A STORY OF THE DIAMOND EMPIRE
BY SETH MASON
"Welcome, Magistrate," The large Hida guard boomed from beneath his helm. He opened the doors to Kyuden Hida, and bowed his head in deference to Tetsugi, the Emperor's personal advisor, and his companion, a stocky man in the robes on an Iuchi forensic specialist.
"Your arrival is most unexpected, Heichi Tetsugi-sama, I do not know if my Daimyo will be prepared for your visit." The guard hurried up to the two men as they walked into the doors and down the hall to Hida Tengyu's offices.
The Iuchi looked up at Tetsugi and smirked, mouthing the word "Heichi?" and laughing lightly.
"He will make time, samurai," Tetsugi replied, reaching the large doors, ignoring his assistant's remark, "I bring the seal of your Emperor with me, and I am on a most urgent assignment." The Magistrate started to pull the door open with his hand, but it nearly knocked him over as it was flung open from the other side.
Standing in the doorway was the imposing Champion of the Crab, Hida Tengyu. Strapped to his side was Chakara by a large obi, black against the dull blue and grey of his worn kimono. Compared to the rest of the man, the Ancestral Sword of the Crab looked like a small wakizashi.
"Magistrate Tetsugi," He said in a quiet, rumbling voice, "I was not informed ahead of time of your arrival." The large man bowed, "Please forgive the inadequate reception."
Tetsugi and the young Unicorn returned the bow, with the Iuchi kneeling and Tetsugi simply bending. The senior Magistrate said, "It is fine, Tengyu-san. It was the intention of Yoritomo and myself for my visit to be a surprise. My assistant, Iuchi Fujinku, and I are here to inspect your armies."
"I see," Tengyu said, scratching his chin. He narrowed his eyes, as if considering something, then said flatly, "Magistrate, I would speak with you in my office," He looked over at Fujinku, "In private, if possible."
Tetsugi nodded, and said to the Iuchi, "Go, Fujinku. I trust your eyes nearly as much as my own," the Magistrate handed him the green goggles hanging from his belt and smiled. To the Crab Champion, he said, "My assistant will inspect your barracks and training grounds alone until I join him. If you don't mind, I would prefer that he find his own way around, so he may watch them without worry of being seen."
Tengyu nodded, "I understand," he turned his head and spoke to a woman behind him, "Keichi, show this Unicorn to the Shiba barracks entrance first. Wait for him to return, then take him to the other areas of our training. Leave him to inspect our men alone." The womman knelt, then stood and led Fujinku down the hall.
"This way, please." Tengyu led Tetsugi past several desks into his private office, a large but spartan room, with enough decorations to make is a reasonable place to greet Imperial guests, but not much beyond what was needed. "Sake, Magistrate?" the Crab offered a small porcelain container from a cabinet.
"No, thank you," Tetsugi said, as Tengyu took a long pull from one of the chilled sake decanters. Somehow, the Crab Champion did it without making it look rude or brutish.
Tengyu sat in his large chair, topped with a redwood Crab mon on the back. He leaned back and closed his eyes a second, as if to relax his mind. "Something is wrong," He said without opening his eyes, "isn't it, old friend?"
Tetsugi sighed and nodded, "You know it, too." He said wearily. Tengyu and Tetsugi had known each other for nine long years, when the Boar had began his job as a minor Magistrate for the Crab Daimyo. "I'm the Emperor's most trusted advisor, and he's sent me away with hardly a word in a time where the entire world could call down war upon us at any second." Tetsugi shook his head. "How are your borders, old man?"
Tengyu leaned forward, opening his eyes. "Quiet as ever. Quiet as they have been since the Oni Lord was banished so long ago." He shrugged and poured himself some more sake. "Perhaps this will be good for my men. Some are beginning to wonder if their training is useless now that the Shadowlands have been eradicated." "Have they?" Tetsugi asked, his tone flat.
"What?" Tengyu was surprised and nearly dropped his sake cup.
"Tengyu, I want to see the Seal."
The market corner bustled with activity as noon approached, and Amaterasu hung high over the people of Otosan Uchi as they went about their business. Merchants called out their wares, and businessmen walked next to samurai as everyone moved about for their lunch break. Moving into the crowd were two hooded figures, wearing the robes of the Phoenix. Even by traditionalistic Rokugani standards, the robes were a bit outdated, but no one seemed to pay much attention.
