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The Father's Legacy
By By Brian Yoon
Editing by Fred Wan

Four months ago&

Rain drizzled upon the land as the party slowly made their way through the hills. There were almost forty of them on horseback, fully armed and ready. Their horses moved at a slow trot. They looked in every direction, alert for any sign of trouble. The fields around them stretched out in every direction, with few trees or obstacles to hide any surprises. They knew that nothing could see their movement through the land. Despite this assurance, an air of unease covered the entire group. No one could be confident that the mission would go well when the group was so deep into enemy lands. The pressure of a single misstep weighed down on their every move.

The group approached the top of the hill and stopped as one. The scout in the lead dismounted and handed the reins of her horse to the man behind her. She nodded curtly then disappeared over the crest of the hill.

The leader of the group took off his leather cap. Moto Wasaka looked at his company around him. They stared back at him, all holding grim expressions. "Stand at ease until she returns," he said. They did not relax, but some tension eased from their faces. They dismounted and began to talk softly amongst each other.

Wasaka dismounted and stretched. He looked at the drab hills around him and spat on the ground. After a few moments he said, "These lands are the ugliest I've ever seen. If the kami had any sense at all, they'd wipe the place clean and start over."

The Unicorn looked at their leader for a second then turned back to their activities. One Battle Maiden standing near the commander rose to the bait. She brushed the wet hair from her face and said, "What are you talking about now, Wasaka-san?"

Wasaka gestured to the hills with a wide sweep. "The kami have so much power at their disposal. If I had such power, I'd level these hills and replace them with something more pleasing. I've always been fond of valleys. Don't you think that would be nice, Uzuki-chan?"

Utaku Uzuki shook her head in disgust. "One day soon, Wasaka-san, the gods will hear your blasphemies. I wonder, will they find your words as funny as you do?"

Wasaka grinned widely at his companion. "Everything in the world is a joke, Uzuki-chan. All you need to do is find the right perspective."

"Not everything," Uzuki replied quietly. She stared out at the distant mountains and ran her hand over the side of her horse. It neighed softly and nuzzled her neck.

Wasaka studied her for a long moment, his grin fading from his face. He stepped toward the Battle Maiden and reached out for her shoulder. "Uzuki-chan"

Uzuki turned her head and stared at him defiantly. The eyes Wasaka had learned to read so well were clouded with emotion. "No, Wasaka, I will hear no lecture. These lands simply bring the memories of my sisters to mind. That is all. Revenge is not my intention."

He let the lie pass uncontested. "The Khan's words were clear, Uzuki-chan. We are to find a safe passageway to the Imperial City. That is all."

Uzuki turned and stalked away without another word. He considered following her, but ultimately it would do little good. Instead, he waited. After some time, the silhouette of his scout appeared at the top of the hill. She scanned the group for a moment before finding Wasaka. She approached him quickly then bowed.

"Some good news would be welcome, Yasuha-san," Wasaka said. She stared back at him without a word. He sighed. "Report," he ordered formally.

"There are more Lion troops in this direction, my lord," Yasuha said. "I made contact with Shinjo Fuyuko, a scout assigned to this area before our expedition. She says that Lion activity noticeably increased a few days before our departure. She knows of a passageway through the hills that they have left unguarded, if we wish to pass through."

Wasaka frowned. "I don't believe in coincidences any more than a Scorpion's promise. They must have been forewarned."

"What are your orders, Wasaka-sama?" Yasuha asked.

He quickly weighed the pros and cons in his mind. He raised his voice to carry to everyone around him. "Get to your horses. We ride!"

----------------

Fuyuko was a veteran of several fights within the Lion lands. She had survived the insanity of the Blood Hunt in the Lion lands. Her cover had been exposed then and she had returned to the Unicorn lands. However, her experience and knowledge of the lands was an invaluable resource, and a few months later she had clandestinely entered enemy lands again. Wasaka could see her familiarity with the land at a glance, at the way she swiftly led them through a hidden path on the edge of the hills.

