A STORY OF THE DIAMOND EMPIRE
BY SETH MASON
Light is a fragile thing.
Seppun Kikaze stood with his back to the old stone wall, breathing heavily. It was only hours until the Unicorn Clan and many of the Capitol City's army would bring the riots to a halt, but the dawn still seemed far away. The pale light of the moon cast very little illumination down on the city, and Kikaze had to stop himself from jumping at every noise.
Light must be fed and created. All darkness needs is lack of light.
It was that ghost's fault. First, it convinced him to carry these blades and act like a one man army in the riot. Now he was thinking in poetic terms of light and dark. Somewhere deep in his soul, though, he knew what he was doing was right. Not just right in the sense he was doing things because he felt like they were correct. It was right because it was his place in the Order, as dictated to him by the Celestial Heavens at birth.
Another gunshot rang out above the din of people yelling from far away, windows breaking, and generals sounds of confusion in a city gone mad. He was being chased, he knew now. He had barely set foot outside of his apartment when he had felt someone following him. As he made his way through the streets, he had put down one man attacking an older woman, and had managed to defend himself when he was accosted by would-be muggers. Kikaze had done so without drawing his swords, which surprised him even more. He never had any training with real hand to hand combat, only light practices of the ancient mizu-do techniques, primarily used to exercise one's lungs and blood.
The ghost, the ancestor, was doing it. Somehow it was focusing his mind for him, he could almost hear Seppun Kasuno's dead voice whispering in his ear. It wasn't just speaking to him, though. The words seemed more like transferred thoughts, letting Kikaze see things in his mind's eye a fraction of a second before they happened. It almost hurt his head to try and rationalize it.
"You're a brave one, old man." a mocking voice came from the alley, and Kikaze turned his head to look. Two young men in leather coats were walking out of the shadows, almost as if they had materialized from them. One carried a pistol lazily in his right hand, and the other held a thick steel chain, pulling it taut and releasing it as he walked. There was an odd mark on their coats, where the the mon of a samurai's family would be, a strange insect like seal.
The mark of the Locust Clan, the voice of Kikaze's ancestor said to him. They are at the heart of the city's pain, Kikaze. They seek to subvert the Order, overthrow the Emperor, and plunge the Empire into darkness and dishonor.There was a seemingly infinite pause as the two gang members kept walking toward him, and the voice stopped. Finally, Kasuno's ghost voice returned with lethal calm.
You know what to do.
The one with the chain stepped in front of his companion, and began to swing it in one hand. "Do you talk, old man?" he said, circling around the balding Seppun.
Kikaze looked at the Locust impassively, and folded his arms across his chest.
"Fine, then," the young man said, and swung the chain viciously at Kikaze's head.
Seppun Kikaze didn't even realize what he had done until the Locust's head was under his foot, and the chain was in his hands. He looked blankly down at the chain, and then the youth under his boot, and blinked.
The second Locust raised his gun to fire, shouting something at Kikaze, but the words seemed so far away. The Locust boy looked like he was moving in slow motion, and Kikaze simply spun the chain around in his right hand, lashed it out at the gunman's arm, and brought him crashing down to the pavement with a firm jerk. The Locust under his boot tried to struggle free, and with a solid twist of his heel, that one stopped moving. Cursing loudly, the one with the gun tried to aim again, and Kikaze brought the weighted end of the chain down on his skull, a detached look of boredom on his face.
Seppun Kikaze stood there for a moment, looking from one dead body to another. Some part of him told him he should be appalled, murdering two people without a second thought like that. As the screams and sounds of a dying city returned to his ears, that part of him was silenced forever.
Kakita Mumoko was a quiet young woman, who was known very little outside of her small circle of friends. When her mother had passed away ten years ago, she was fourteen, but took responsibility of her family. When her father had a heart attack five years later, the small pottery shop in Otosan Uchi became her responsibility. Her two younger brothers began to withdraw from the world shortly after their mother's death, and were seen less and less around the family home.