The leading Phoenix looked about as they walked, and muttered, "Even in the darkest days, commerce will continue." He laughed to himself as he realized that Rokugan could be struck down tomorrow, but next to him, two men haggled over the price of a roll of silk.
"What was that, Master Sano?" The second one said, his tall figure standing a good foot and a half above the first.
"Nothing, Calin," The one called Sano turned, pulled back his hood, and looked right into the hood of the other, "And stop calling me Master!" The shorter man's features were middle-aged, perhaps thirty-five years of age, his long black hair had a few hints of grey in it. But his eyes spoke of knowledge of many lifetimes as they narrowed at his companion.
Sano threw his hands up in the air and turned, "Shinsei save me from this mindless gaijin." He said dramatically. "You're nothing like your father was, you know. That was a outlander with a good head on his shoulders. Maybe the last of his kind," The Phoenix mused to himself as they made their way through the crowd, which was taking a little more notice of the noisy little man.
Calin laughed from beneath his hood, and said, "If you expect me to live up to my father, you set said expectations a tad high, Asako Sano-sama."
"Perhaps," he chuckled, leading his companion down a small alley. They emerged onto another busy street, but this time there were no merchants. The people moving back and forth were coming into or out of a large, open-gated arch with the mon of Clan Mantis emblazoned on either side of the gateway, and a huge mantis-like sculpture towering over the top.
"What are we doing here, Sano?" Calin asked, his tone apprehensive.
Sano led him towards the Imperial Palace without a pause in his walk, "I'm going to have an audience with the Jade Champion." He said simply, then quieter, "Let's just hope she's cleaner than the first one I met..."
Sano and Calin walked under the arch, its green veined marble shining in the sunlight, still looking new after so many years. They moved towards the Imperial Palace proper, and occasionally Sano would mutter things like, "There were chrysanthemum patches here," or "I once played go under that tree when it was hardly as tall as an ogre." When they reached the entrance to the palace, a large Mantis bushi stopped them by crossing his yari in front of the door.
"What business, Phoenix?" He said.
"I've come to talk to the Jade Champion, samurai," Sano said lightly waving his weapon aside, and moved towards the door.
The Mantis flustered for a second at the man's arrogance, and slammed the butt of his spear down before Sano. "Kitsune Maiko-sama is an extremely busy and important woman, Phoenix. Are you expected?"
Sano locked eyes with the samurai and glared, "Is disaster ever expected, warrior?" Behind him, Calin stiffened under his robes as he saw the Mantis's face redden.
"Disaster?" He nearly barked. The large bushi leaned over Sano and growled, "What are you talking about, little man?"
"I have come to-" Sano was interrupted by the sound of sirens out in the street. All three men turned their attention to the noise, and saw the flashing lights of a Phoenix Mercy ambulance cutting through traffic.
"They're heading to the Temple of the Elements," Calin whispered softly, and beneath his hood, his hidden eyes reflected fear. "It is too late, Master."
"Bah!" Sano spat, grabbing his companion by the arm, "Live as long as I have and you'll learn it's never too late, boy." He hurried them away from the confused Mantis, and the Asako added, "And I am not your Master!"
Far to the West, in the lands of the Crab, a large figure crept down a quiet hallway and stopped before a large set of doors. This is where the Phoenix Masters meet when they're down here, Chobu thought to himself, and pushed one door open slowly, then slipped in. Surely the self-appointed Masters of All Things would have something about maho in here...
Chobu walked into the office, a large, circular room with a five-seated table in the center. The walls were covered in bookshelves and tables with all sorts of papers, scrolls, models, and whatnot were strewn about the office. Chobu was impressed at the amount of delicate rituals and information on the Fortunes that the Masters let lay about.
Were a more patient man, I could spend a long time in here, Chobu sometimes wondered why the kami favored him so and allowed him to command them as he did. He was not nearly as focused or as patient as any other shugenja he had ever known. Chobu looked down at his nametag, "Even this Iuchi Fujinku, who doesn't even exist, is supposedly more patient." he rolled his eyes into the air and continued with his search.
Chobu poked through book after book as fast as he could, but found nothing. The young Badger sighed, then stopped. Smiling, Chobu pulled the green goggles Tetsugi had lent him off his belt. The Magistrate had said there was a 'taint' setting, that picked up the aura of the Shadowlands and its influence. Hopefully it would register any sort of maho. The idea of the Elemental masters themselves practicing blood magic sent chills down even Chobu's spine.