They traveled under silence once again. The rain increased along the path and the light had darkened further. They could not afford a light so they were forced to travel even slower. Fuyuko led the way and the entire Unicorn troop followed closely. They followed the side of the hill and stopped short. A squadron of Lions waited in the middle of the road. One of them stepped forward. His golden armor was fashioned with roaring Lion mouths across the shoulders and helm. He was a young man, little more than a boy, his armor unscarred by any battle.

"Greetings," the young man said. "I welcome you to the Lion lands."

Wasaka looked at his forward scouts, who still looked shaken by the sudden appearance of the enemy. The Lion were obviously braced for battle, as if they had been roused by some great warcry. He looked back at the young Lion. "Greetings," he said, at a loss as to what to say. Automatically he assessed the situation. The Unicorn were outnumbered, but they had the mounted advantage.

"May I see your papers?" the Lion continued. "I refer to papers with Imperial permissions, of course. The Khan's word amounts to nothing here."

Wasaka bit back his retort. Uzuki did not have the same control. "Watch your tongue, Lion!" she shouted over the wind. "Even a fool knows when he steps into the predator's den."

The Lion's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Perhaps you are confused, little girl. You are in the middle of Lion lands, with no Imperial permission and no explanation of your conduct. It is the other way around. You are in the jaws of the Lion."

Uzuki's hands flew to the yari at her horse's side. "I will show you who's confused," she snarled, "you"

"Hold, soldier!" Wasaka said, his voice thundering across the hill. Samurai on both sides had begun to grab at their weapons from Uzuki's actions. They all froze at Wasaka's proclamation. The Lion leader hadn't moved at all through the commotion. His snarl was visible even across the distance. "I assure you that our mission holds no ill intention against the Lion. We simply"

"Forgive me if I do not take your word at face value," the Lion interrupted. "Leadership teaches us to show weakness where we are strong. Such strategems are taught to even the lowliest of bushi; I am surprised the Khan has not better seen to your training." He bowed then placed his hands on his waist near his weapons. "You face Matsu Yoshino today. Remember the name, should any of you survive this day."

Wasaka could sense Uzuki's anger pouring out from her. She was a bow held taut for too long. She was bound to snap at any provocation. If she attacked first, even if they survived, he would be forced to discipline her disobedience. He could see only one way to prevent the punishment.

Wasaka smiled, showing all his teeth. "Matsu Yoshino? That sounds familiar. Did you take the name of some old Lion coward?"

Yasuha gasped. "Wasaka-sama, Matsu Yoshino is Nimuro's son!"

Wasaka drew his blade and shouted, "Then prepare to join your father, whelp!" He spurred his horse forward at full speed, charging toward the Lion leader. Everyone leapt into action after him. The Unicorn charged behind their leader, and the Lion rushed forward to meet them, yari in their hands. Yoshino simply stared at the charging Moto, his smirk gone. Even at this distance, Wasaka recognized the look on the boy's face. It was the look of a predator. The look of a killer.

The first arrow buried itself into the neck of Wasaka's horse. Before he could react another arrow pierced through his horse's head. A sharp pain lanced through his side as another missile ripped through his leg. His horse collapsed and its death wail filled the air. Wasaka crashed to the ground with his steed. He could not breathe with the weight of the horse on his chest.

Yoshino stepped forward as the battle began and drew his katana. "Yet another core lesson from Leadership," he said. Wasaka strained to hear his voice over the sound of the battle and his racing heart. Behind Yoshino, he could see mounted Lions riding to their brethren's defense. "Let your enemy see what he wishes to see, so that he will underestimate you."

As Wasaka lay underneath his horse, he only regretted that he would have no chance to soothe Uzuki's anger. Yoshino's katana sliced through the curtain of rain. It was the most beautiful thing Wasaka had ever seen.