Mumoko worried about them, speaking softly to them when they did decide to come home. At first, she simply missed them. But as their 'visits' became less frequent, she began to worry about them. One night, they came home drunk, with three young men they were apparently good friends with. When they had left the next afternoon, hungover and unwashed, Mumoko had to kick them out.
That had been two months ago, and she missed them greatly now. Mumoko prayed nightly to the spirits of her mother and father for guidance, and tried as best as she could to continue on with the shop. The young Kakita was a pretty girl, and though many men came to court her, she had fallen in love with her craft and her store, the only things she had left of her family.
When the riots began, Mumoko had been closing up the store from a late night of spinning. She had felt inspired somehow, and had crafted one of the most beautiful vases she had ever seen. Not that the young woman would ever say so, or allow the thought to linger in her mind for long. She had gone back into her store when the city went dark, and when the looting began, she had barred the doors and windows.
Mumoko had gone back to her manual wheel, trying to shut the world out. She had spun for only five minutes when there was a loud thud against her door. Her small hands flinched, and the simple start of a vase was ruined, set off balance, and then flung about the room as the wheel continued to spin.
The thudding on the door became an insistent, rythmical knocking, and she could hear a muffled voice shouting her name from the other side. It was her brother! Mumoko jumped up from the pottery wheel, running to the door. The pounding continued until she reached the door, and began moving the bar. Mumoko flung open the door, and there stood her two brothers.
The two smiled at her through unshaven faces. Their eyes were bloodshot, and they looked as if they had been running. Behind them, there were three other young men, all of whom looked the same, as if they had not seen shower nor bed for a week.
"I was so worried about you!" Mumoko squealed as she hurried them in. "It's not safe on the streets, you know! I'm so glad you're here." the group walked in past her, wordlessly, though they all had amused smirks on their faces as they came into the shop and looked around.
"Who are your friends?" she asked as she closed the door behind them. She turned to look, and saw they were all staring at her, smiling stupidly. Mumoko just now noticed they all had on matching leather coats, "What's that?" she asked slowly, pointing to the blue-green insect patch on their shoulders.
Two of them began to laugh.
The sound of shattering clay and a woman's screams were lost in the chorus of the riots.
On a forgotten side street on the outskirts of Otosan Uchi, far away from the riots, the ground began to shake. The shaking started slowly, and then the very ground seemed to heave upward in a ten foot radius. A light emerged from the crackes in the earth, and the mound exploded upward, spewing out a great gout of flame and two figures. The two men, along with the debris, shot up about fifteen feet and landed solidly on the ground.
"We... made it." one said, his ancient red robes singed and blackened. Asako Sano stood up shakily, placing his hands on his knees, as if he had been running for miles. His companion, a black garbed ninja named Bayushi Taigo, came to his feet quickly, and surveyed the area.
Taigo took off his mask and ran a gloved hand through his long black hair. "I've had worse rides," he said quietly before placing the mask back on.
The Phoenix glared at him with his one good eye wordlessly, then began walking.
"Where are you going?" Taigo asked, taking a few quick jogs to catch up.
There was another dull explosion that came from the city, and a small fire began to light up the sky for a second near the Imperial Palace. "There," Sano said, "to the hidden maze under the Palace. If your Champion isn't already dead, I intend to help." The henshin kept walking towards a thick stone wall.
"My Champion?" Taigo asked quickly, looking towards the Palace. "Do you mean Dairyu or Shiriko?"
"Yes," Sano said flatly, before dissapearing into the stone wall.
A slight wind kicked up around Taigo, causing the black kimono to whip around his legs. The ninja stared at the stone wall for a moment, then pressed a few controls on the wristband of his suit. Without waiting for an answer, he began speaking into his radio, "This is Bayushi Taigo. Shiriko-sama is still MIA, and I am assuming command for now. Place all units at the Seal on full alert, and prepare them to move at my command."