He fiddled with the controls some, then slipped them over his eyes. Chobu staggered back, and quickly turned the goggles off as his world exploded into white light for a brief moment. Moron, he chastised himself, That's the kami setting. The shugenja moved the dials a bit more, then put the goggles on his face again, this time opening his eyes very slowly. The room was tinted in shades of purple, and on a far bookshelf there was a bright green glow behind several books.
Chobu ran over to the shelf, and quickly removed the books to find the glow was coming from behind some steel panel in the wall. He fiddled with the edges of the panel for a second, and then it sprung open, flooding his vision with the bright green glow. The Badger pulled the goggles off and quickly pulled whatever it was from out of the compartment.
In his large hand, Chobu held a black paper scroll rolled in a faded green ribbon. A large red wax seal was cracked on the scroll. For a moment, he stared at it, not knowing what he had in his hand.
Then he knew.
He held power in his hand unseen in ages. Somehow he knew that the scroll in his hand would give him the means to crush those that destroyed his father, and the might to crush the Emperor himself, if he so chose. All for such a small price, but Chobu was very willing to pay it.
Chobu laughed quietly to himself as he reset the panel and placed the books back on the shelf. All he needed now was for that old fool Tetsugi to lead him to his enemy, and he would turn them into dust.
The two reached the entrance to the Temple's gardens, only to be stopped by another guard, but this time, Sano was having none of it. "Babble like a fool about regulations," he said as he pushed past the Shiba bushi and followed a group of paramedics into the building, "or do what you're supposed to and keep the real threats away from here." Calin mused it was probably Sano's showing of the typical Phoenix holy man's attitude towards a Shiba bushi that allowed the guard to relax.
When they reached the top tier, both men were shocked. But where Calin was simply disturbed by the amount of destruction in the room, Sano felt a rage burn within him that had not for many years. He cast his gaze all about the Tier of Fire and saw nothing but desecration. Near the center of the room, Sano recognized the body of the foul Oni, its head laying feet from its neck. Not very far from the corpse were several others, including the remains of the Master of the Void, and the motionless form of the Master of Earth. In another area of the room, he recognized the late Champion of the Phoenix by his armor, for half his head and body remained. The paramedics rushed into the room, tending to the wounded but living. The sanctity of the most holy ground in Otosan Uchi had been violated by a force of evil not seen in generations.
"Are you allright, Sano?" Calin asked quietly, putting his hand on the older man's shoulder.
"I will..." Sano fought to keep an even tone to his voice, "I will be fine." He said flatly, then motioned to the survivors, "Three Masters remain," The Asako began walking towards them, "We must speak with them."
As they reached the group, a young girl with tears streaming from her eyes noticed them first. She was being attended by a older robed man, and she had no visible wounds. Sano recognized the Ancestral Sword of the Phoenix laying on the ground at her side. "Who are you?" she asked quietly, standing. The older man saw the kanji on her robes and guessed he stood before the Master of Fire.
Sano bowed low before her, "I am Asako Sano, Master. I have come to warn the Empire of a great evil."
"You have come from where?" The girl said, confusion clear on her face. "My name is Isawa Sumi, Asako-san, and what is this you speak of?"
Another man quickly stepped up to stand next to the girl, he was short and broad, built much like Sano, but he was plainly an older man. "I am Isawa Kujimitsu, the Master of Water," He bowed slightly, holding his left arm, freshly bandaged by a paramedic. "Did you say your name was..." He trailed off, as if he could not bring himself to say the name.
"Asako Sano," came the reply, and Kujimitsu's eyes grew wide.
"Sano," He whispered.
"What is the matter?" came a harsh voice, and Sano turned to find himself feet away from what looked like a man from the Burning Sands wearing the colors of the Phoenix. What was most disturbing about the dark man was the large wing-like thing protruding from his chest. He waved away a paramedic that inisisted on treating him.
"You have a thorn in your side, Master of Air," Sano said flatly, pointing to the man's chest. Calin flinched under his hood. "And the matter is that I have come back to the Empire searching for maho-tsukai among the greatest shugenja in Rokugan, and to warn the Emperor of Rokugan's future." Sano's eyes narrowed as he regarded the Master of Air.
"Who are these people?" The Master nearly growled at Kujimitsu.
"He is Asako Sano, Zul Rashid." Kujimitsu replied, his voice still soft, almost reverent, "I do not know his companion, but Sano-sama is a man to be trusted." He turned to look Rashid in the face, "He is Henshin."
"Impossible," Rashid spat, not taking his eyes off the Asako and his tall companion. "The last Henshin died in the Shadow Wars."