----------------

Yoshino took off his helmet and tucked it under his arm. He stared up at the long flight of stairs leading to the beautiful temple in the Lion lands. He had looked at this building hundreds of times during his frequent stays at the Castle of the Swift Sword, but the stairs seemed to gleam brightly in his eyes. A smile slowly crept over his face.

"You seem quite pleased with yourself," someone said behind him. Yoshino spun around and laughed.

"Fujimaro-san! I thought you were heading to handle some matter along the Dragon border," Yoshino said. He shrugged.

Fujimaro smiled. Only a few weeks ago, Fujimaro had taught Yoshino the basics of patrol and security. Their relationship should have ended there, but they had become fast friends. The bond had only strengthened when they had fought against the invaders together. "I was called back to make a report to Otemi-sama of our adventures along the Unicorn lands."

Yoshino frowned. "Your Scorpion contact seems to have spoken true. Surprising, but you can be sure he had his own motives for it. They cannot be trusted, Fujimaro."

Fujimaro's brows furrowed. "I would like to trust her. One tends to make a bond when lives are placed in danger together. A woman with her own secrets..." He looked at Yoshino, and a grin spread over his face. "I don't need life advice from pups, Yoshino-kun. Run along now."

Yoshino bowed. "I am glad you were there, Fujimaro-san. If not for your bow, the Unicorn officer could well have ridden me down. I cannot think of anyone better to stand with in battle."

Fujimaro shook his head. "Every other Lion samurai, brother." With a wave, he left.

Yoshino smiled and quickly ascended the stairs. The guards at the front of the temple saluted to him as he passed through the doors. He walked through the temple on memory until he reached a door he had never opened. Without hesitation he opened the door and entered the secret sanctum.

The meeting was already in progress. Ikoma Otemi sat at the head of the table and many of the generals lined the sides. They paused as Yoshino entered, and he bowed. He quickly moved over to the empty seat next to Otemi and listened as the meeting continued.

"What is the status of your squadron, Kobi-san?"

"We are at full strength, Otemi-sama," Kobi replied with a small bow. "We are ready to move at your orders."

Otemi nodded curtly. "Good. Rokuro-san, any news from your daimyo?"

"Shigetoshi-sama has taken his forces to the northern border as ordered, my lord," Rokuro said. His face twisted as if he had a bad taste in his mouth. "He intends to engage the Dragon with his forces as soon as he can."

Otemi turned to Yoshino. "Fujimaro-san has given us a report of your deeds along the Unicorn border. Well done."

"Thank you, Otemi-sama," he replied.

"What is your assessment of the situation?" Otemi asked.

Yoshino looked at the map covering the table. "We were able to intercept the Unicorn patrol because of Fujimaro's Scorpion contact. I believe that for once, they have pointed us in the right direction. While it would tax our resources to have a fight on two fronts, I believe the Khan will continue to push into our lands until he has taken his goal. We must stop him now or feed his greed."

"Does anyone have other comments?" Otemi said, looking around the table.

Kobi cleared her throat. "While the Unicorn's advance into our lands was hardly legal, I do not believe it was an act of aggression. I believe something else must be afoot here, my lord."

Otemi studied the maps for a long moment before he spoke. "The origin of this conflict is ultimately unimportant. The Khan is not satisfied, and will try again. He will no doubt make a more concentrated effort when he believes we are unprepared. We must move more troops to the Unicorn border to be ready for such an assault."

Yoshino stood from his seat. "Otemi-sama, please allow me the honor of conducting the defenses."

Otemi looked at Yoshino and nodded. "So be it. I have ordered Shigeotoshi to assume command of the northern front so that we might recall the Matsu and Ikoma forces to strengthen our western border. I will place units under your command. Kobi-san, take your squadron and join Shigetoshi. We shall relieve a few additional units and use them to defend from the Unicorn."

"Hai, Otemi-sama," Kobi said, rising to leave immediately.