The soldier on the other end stammered a confirmation, and Taigo clicked off his radio. The self-appointed Bayushi daimyo smoothed out his kimono and began to walk towards the Palace as well.
When Ide Kokuro was growing up, he had spent most of his time keeping bullies and other nasties away from his friends. He was immense by Rokugani standards, at six feet four inches, and nearly two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle. People were always intimidated by Kokuro's size, but he was an Ide, and few souls were as kind and charismatic as he. When he passed his gemppuku, the giant Unicorn came to Otosan Uchi with the mind to make the world a better place. He didn't intend to take the politics of the Diamond Palace by storm, but to help those less fortunate than he. Kokuro spent most of his time volunteering in run down neighborhoods, helping kids and being a genuine father figure and role model.
After the first few years, Kokuro's Crusade (as his charity company would come to be called) became quite popular with the social elite of Otosan Uchi, and the Unicorn in general. Their donations combined with support of the popular media helped Kokuro's goals become more and more real each day. Even many of the scattered street thugs gave the Ide and his actitvities a wide berth, for fear of his immense size and reputation, or out of genuine respect for what he was trying to do.
About the time Hoshi tackled Yogo Ishak and began his final attack, Kokuro held a shotgun in one hand and a baseball bat in the other.
"Run, damnit!" he yelled over the screaming of the kids. The Locust Clan had targetted his Crusade center, hoping to bring down the Ide and his program, demoralizing Otosan Uchi as a whole. What they had found was that Kokuro's reputation was more than just words. Two Locust lay on the ground in front of the Unicorn, suffering from massive head trauma from his bat. Three were slumped near the doorway of his building, thanks to the shotgun. When the shooting had begun, he started evacuating the building. Now he was at a standoff with the Locust. Two were outside on either side of the doorway, both holding pistols. Kokuro held his shotgun trained at the entrance, hoping to hold off the Locust long enough for 'his' kids to escape.
Just as the Ide was about to turn and run, thinking everyone had made it out, there was a large explosion, from the direction of the Imperial Palace. The force shook the ground, setting Kokuro off balance. Just as he gained his footing again, another blast came, but this one much closer.
Someone had bombed the back exit to the building.
"No!" Kokuro shouted, turning and running to the back rooms. Smoke was everywhere once he left the front office, and just as he came to the rear exit, he could hardly see.
Two shots rang out from the doorway. A bullet grazed by the Unicorn's head, and another sunk deep into his stomach. Kokuro gasped in pain, and stumbled backwards.
"Knock, knock, Unicorn," a deep voice sang from the doorway. Two Locust stepped into view, and the lead one leveled the barrel at Kokuro, expecting to see him bleeding on his knees. What they found was the towering Ide with dead eyes, holding his shotgun at them.
Kokuro fired once, blasting the front Locust in the throat, spraying blood everywhere. The second one fired at him, and another bullet took him in the chest. Kokuro didn't seem to notice as he dropped the shotgun and swung the bat with two hands, leaping at the remaining Locust. That one fell half a second later, a look of pure fear etched into the side of his face that hadn't been beaten into formless meat.
"Takano! You okay in there?" a voice called out from the front room, and Kokuro spun to see two more Locust standing in the doorway the led to the front office. "Son of a bitch!" one cried, and raised his pistol on instinct, shooting Kokuro twice in the skull. The towering Unicorn fell to the ground as the two remaining Locust looked at the whole scene, unbelieving.
"Forty three dead," the Iuchi officer handed the report to his commanding officer, who would in turn bring the report to the Champion of the Unicorn. "Two hundred and seventy nine wounded, and we have yet to estimate the damage to the property. That report will most likely be done within three days. Rough estimates by tomorrow."
The Iuchi knelt, and then was dismissed. "Forty three," the Shinjo captain muttered to himself, nodding. "No great loss."