"A test, then," Isawa Sumi spoke suddenly, and all turned to see a stone resolve on her face. "Prepare yourself, Asako Sano." Sumi closed her eyes, and stepped back, holding her hands out to her sides and calling the spirits of fire to her. The other Masters and Sano understood what she was doing, and the paramedics moved away quickly from the scene.
Sumi had her fill of lies. She had been lied to when she was told her father would recover. They had lied when they said she would be safe. They had told her that they would keep her from harm, and they had lied again. Now, the spirits of fire danced about her, and she would purge the lies with flame.
All watched as Sumi's arms and hands were shrouded in dancing flames, and fire arced from her eyes to the her palms. Suddenly, she snapped her eyes open and thrust her fingers at Asako Sano. A great cone of fire sped towards the man.
Sano shifted a foot back, and held his left hand in front of him, fingers spread. He began to chant low as the flames tumbled to him. As soon as the fire touched his hand, it split, and began to circle around his body. The Henshin continued his chant, and the fires circled closer and closer, then leapt to his outstretched hand. Sano then turned to the corpse of the dead Oni, and made a fist at it with his left hand. The corpse shifted, as if punched by a great invisible force.
The Caretakers, paramedics, and even the Masters looked to Asako Sano with awe plain on their face. Sano's quiet companion just chuckled softly.
"You... you turned the fire into air?" Sumi gasped, floating down to the ground.
Sano looked to the young Master of Fire, also very obviously impressed. "No, young one. I simply asked to the kami to do it for me..." He shook his head, "It has been many lifetimes since I have seen such raw power displayed."
"It's true, then" Rashid said quietly, even his usually cynical eyes full of wonder. "Why have you come to us, when you said you need to speak with the Emperor.
"My visions," Sano replied. "I have not had them for many ages, and they returned to me just within this decade." The Henshin shrugged. "I did not trust them, until now, honestly." He pointed to the Oni's corpse on the floor, "I saw your fight with the Oni happen seven years ago, but I dismissed it as a dream. Now I am convinced Calin and I are on the right path."
"Calin?" Kujimitsu asked. "Your companion is not of Rokugan?"
"No," Sano said, motioning to the tall man behind him, whose face was hidden by the shadow of his hood. "Calin is the son of... an important lord from the Isle of Man, Magh De Cheo." The Asako spoke the foreign words with no effort, "He is here to watch our history unfold and bring the tale back to his home."
"As I suspect you have been doing for many years, Asako Sano-sama?" Sumi said, her eyes full of respect for the older man.
"Hai, and we must go now." Sano bowed lowly, as did Calin, to the assembled Masters. "I greive deeply for your loss... our loss, but we must reach Yoritomo before it is too late."
"Too late?" Rashid's eyes narrowed as he spoke. "What..." Suddenly, the Master of Air's face relaxed, then contorted, as if he were trying to scream, but could not find the breath. The paramedics rushed to his side, pushing away the Masters, Sano, and Calin, quickly laying Rashid down on the floor.
"Rashid!" Isawa Sumi cried. She balled up her fists at her chest, and could feel the tears threatening in her eyes. "What's wrong with him!" She stammered, and a medic held her back to give the other healers room to examine him. Rashid was on the ground, writing slowly, clutching his chest where his heart used to be.
"His heart," Sano whispered. "His khadi heart has been destroyed. I have seen it twice before."
Kujimitsu looked to the ancient Henshin, and said, "But his heart is in the Jewel of the Desert still, hidden."
"Your prophecy, lord Sano," Calin said evenly, his eyes betraying no hint of emotion as he watched the scene. Sano looked back to his companion, and saw how the young man was barely keeping some hidden feeling in check. The gaijin could feel the energies of life, their ebb and their flow, and right now, something washed over him that made him wish to cry out.
Sano knew he was far too late. The Emperor had bombed the Jewel of the Desert, Killing millions in a terrible instant, and leaving millions more to die slowly.
In the ancestral home of the Bayushi, a lone woman sat upon a black and red throne, reading from a worn and stained book. Bayushi Shiriko, the Daimyo of the Scorpion, nodded her head in thought as she came upon her father's note in the Clan Wars a millenia ago. "Before the Wars began in earnest, the Daimyo of the Dragon, calling himself Togashi Yokuni at the time, dissapeared, leaving the legions of the Mirumoto and ise zumi in the hands of a dishonored ronin. Known then as Toturi the Black, he was once the lord of the Akodo, and Hantei's favored general.
