Seminar Fictions
by the L5R Story Team
Edited by Fred Wan

Rise of the Shogun

It began in such small, innocent ways. Heated words in the willow district. Raised voices in a fish market. A drunken brawl in a sake house. No one remarked on them at the time, such things were common enough in the city. And then it suddenly exploded into life, and Madness stalked the streets of the city with wide, red-rimmed eyes and bloody hands.

It found one of the city's magistrates on the streets of his district, surrounded by a mob of screaming people. He had known them all once, known them as shopkeepers and laborers and housewives, knew their names and their children's names, but he did not know them now. Now they came at him with tools and rocks and frying pans and he cut them down again and again and again. Finally he came to the end of the cutting and stood silent, trying to remember something. Then he started down the street, wide-eyed and bloody, looking for something new to cut.

It found one of the city's ladies in her favorite kimono shop, examining the new styles for the coming year and gossiping lightly with the seamstress. Neither woman paid any attention to the rising noise in the street outside until a barrel was hurled through one of screen walls of the shop. Both women stared at it uncomprehendingly as lamp oil poured out of holes in its sides. They were no better prepared for the torch that followed it.

By noon Madness roamed all the streets of the city. Normal men and women were suddenly driven to violence, taking up whatever was at hand and lashing out against the samurai that had protected them for generations. The samurai of the city fought it or fled from it, but none could stop it. Madness was everywhere and nowhere, and no one understood how to challenge its reign. Evening drew on, and Madness continued to roam.

Not far from the outer walls of the city there sat a dojo, no different in looks from any of the other dojo in the area. The doors to the dojo swung open, revealing a single man standing in the dwindling evening light. There was nothing special about the man, unless one saw his eyes and saw the madness and focus that lay balanced and buried in his soul. He studied the city, noting how smoke rose from a dozen places and how people fled out of the main gate, unchecked by guards.

He nodded slowly to himself, then pointed towards the city. "Go," he commanded. "Restore order in the name of the Dojo of Bitter Lies."

Dozens of students ran from the dojo, screaming their sensei's name.

Bayushi Kwanchai smiled.

Next Year's Sets

It was frequently claimed by the courtiers of the Empire that court life could be as deadly as a battlefield, and that the Emperor's court was the deadliest battlefield of all. Akodo Setai had seen many, many battlefields during his life. He had seen battles lost by commanders who were too unsure to give decisive orders in a crisis, and by commanders whose overconfidence created the crisis that doomed them. He had seen the tides of battle turned from defeat to victory by a quick mind and a steady heart. He had seen acts of bright, selfless courage and of self-serving cowardice. The courtiers were right, he had decided. Court was very much like a battlefield.

He lit a stick of incense and knelt before the shrine in prayer, settling his heart for the battle to come. For a moment he remembered his former life as a Deathseeker, and all the times he had knelt this way to beg his ancestors for the death that would end his shame. Instead, they had given him redemption and a chance to further advance the fortunes of his clan in the Emperor's court. He had not questioned them. It was not his place to question them. And now they gave him today, and the chance to bring glory to his family and clan that would never fade. He offered his thanksgiving to them.

Setai finished his prayer and rose, bowing one last time to the shrine to his ancestors before finishing the ritual of affixing his armor. With the last component in place, he took up his blades and tucked them into his obi in the proper position. A warrior's position. Had he ever truly been a courtier? Perhaps. He had done his best to fill the role. He had negotiated peace between rivals, helped along the trade of goods so vital to the Empire's maintenance, sewn good will for his clan and his allies. But that no longer mattered. Today was not a day for a courtier's battles.

Footsteps sounded behind him, and Setai turned around to see Doji Seishiro at the entrance to the temple. Seishiro was wearing his own armor, elegant in style and beautifully lacquered in the deep sky blue of the Crane, and his daisho was thrust into his obi in the same fashion as Setai's. The Crane's presence here could only mean one thing, and Setai steeled his heart for it.

"There is smoke on the horizon, old friend," Seishiro said in a resigned tone. "Our enemies come for the city."

"They shall not have it," Setai said flatly. "Not while we live."

"Agreed," Seishiro said. He straightened up and smiled at the Lion. "Shall we seek death together, then?"

Setai smiled. "Yes. Let us do that."

Samurai Edition

The city of Toshi Ranbo was quiet in the late evening hours. All the arguments, the rivalries, and the outright hostility that filled each day had subsided, if only for a few hours of rest. The city showed little sign of the fighting that had broken out so short a time ago, and the rebuilding was nearly complete. Was it the fate of all capitals to see such bloodshed? Doji Domotai thought perhaps it was. Perhaps it was the folly of man, to believe in the creation of something so permanent, that invoked the punishment of fate.

The Emperor sat on the throne. The clans were at peace.

And yet the young Crane Champion sensed nothing but death in the future.

"Lady Domotai-sama."