Yoshino could not help but smile at the notion of a larger force under his command. For a moment, Otemi caught his eye, and he could have sworn the Champion smiled as well.

----------------

Utaku Tama studied the Lion army as they gathered in the fields in front of her. There were perhaps three hundred soldiers assembled there. They had definitely noticed the Unicorn force. That was not surprising. After all, this was no meager group of twenty but a throng of more than two hundred. The Lion began to make formations, getting ready to engage Tama's unit.

A soldier rode up behind her, and Tama turned to face the newcomer. It was a young scout, with beautiful but untamed features. Tama chuckled to herself. She had named the scout young, but Tama still had recent memories of games with her friends. The countless battles Tama had endured did its work to age her beyond her years.

"Tama-sama, the Lion are getting ready to move on our position. Shall we try to outrun them?" the scout asked.

Tama shook her head. "These men will never give us a chance to finish our mission. We fight now."

The scout nodded. "Yes, Tama-sama. We have found out that the army in front of us contains a unit of Deathseekers, a unit of the mounted Wardens, and a unit of pikemen along with the standard Lion army."

Tama looked out at the field once more. "Have the Shinjo Thunderers lure the pikemen out of position. Our horsebowmen can deal with them with ease. I will lead the Battle Maidens against the Deathseekers. The gunso have the authority to adjust the strategy as needed."

The scout nodded and turned her horse to relay the orders. "Wait." Tama said. "What is your name, girl?"

The scout bowed. "My name is Shinjo Wei, Tama-sama. I began my service with the Junghar this year."

Tama nodded. "I will remember that. Get my army ready, Wei-san."

Wei disappeared, and Tama turned her gaze back to the enemy. Their flags waved in the breeze as the army slowly moved closer to her position. The sound of approaching horses surrounded her, and she knew her sisters were with her.

"We have the Deathseekers," Tama said. "You know how to recognize them, I hope."

"If they're so eager to seek death, we shall give it to them," the Battle Maiden at Tama's right hand said. Tama turned and looked at her.

"Do not let Uzuki cloud your mind," Tama said. Tayoi did not respond.

"Tama-san, the Lion are approaching," someone said.

Tama nodded, and spurred her horse into movement. "Let us go, sisters!"

The Unicorn army leapt into movement. The initial volleys from the horsebowmen and the Lion archers peppered the air. The Battle Maidens roared across the fields and readied to assault the Deathseekers. As they closed on the targets, they raised their lances and drew their blades. Tama drew both of her blades and readied for her attack. Though she had trained as a Battle Maiden, she had learned a few techniques from students of the ferocious Moto style of fighting. She had been given her scimitars by the Khan himself, and in battle she used them like an extension of her body.

Several ashigaru spearmen attempted to stop the Battle Maiden charge. They were cut down without a second glance. Behind the soldiers the Deathseekers stood ready for the charge. Tama rode through the Deathseeker group and sliced at enemies on both sides of her. The Deathseekers were dangerous but wore little armor; Tama's well crafted scimitars ripped through their flesh with no resistance.

Suddenly, the blade in her left hand caught in the armor of a Deathseeker. It jerked at her hand and ripped out of her grip from the force of her charge. She looked back at the samurai working to yank the scimitar out of his body. Tama stopped her horse and in one swift movement leapt off it and into the fray. The Deathseeker pulled the scimitar out and dropped it onto the floor. He turned to Tama with an ugly grimace on his face. Tama slid to the floor and cut sideways, ripping through the samurai's legs before he could even react. As he fell to the floor, screaming in pain, Tama cut through the man's throat almost as an afterthought.

Tama retrieved her blade and looked around her. Her Battle Maidens had made short work of the Deathseekers, and had only suffered injuries instead of deaths. She looked around the battlefield quickly, and saw the flag of the chui of the small army. Tama broke out into a run, and jumped on her horse as fast as she could. The Battle Maidens saw her destination and charged along with her as she approached the leader.