Nearly two years later, Yokuni returned, arriving at the Castle of the Hida in secret, and aiding Hida Yakamo, the Crab Thunder, at his moment of need. The Dragon had brought Yakamo the gift of the Jade Hand, and he had brought the Empire a flame of hope: The descendent of Shinsei himself. Together, Yokuni and the Hooded Ronin, as Shinsei's heir was called, named and guided the Seven Thunders to their destiny, to destroy an evil long thought dead."
Shiriko stood and shook her head in fascination. "It is amazing," she spoke to the empty air and shadows of the court. "History seems to repeat itself," she looked out one of the windows into the gathering darkness. "It is interesting the things that have remained unknown all this time..." She said, turning back to the court. "The sword of Doji Chomei, Ambition, is a blade of blood magic and corruption, Taigo. We are the Scorpion, keepers of secrets, and defenders of the Empire to threats it cannot see..." Her voice trailed off as she weighed a great decision in her mind.
"Taigo," She said finally, "When you are done here, go to Otosan Uchi, and bring Ambition here." She shook her head, "Though some may doubt our Emperor's sanity, there is no question in my mind what would happen should Yoritomo feel compelled to hold that blade."
"Hai, my Lady," A voice came from the darkness. "There is other news, Shiriko-sama."
"Speak," She commanded.
"The Jewel of the Desert is no more, as you know, but we have received a report of Senpet military action against us. Our agents have confirmed that the Pharoh has sent a large detachment of the Allied Nations' underwater force against us. They will reach the eastern shores by noon, tomorrow."
"Is the Emperor aware of this?" Shiriko asked, her voice betraying slight apprehension.
"We have no reason to beleive so, my Lady."
"Go, then Taigo. I will protect the Empire, you protect our Emperor from himself."
"Yes, my Lady."
"And Taigo," Shiriko said quickly, "You serve me well. I see now why you were my father's most trusted ally." "Thank you, my Lady."
A second later, Shiriko knew Taigo was gone, and she walked over to the phone next to her throne. After giving several orders, Bayushi Palace became a beehive of activity, and the barracks nearby were mobilized in less than five minutes.
Ten minutes after that, Shiriko and nearly all of the Scorpion's military force were well on their way to Otosan Uchi, and the Daimyo was phoning her Emperor to warn him of the impending danger.
From a vantage point in the nearby mountains, a small shadow dissapeared as the jets screamed overhead, and hollow laughter could be heard as it made its way towards the lands of the Scorpion.
Lady Sun was completely set as several men gathered around the gates of Hida Castle. Tengyu's guard stood around the large Crab Daimyo as he bowed farewell to Magistrate Tetsugi and his companion. A car was parked nearby, waiting to take them across the Diamond Empire to the traditional lands of the Phoenix. "I hope all was found well, Magistrates." Tengyu spoke formally, and rose to his full height.
"Yes, Tengyu-san. Fujinku tells me your soldiers are most impressive, to say the least. The Emperor will be pleased at their readiness." Tetsugi and the young Unicorn magistrate returned the bow.
Tengyu dismissed his guard, and waited a moment for speaking freely, "These are troubling times, Tetsugi. The Seal is intact, but recent events make me doubt that has any meaning to the safety to the Empire, as you feared."
"Hai," Tetsugi said, motioning for Fujinku to get into the car. "I wish I could have stayed a little longer, but with the destruction of Mendit al-Salaam, getting back to Otosan Uchi is my prime concern. I'm going to assign my other assistants to evaluate the other armies. Keep your troops at full alert until I or the Emperor commands otherwise, Tengyu. You may be asked to mobilize at a moment's notice. Fortunes keep you well, Crab Champion." With that, he bowed low again, and got into his car.
"Fortunes keep you, Heichi Tetsugi-sama," Tengyu whispered as the vehicle sped away. "I would not want to be in your position when war breaks out." The large man stared at the horizon for a second, then went back into his home.
Later that night, the lights of Otosan Uchi glowed brightly as ever, despite the darkness that had seeped into the hearts of the people. The streets were still alive as they ever were, and the citizens went about the business of trying to entertain themselves for the night. Near the Musuem at Otosan Uchi, however, three men moved with a much less innocent intent.
They were dirty, unshaven, and most likely not of noble birth, for not even ronin kept their hands so filthy. They approached the Museum in silence, and walked around the back. There were no guards at the rear entrance, for everything was kept under digital lock and watched by electronic eye.