Domotai turned and smiled politely. "What is it, Kaisei?" The courtier returned her smile, albeit far more warmly. "My lady, the venerable Lady Otomo has arrived. She wishes an audience, if you are available. What shall I tell her?"

"Hoketuhime?" Domotai sighed. "What can she want at this hour?"

"I believe she has something of importance to discuss with you, and wished to avoid the clutter of other guests. The walls have ears, but even walls must sleep, after all."

"I can't imagine what she wishes to discuss," Domotai said wryly.

Her light sarcasm was apparently lost on Kaisei. "Surely you do not wish me to say it, my lady," he said under his breath. "Not here, on the balcony."

Domotai waved his comment away. Part of a Champion's burden, she had discovered, was that most people took her every word literally. It could be quite annoying. "I know what she wants, Kaisei. Tell Hoketuhime-sama that I will be with her momentarily."

"Hai," he said with a smile. He bowed sharply, then turned and hurried back in.

Domotai turned back to the city and took another few moments. She had precious few of them anymore. For now, the city was at peace, but how long could it last? Hoketuhime's visit only drove home the fears she felt fluttering inside her spirit. Now, more than ever, she was certain that when the fighting had ended, the Empire had only achieved a reprieve, not an end.

And when the war began again, it could well continue until no Empire remained.

Future of the Story

Mirumoto Kei surveyed the Dragon line. Her fellow samurai appeared relaxed, yet ready. She felt neither.

"Your troops are ready, why do you pace so?" Mirumoto Mareshi cocked his head as he looked at her.

She stopped her pacing immediately. "My apologies Mareshi-sama. I must confess to feeling somewhat anxious."

The young man raised an eyebrow curiously. "This is not your first command. Why would you feel anxious?"

Kei glanced away. "There are those who say& who say that my successes during the War of the Rich Frog were a farce," she admitted reluctantly. "I have heard the whispers in court."

"And they say what?"

Kei actually blushed, although her expression was angry. "They say that I cannot defeat a foe whose forces are not divided along two fronts."

Mareshi smiled somewhat, though it was without mirth. "You relish the opportunity to prove yourself in battle. I must admit, I thought you more self-assured than that. I sometimes forget how young you are."

Now it was Kei's turn to stare curiously. "We are much the same age, Mareshi-sama."

"Perhaps we are," he mused. "You will have the chance to prove your mettle in battle soon enough, Kei. Just remember that somewhere there is a Crane who longs for the same thing."

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

Neither the Dragon nor the Crane were known for the brutal fighting styles of the Crab, or the tactical efficiencies of the Lion. Yet a battle, no matter how elegant the plans or how precise the combatants, is never an elegant or precise affair. The Dragon made gains, but not without losses. The Crane made them pay for every foot of land they claimed.

Kei fought with a fury she had not shown before. Her blades flashed and struck down every Crane she could reach. Her unit fought just as bravely, and matched her step for step. They anchored the Dragon line and forced the Crane into a defensive posture. Mareshi fought close by, clearing a swath equal to Kei's, but with less ferocity. He worked methodically but mercilessly.

The Dragon army moved forward, slowly and inexorably pushing back the Daidoji front line. The losses on either side were considerable, and the sight of bodies piled on the sidelines, blue atop green and vice versa, was disheartening even to the most seasoned commander.

At a break in the fighting Kei found Mareshi at her side. He looked at her face and found little of the excitement she had expressed before the battle.

"You have your command. You have your battle, and thus far it seems that you have your victory. Yet you do not seem happy."

"This& is not the same as before," Kei said quietly.

"What did you expect?" Mareshi asked.

"The battle with the Lion and Unicorn was one ordered by the Emperor himself. This is entirely different. What are we fighting for? Honor? How can there be honor in the deaths of our brothers and our Crane cousins?"

And for that, Mareshi had no answer.

L5R Board Game

The kobune rode the cresting waves all the way into the beach, landing roughly on the rocky beach with a start and disgorging dozens of Mantis samurai. One ship followed the first, and then another, and another, until the entire sea was dotted with wave after wave of kobune. At first the Mantis were scattered across the beach, but then they began to assemble in patrols, then units, and finally legions, until the beach was clogged with an endless sea of green.

Mukami nodded appreciatively. "Yoritomo was good on his word," he observed. "I honestly did not think he would have so many men under his command. The Islands of Silk and Spice must surely be empty."

"Ronin," the surly man standing beside him said. "He pads his legions with ronin, then dresses them up in Mantis colors to confound his opponents." He glanced sidelong at his friend. "And apparently his allies as well."

Mukami smirked. "No need to be so smarmy." He turned to the men assembled behind him. "You have Tsuruchi's orders," he said. "One archer per unit until the Yoritomo all have a Wasp at their side. Then begin adding a second archer per unit. Go." As the men scrambled down the beach to take their places, Mukami turned back to his friend. "Does that meet with your approval?"

"Of course," Tsuruchi answered. He pondered for a moment. "What do the Lion say when they prepare to enter an uneven battle like this?"