The leader was an impressively large man, wielding his no-dachi with both hands. He and his bodyguards were splattered with blood as they attempted to fend off the Unicorn assault. Tama stood on top of the saddle of her horse and leapt again into the middle of the formation. The movement startled the Lions enough to open weaknesses in their defense. The bodyguards were down in an instant, killed with the strikes of the vigilant Battle Maidens.

Tama and the chui stared at each other. The chui spat on the floor and flicked the blood off of his blade. "My name is Matsu Sanraku," he shouted, "chui of the Third Legion, Second Company. Your lackey Suboto has already fallen to my blade. You are next, Utaku."

Tama held her scimitars ready in front of her. She did not answer, simply focusing on the positioning of Sanraku's no-dachi. When it moved enough to the left, she leapt forward and struck. With one sword she knocked the blade from its defensive position and stabbed with the other. Sanraku dodged the thrust with ease, and slammed Tama with the crest of his helmet. Tama sliced across Sanraku's wrist with her right blade, and when Sanraku dropped the no-dachi, she jabbed quickly with her left. He fell to the floor, a red blotch where his throat had once been.

Her enemy fallen, Tama looked around her. They had won. What was left of the Lion army was in rout, running away from the field. Wei rode up to the Battle Maidens and saluted. Her left arm was soaked red in blood and she had an open wound on her leg, but she was alive.

"Tama-sama!" Wei said. "What are your orders?"

Tama shook her head. "We move, and recuperate. We have won the battle. There is no need to drag it out further. Gather here, and we'll finish the Khan's mission!"

----------------

Yoshino stared down at the valley as the beginning of the Unicorn army started to trickle into the area.

"Excellent positioning, Yoshino-san," his advisor said. "How did you anticipate where they would go if they destroyed Sanraku's kaisha?"

Yoshino nodded. "This is the only logical place for their movement, if they were seeking a way through our lands. I only wish that the other Lion commanders had shared my analysis, Hirake-san. I could use a few more men."

Hirake stroked his beard absentmindedly. "Why would the Unicorn seek a way through our lands?"

Yoshino lifted his fan and began to send commands to half of his army on the other side of the hill. The Lion had the advantage of height, as the Unicorn army was forced to move through the valley to reach their destination. "That is the worrying question, isn't it Hirake-san?"

Yoshino's commands reached the rest of his men, and they began to react to their orders. His unit of Wardens moved to block the path of the Unicorn, while Yoshino's strongest infantry slowly moved to circle their force. The Unicorn army began to move through the valley. Yoshino smiled triumphantly.

"The Unicorn commander has brought her wounded along," he said. "She cannot run, even if she wants to. She will have to engage us. I'm surprised she doesn't know even the basics of tactical maneuvering! Haven't they read Leadership?" His fan flashed as he adjusted to the new information. A unit of Matsu Elite Infantry moved to aid the Wardens as they blocked the way. His unit of archers began to loose arrows onto the Unicorn army from afar. The Unicorn army moved slowly forward, as if unsure of any changes.

Yoshino watched as the Wardens and the Elite Infantry engaged the head of the Unicorn army. When the Unicorn army moved past Yoshino's hidden infantry, they struck. Suddenly, the Unicorn had no way to move. There were enemies to all sides. Before the Unicorn could think of an effective counter, more of Yoshino's men engaged in the battle. Though the two sides were evenly numbered, the Unicorn army was disoriented from the confusion of battle.

The Unicorn turned around and struck at the units behind them. Before they could break through and destroy Yoshino's plan, a set of Lion flags appeared over the rise from the direction of the Unicorn exit. Reinforcements.

Only a handful of Unicorns escaped the ensuing battle.