In the eyes of a Locust, it was an open door.
One man pulled a small device from his pocket and laughed as he pressed a button on it, which made a small noise, and all the lights on the security door died at once. The survellance camera stopped moving, and even the streetlamp's light died. The group of Locusts quickly ran up to the door and began to push it open.
They never noticed the man descend from the sky, clothed in all black, wearing a smooth black faceplate. One of the Locusts fell before he even knew he was in danger. The other two hit the ground seconds later.
The man known as The Father left one alive, as gratitude for opening the door for him.
The ninja made his way quickly and silently down the halls of the museum, around several corners, up a flight of stairs, and finally into the hall of weapons. He stood before Ambition's display and stared at the gleaming blade. Father had been told it was a blade of evil, that its bloodlust consumed the will of its owner. When he saw how the light bent around the blade, how the red jewel in its handle seemed to glare back at him, he had no doubt in his mind the legends of it being a sword of honor were false.
Father placed his hand next to the glass that seperated he and the blade, and began to concentrate. The glass was nothing to the ninja. All barriers were as air to one who was Shadow.
The Father's form became hazy for a moment, and he slipped through the glass as if it were not there. He regained his normal form, and just as he reached for the gleaming blade, a loud alarm sang through the halls of the museum, and the ninja sprang backwards, melting into the shadows seconds before guards rushed by, back the way he had come from. Apparently the Father's actions were not enough to keep the last Locust from trying to gain entrance into the building.
There was a flicker of light in the small display area, as a cage of blue lights formed around the sword. Lasers. He would never be able to retreive Ambition now. Swearing in his mind, the Father walked through the glass window the way he had entered. Clearing his mind for one moment, he simply stepped into the hallway deliberately, and walked past several hurried guards who never took notice of him at all.
The next morning, Tetsugi's jet landed near Kyuden Isawa, in the Phoenix mountains. He and his assistant Fujinku met with the acting Daimyo of the Shiba, Gensu, and made a surprise visit to the small barracks of the Shiba military guard. After the initial view, Tetsugi asked the Daimyo to assemble the samurai for a more formal inspection, and retired to his office on the jet with Fujinku.
When they were alone, Tetsugi flatly said, "There's something wrong."
"What do you mean?" Chobu said, pulling off his Unicorn overcoat and throwing himself into a chair.
"The Shiba are hiding something, Chobu."
The Badger shrugged and rolled his eyes, "So let's go find out what it is, old man."
"I will," Tetsugi said, reaching into a desk drawer and pulling out several sidearms. "You'll have to stay here and go inspect the Shiba troops."
Chobu's eyes widened in shock, "What the hell are you talking about?! This is stupid!"
"Someone has to keep up our appearances, Chobu... and it's not that I don't trust you," The Magistrate said as he placed the guns in his obi and boots, "But my trust lies in the fact I trust you to do something irresponsible. Besides," Tetsugi stood up to leave, "If you die, people may ask questions about Iuchi Fujinku, and find out he's a lie. In which case I have to fill out papers and dodge the Ikoma reporters forever."
"Right," Chobu rolled his eyes, "We wouldn't want to trouble you," he said, his voice practically oozing sarcasm.
"There's probably nothing there anyway," He shook his head, then placed his goggles on. "I was sure we'd find something in the Crab provinces."
Chobu shrugged, "Hmph. Something's bound to turn up. Maybe when we get back to Otosan Uchi you can put Shiriko's little friends in black pajamas to good use and have her find something for us."
"Keep your eyes open, Badger," Was all Tetsugi said as he left.
Ichiro Chobu sighed and smiled as he patted the hidden pocket under his shirt. Whatever it took to get back to Otosan Uchi...
Tetsugi walked silently through the forest. The woods of Mori Isawa had been mostly undisturbed since the end of the Shadow Wars. The Phoenix shugenja had moved to the remains of the Shadowlands, purging the Taint, and maintaining the seal. Despite this, the power of the forest had never been forgotten or ignored. As his air-cushioned boots made no sound, he was able to view some of the animals in the forest, and everything seemed perfect. Indeed, this was a place of balace and harmony with all.
It took a moment for Tetsugi to realize that as he walked, the song of the birds stopped, and all had become silent. As the Magistrate finally snapped out of his meditations, he looked around cautiously. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw the light reflect off his small motorcycle near the forest path, and placed his right hand on a gun. Tetsugi looked around again, and then he saw a cave opening that he hadn't noticed before.