"They say that any day is a good day to die," Mukami answered. "Do you share that sentiment today?"

"Not at all," Tsuruchi said. "Today is a good day to kill."

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

The Mantis marched across the coastal plains like the fresh sea breeze, bringing order in their wake. The sight of so many surly and uncouth warriors caused many to fear, but good to his word, the warlord Yoritomo vowed to do no harm to an Empire already plagued with the wars of arrogant and distracted clans. His army had come to purge the Shadowlands that plagued the people, and if in doing so they could prove their mettle to the Great Clans, so much the better.

The vast Mantis legions continued to march, seeking an enemy upon which to wage a war such as they had never known.

L5R Graphic Novel

There was virtually no sound other than the periodic whistling of the wind as it blew through the branches of hundreds of cherry trees. The breeze dislodged the sakura petals, and they rained gently down, covering everything in a brilliant coat of exquisite pink and white. Under any other circumstances, Bayushi Kitaren would be moved by the beauty of it all. Unfortunately, there was no time for such frivolity.

Kitaren caught a fleeting glimpse of blue amid the sea of petals, and his hand tightened around the hilt of his blade. He lost sight of her again, but he stood his ground. She would reveal herself to him. She had no choice.

The young Scorpion let his other hand drift to his belt, where the tassel that had, until recently, always hung upon his uncle's fan was now resting. Clenching it brought a fresh wave of pain and grief, but this time there was something else. Anger. He had come far and done terrible things to find the woman that had killed his uncle. And now it seemed, at long last, that he had. He only wished he felt more certain.

There. The blue again. This time, it did not disappear. Despite the circumstances, Kitaren was taken aback by the woman's beauty. The daughters of Doji were almost invariably beautiful, of course, but this woman& she was unlike any that the young man had ever seen.

Kitaren maintained his grip on the hilt of his blade, ignoring the fresh hail of petals that the breeze showered upon him. His opponent's hand moved like water, gliding around the hilt of her katana. Kitaren could see the colored tassels adorning her sword guard. Each represented a defeated foe. There were many.

"I know you were involved in the murder of my uncle," he said, hoping his mask would conceal the uncertainty on his face.

"Do you?" the Crane samurai-ko asked lightly. "Odd, given that I was not."

"If not, then we have no business together," Kitaren said.

"Oh, in that you are mistaken, little Scorpion," the woman said.

"As you wish," Kitaren answered. He desperately hoped that his show of uncertainty had convinced her of his incompetence. And he hoped with equal fervor that his uncertainty was in fact an act, and not a weakness that was about to cost him his life.

History of L5R

Ikoma Nobu rose from where he kneeled, his bones aching underneath him. "Not too much longer," he muttered to himself with a chuckle, "and these old bones will be young again." Nobu bowed to the monk attending the shrine. He gathered up the armful of scrolls he had placed by the door upon entry and walked slowly out. "But I will not join my ancestors just yet. There is still much to do before I can rest."

Nobu had seen much in his life. He served under more daimyo and champions than most could comprehend. He had watched as an Imperial dynasty - which most thought would last forever fell and was replaced by a new line. Would the Toturi line continue unbroken for all time? "Of course it will," Nobu thought, "just like the last one did."

He chuckled to himself again as he walked through the streets, nodding in acknowledgement of the bows he received from the younger samurai he met as he passed. He shifted the scrolls in his arms, as their weight caused his arms to feel their age. He made no sign of his fatigue, however. He was still a Lion.

The Ikoma, the Lion, and the Empire had been through many hardships in the years Nobu had served, as well as the years before that. Nobu had learned of these times from his father and this memory made him absorb the stories with delight, even those that outlined dark times and dark men or beasts.

Nobu thought of those that would stand against the Empire. Iuchiban, the monstrous Oni from beyond the Carpenter Wall, and even the dark god, Fu Leng all stood against the strong-hearted samurai and shugenja of Rokugan. They all broke against the rock of bushido and were dashed aside. Daigotsu would learn this lesson, as all had before him.

All hardships did not rise from external foes, however. Nobu remembered the many wars his clan fought against those who could otherwise be friends and allies. He remembered the Lion fighting side by side with the Unicorn at Oblivion's Gate, and he remembered the bitter battles they had fought against each other of late. He thought of friends he had made within the Dragon clan, and he thought of the battles in the lands of the Dragonfly.

He shook his head as he entered a simple, well-maintained building. "Conflict is our nature. If we have no enemy, we create one." The old Ikoma smiled at the children waiting on him, and his dark thoughts fled. Their excitement filled the room and made him feel young again. The weight of his scrolls seemed less in their presence. "Hello, little ones," he said warmly. "What stories would you hear today?"

The eldest among them stepped forward eagerly. "We want to hear stories of heroes, teacher!" he said. "We want to hear about the greatest heroes that ever lived!"

The old man smiled. "Very well then. Take your seats, and let us speak of that dark time in history we call the Clan War."

Kaze no Shiro Return

 

Togashi will return!