----------------

The door opened and Yoshino stepped into the throne room of Shiro Akodo. His breath caught in his throat. According to tradition, he was to stare directly forward, but what he saw in the corners of his eyes was awe inspiring. Dozens of men and women sat, lining the path to the throne. Courtiers, tacticians, advisors, generals, and sensei of the Lion schools filled the room. Kitsu Katsuko sat by the left hand of the throne, her golden eyes shining with an unfathomable knowledge. Matsu Kenji stood next to the throne, her golden armor illuminated by the light. Akodo Shigetoshi and Ikoma Korin sat by the right hand of the throne, their kimonos marked by the family mon. Ikoma Otemi stood in front of the throne in his full ceremonial armor. They all watched him, waiting for his move.

Yoshino blinked and tried to quell the sudden pitching in his stomach. He stepped forward with as much confidence he could place in the motion, looking directly at Ikoma Otemi. The walk through the throne room seemed to last forever and was over in an instant. As he stood in front of Otemi, the family daimyo stood up and flanked him.

Otemi spoke softly, but his voice reached everyone gathered in the room. "The legacy of the Golden Lion of Toshi Ranbo will endure for many years to come. Nimuro-sama was a paragon of bushido, honorable to his death. He was a leader who would not force his followers to do anything he himself would not. He was the type of man any of us would have been honored to stand with to our deaths."

"I have acted as the Lion Clan Champion since his passing, until another could rise to assume the place he has left vacant. We have waited for Yoshino to prove himself as his father's son. We needed to know if Yoshino could lead the clan through these tumultuous and war torn times."

Otemi gestured to the throne, and Yoshino took his seat in the ancient throne of his ancestors. The weight of the position fell onto his shoulders, and he could sense the presence of thousands of his honored ancestors watching his every move. His resolve firmed. How could he fail everyone who had placed so much trust in him?

"Matsu Yoshino-sama, you have earned your father's blade with your actions. Take your rightful place as the Lion Clan Champion, and forge a new legend that would rival your father's!"

Otemi knelt before the new Lion Clan Champion and offered him Shinrai, the katana that had always been by his side. Yoshino held the Celestial Sword of the Lion with both hands as Otemi recited the oath that bound him as a loyal servant to the new Champion. One by one, the family daimyo stepped in front of Yoshino and offered their fealty to the new Champion.

The last of the oaths faded from the room. Every samurai in the room kowtowed to Yoshino then rose to his feet. Their combined voices shook the heavens.

"Utz, banzai!"

----------------

The door opened and Utaku Tama stepped into the throne room of Shiro Moto. To her relief, there were only two people in the room to witness her dishonor. She strode across the room and dropped to her knees in front of the throne. She felt the eyes of those present fixing on her. She bowed to the floor.

"I have failed you, Khan," Tama said.

"Such humility," Chagatai mused. "It is an interesting change in you. I am not sure I like my wild blade tempered."

Tama's face flushed. "I have never had reason for it before, my lord."

Chagatai waved his hand and leaned against the armrest of his throne. "I will not blame you for factors beyond your control. The Lion moved much quicker than I expected. Something must be done about the cub. Perhaps it is time to become unpredictable ourselves."

Tama rose from her position. "I will not disappoint you again, Chagatai-sama."

Chagatai's eyes bore into Tama's. "No general wins every battle, Tama-san. Learn from your mistakes and be ready to jump into the fray when I ask of it. I have no use for a weapon that shies away from its duty because of imagined failings."

Chagatai turned to the advisor by his side, a thin man wrapped up in purple skins. "Tang-san, have my orders been carried out?"

Ide Tang nodded. "Yes, Chagatai-sama. We have created stockpiles of rice in Shiro Ide. I suspect we'll be done within the month."

"Good," Chagatai replied. "Make sure that our supplies remain full for the next few months."

Tang bowed. "It will be done, Khan."

Chagatai smiled grimly. "A long winter lies before us, and it would not do to be caught unprepared."


Kaze no Shiro Return

 

Togashi will return!