Tetsugi pulled the void pistol from his obi and quietly walked to the cave. As he drew nearer, he felt a cold wind blowing slightly from the opening, and he could smell something.
After years of working at the sides of many Unicorn forensic experts, it took the Magistrate only a moment to recognize it was human. Or was. The cave was pitch black beyond the opening, and Tetsugi adjusted his goggles to nightvision as he stepped in cautiously.
The smell got heavier quickly, and Tetsugi could make out the lines of claws on the stone walls of the cave, and occasionally he'd pass a bone on the floor. When he finally rounded one bend, he saw it.
It was a pile of rotting corpses and bones, laid about like some sort of nest. Even with his trained senses, Tetsugi was nearly overcome with the urge to vomit. He quickly covered his nose and mouth, and ran out of the cave. Tetsugi leaned against the stone face as he opened his mouth and gasped for fresh air. As his breath became more even, he snapped his head up as he heard the sound of metal being torn apart.
Bent over his motorcycle, a large, filty, blue-haired creature was ripping it to shreds. From behind, that was all he could see. An oni. Tetsugi knew it. It ripped apart his vehicle in a manner of a child trying to understand how something was put together. Tetsugi quietly stepped behind a tree, observing the beast.
Nearly a minute later, the oni picked up the wreckage of the cycle, gathering it in its arms, and shambled towards the cave. The thing had a foul face, full of teeth and pieces of rotted flesh caught in its blue mane. Tetsugi nearly retched again as the oni passed, reeking of the pile of corpses it must use as some sort of bed. It seemed oblivious to everything but the metal scraps in its arms. Tetsugi walked a small distance behind it, slowly training his gun on the back of its skull.
As they came around the corner again, coming to the oni's lair, Tetsugi stopped, aimed carefully, and pulled the trigger. The oni made no sound as it collapsed to the ground, lifeless and headless.
Tetsugi bent over the body, examining every part of it. It was too large to carry, and he had no transportation to move it on. The Magistrate stood up and sighed. It was going to be a long walk back to the Shiba provinces. He stood and turned to leave, tucking his pistol back into his obi.
Just before he took his first step, he heard something move behind him. Tetsugi quickly craned his neck around, and for the first time in over ten years, his eyes widened in sheer terror.
The pile of corpses moved, and some of them animated in parts, along with the shreds of metal from the Magistrate's motorcycle. The body of the oni rose with the corpses, and they melded into some gigantic piecemeal humanoid form. The noise was terrible, as the flesh was ripped by twisting metal, scraping against more metal, and standing upright. The head formed from a shattered torso, and a broken headlight lit errily as its right eye. Fangs sprouted from the middle of the torso, and the ressurected oni curved its new mouth in a wicked smile.
Tetsugi was in shock so deeply that he almost didn't realize the beast was moving on him. It swung at him with an arm made mostly of scrap, deadly claws forming from the spokes on his old wheels. Tetsugi was slashed across the chest as he moved too late, and fell to the ground, reaching both hands for any weapon he could find in his obi. The Magistrate spun onto his back, and fired blindly into the oni's body. A shot blew off the oni's left arm at the shoulder, but only a moment later, a body slinked from the ground and attached itself where the arm had fallen from.
Tetsugi stood up and sprinted from the cave. He had to get the thing away from the metal and corpses. As he made it outside, he heard the shrieking metal close behind him, and Tetsugi's heart sank as he saw movement in the bushes, marked by a blur of blue hair and orange skin. There were two of them, and the Magistrate looked into the sky, hoping Lady Sun would help him.
Then he noticed that stormclouds had choked the Sun's light from the sky completely.
Along the shore of Otsan Uchi, the tide flowed steadily, and the waters reflected the dull grey of the sky. Many citizens had returned to their homes if they had been at the beach, for the storm's arrival was unexpected and very sudden. There was no one on the beach as the tide rolled back to reveal several large insect-like water vehicles. None bore witness when the machines opened in the front, and a horde of Senpet soldiers swarmed the sand, screaming revenge upon the Emperor of Rokugan. The first indication of war was the rocket batteries firing from the top of the Senpet vehicles, and five prominent buildings near the shore were destroyed. They burst into flame, and the attacking Senpet waves slowed their advance as figures began to walk forth from the flame.
Dressed in the colors of the Mantis, wearing the seal of the Emperor himself, the Imperial Guard of Rokugan fell upon their foe, thick and fierce as the rain of a hurricane.
