble Dragon," she said. "It was not my intent to disturb your meditation. I apologize."

Angai smiled again. "What brings you here, Mirumoto-san?" she inquired.

The woman stood and walked across the room to bow before the two Phoenix. "My business here is a family matter," she said cryptically. "If I may be of assistance to you, however, it would be my great honor to do so. I know that there are few Phoenix available to investigate such matters, given the besieged nature of the Agasha provinces."

"May I ask your name?" Angai said. "And perhaps why you are so free with your offers of assistance?"

"Mirumoto Ryosaki," she answered. "Again, my reasons are a matter of some privacy. Forgive me, but I can only offer you my aid, not an explanation."

"Well, then," Angai said, turning to Miyoshi with a smile. "Perhaps that will be sufficient." She turned back to the Dragon with a knowing look. "For now."


Toshi Ranbo, capitol of the Empire
Doji Reju awoke with a start, sitting bolt upright on his mat and reaching out for his sword on instinct. His body was wreathed in sweat, and there were vivid images from his dreams still swimming in his mind. He rose at once and gathered his kimono about him, clutching his blade tightly in hand. Slipping into his sandals almost as an afterthought, Reju slipped out of the Crane Estate where his quarters were and disappeared into the almost empty streets.

The Jade Champion's residence resembled a vague mixture of temple and dojo, and although Reju knew of its location, he had never been within. His sharp raps on the door eventually roused a very perplexed servant, who was finally convinced to rouse his master to speak with the older Crane.

In short order, Sekawa summoned Reju into his private office. The Jade Champion appeared none the worse for wear for having been roused from sleep, although perhaps he did look a little more fatigued than usual. "I trust this is of great importance," was all he said as Reju entered.

"The Celestial Wanderer," Reju said flatly.

Sekawa's fatigue disappeared in an instant. "He has visited you again?"

Reju shook his head. "No." He paused. "Perhaps. I am not certain. It is possible that I have merely remembered something else he said to me at the time. You know I cannot recall our encounter precisely." Reju despised speaking of his visitation with Hoshi, son of the Kami Togashi. It had been years before in the city of Tsuma, during the Topaz Championship. The Dragon lord had appeared to Reju and imparted a warning. At the time, it had made little sense, but over the years Reju had come to understand Hoshi had attempted to warn him of the Gozoku conspiracy growing within the Crane. He remembered very little in terms of specifics, and sometimes he remembered new parts in fits and starts.

"What did he say?" the Jade Champion asked.

"I& I cannot recall exactly," Reju said. "I have an impression. It was about Otosan Uchi. There is something dark there. Something dangerous."

Sekawa nodded. "I have sensed a great imbalance, and I believe it to be linked to the former capitol as well." He paused and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "This cannot be coincidence."

"No," agreed Reju. "My duties with the Empress' Guard prevent me from traveling there myself, but we should see to it in all haste."

"I shall go before the court in the morning," Sekawa said. "I will publicly vow to cleanse this stain upon the city in the Emperor's name. If the Empress is supportive, I shall ask for you to accompany me."

"Thank you," Reju said with a bow. "What do you expect we shall find there?"

"I do not know," Sekawa said truthfully. "We shall discover that soon enough."

Kaze no Shiro Return


Togashi will return!