None the less, they were caught unprepared, despite Shiriko's warning, and were vastly out numbered.
In a tower overlooking the city, Imperial officers dashed like madmen from one control to another, attempting to coordinate the defense of their capitol. The Emperor had expected the Senpet to arrive a day from now, as per Shiriko's warning, and the reserve Mantis troops were quickly being organized for duty. But by that time, key areas of the city's defense would have been lost.
The large steel door of the control room swung open, and a lithe woman strode in. The officers looked up to see Bayushi Shiriko enter, dressed for war, Itsuwari at her side.
"Who is the commander on watch?" She demanded in a stern voice.
A tall, stocky man in the armor of the Mantis hurried up to her and bowed low. "I, Yoritomo Kama, am responsible, Bayushi-sama."
"I am in charge now, samurai." Shiriko said lightly, and waved him away. The Mantis guard bowed low and hurried off to one of his stations. The Daimyo of the Scorpion walked over to the comminications controls, and placed a headset on. After setting the channel, she simply spoke, "Strike," and adjusted the screen in front of her to watch the main battle.
The Senpet advanced on the stalwart ranks of the Mantis, slowly crushing them beneath sheer numbers, combining close-range tactics with backup of long-range fire from the ships. Just as the Imperial Army was being pushed back to burning buildings of Otosan Uchi, a great screech came from the sky, and the battle stopped for an instant. All looked up to see two groups of five jet fighters in tight formation fly overhead, pull up right over the Senpet submarines, and bomb them with amazing precision.
The Mantis army cheered loudly as the ships exploded into flame, and charged the Senpet ranks with new vigor.
Several figures fled from the Senpet submarines before they collapsed into themselves and began to slide back into the sea. Shiriko recognized the order of Khadi from the monitor, she barked several commands into her mouthpiece and watched patiently as the black sorcerers began to summon jinn from the air.
In the command tower, Shirko's hard stare fell upon the young Yoritomo Kama. "I had warned Yoritomo-sama that this strike was coming, and the Imperial Guard seemed unprepared for it. Why is this?"
The Mantis bushi looked down from her eyes. "We are patrolling the Golden Sun Bay, Bayushi-sama." He became flustered, frustrated that a woman younger than him, known for being more of a social animal and not any kind of general, had walked in and completely humiliated his ability in front of his own men. "We were sure they would not make it here so soon, or through our radar."
"Your error will be dealt with in time," Shiriko said, turning to the monitor. "At present, we have more important things at hand." She looked into the screen, giving short commands through her headpiece.
The creatures of smokeless fire flew into the air, and descended into the Rokugani bushi throwing them from the battle with inhuman strength and speed. One jinn grabbed an Imperial Guardsman and flew into the sky with him, his otherwordly eyes filled with wicked glee. Just as the jinn was about to drop the man, he jerked his head back, as if pulled by an invisible collar towards the ground.
On the ground, figures emergered from the very shadows themselves. The armies of the Scorpion. The canny Bayushi samurai flanked the north side of the Senpet, which immedeatley split into two groups to avoid being completely encircled.
From behind the samurai, the Soshi shugenja crept into the light, their lips and hands moving in prayer, binding the jinn, and bringing them down. Their leader, Soshi Isawa, laughed loudly and called out "Khadi filth! I have ached so to smash the cold blood from your bodies!" With that, he chanted quickly and slammed his fists into the ground. The beach shook near the Khadi, and many fell over one another.
From the control tower, Shiriko watched with pride as the children of her Clan worked with such harmony.
"Shiriko-sama?" The voice of Yoritomo Kama called out behind her.
"Hai?" She said and turned to the man.
He was staring at another city surveillance camera, and said, "Two more Senpet vehicles have landed on the southern shores."
"How many more soldiers are within the city?" She asked.
"None," Kama said, his eyes showing the fear his face did not betray, "Save the Emperor's personal guard."
"South flank, divert to these coordinates," Shiriko gave the location of the Senpet Scarabs to the unit commanders, "And slow their approach as long as possible." She turned back to Kama. "How long before you can have your patrolling ships giving us aid?" Kama looked into his own monitor, and spoke rapidly into a small receiver. "Half an hour, sama." He said, his voice regaining some confidence.
"Shiriko-sama," The voice of one of her gunso came over the earpiece, "The Senpet vehicles on the south have come up from the water and are moving across the land. We need a concentrated missle strike against them to stop them."
Shiriko cursed under her breath and grasped her headset. This would be her first test, and it was not going to be easy.