A STORY OF THE DIAMOND EMPIRE
BY SETH MASON
The darkness of night settled over the Diamond City uncomfortably. The bright skyline of Rokugan's Capitol city was an impressive sight, but to its citizens, it had become broken and marred. There were many places where a light should have shined but did not, or a tower no longer stood. Smoke drifted into the night sky, coming from the city in a slow drift.
In one of the destroyed buildings, two men walked nimbly down a hallway. The Imperial Museum was not lit, save for a small glowing coming from the taller man's left hand. They both moved around the fallen pillars and assorted rubble quickly, coming to stop in front of a small door.
"I will look here," said the shorter man, moving aside some debris from in front of the door, "Continue down the hall,"
The taller nodded beneath his hood and whispered, "Hai, Sano-sama." and left down the hall. Sano pressed his should against the damaged wooden door, and slowly forced it open. The stocky man squeezed through the doorway into the pitch black room and sighed. Sano raised his hand, and a small orb of light appeared underneath it, revealing the small room in a state of total chaos. The four stone walls were cracked badly, and one was shattered completely, showing the city of Otosan Uchi outside, and the ground four stories down.
In the center of the room, a glass case had been shattered by falling stone. Glass was all over the floor near it, and beneath the stone, a small golden cloth hung over the display case. Sano smiled to himself, seeing his prize, and leaned over to move the stone. He heaved once or twice, then relaxed a second and sighed.
A sharp ringing noise echoed in the small room as Sano felt a pain in his right hand, something blunt had been slammed into it. Sano stood, unable to move his hand from where it was pinned, and looked on the other side of the stone.
"I knew you'd be back one century or another, boy." The short man across the display case smiled wickedly from beneath his jingasa as he held the butt of his ringed staff against Sano's hand.
"Koan!" Sano grunted, his eyes narrowing at the golden robed man. "Release my hand, you tiresome old man." The monk laughed and did so, pulling his staff away and resting in across his lap as he took a seat on the fallen rock. The Phoenix folded his arms across his chest and let out a slow sigh. "You're in my way... again."
The little man chuckled a little. "Poor Sano," he said, his voice taking the tone of a sensei to a hopeless student, "I'm the least of your concerns, boy." He paused a moment, looking critically at the taller man, "How long have you been gone, eh?"
Sano started trying to move the rock, ignoring any threat to Koan's safety, "Ever since that fiasco with Toturi the First and the Darkness," he grunted, shifting his weight forward. "Haven't been back since, really. Every once in awhile I'd get one of the MacLir's priests to look in on the Empire, making sure nothing was falling in the sea." The henshin let out a loud grunt as the rock finally twisted, and Koan did a nimble jump off the top of it, landing on his feet just as the stone shook the room with its impact on the floor.
"So why now?" Koan said, watching Sano take his prize off the floor. The great golden obi seemed to reflect light that wasn't even there. "The Golden Obi of the Sun Goddess..." The old man narrowed his eyes at the Phoenix. "Having dreams again, Sano?"
Sano rolled the obi tightly and tucked it away into his voluminous robes. "Yes," he said quietly, "End of the world, Thunders, return of a great evil. All of that again." The Phoenix looked up oddly at Koan, "So many questions from you, Togashi. I thought you only allowed yourself two every century."
Koan chuckled again, and Sano realized that habit still got on his nerves. The old man's smile turned deadly, and the glimmer in his eyes matched it. It was a look Sano had never seen on the old ise zumi. "People change, henshin. Two thousand years of life makes room for alot of change, even from stubborn old Dragons." Koan bowed slightly to the Asako, then walked away.
Sano was left with his hands clenched, ready for a fight from the other immortal. He had been told a long life would eventually drive anyone mad, and now he was beginning to realize the truth.
Tetsugi was thrown flat on the ground, his face landing in a pool of mud. The Boar spun to the side just fast enough to avoid the filth-encrusted foot of the oni. The demon howled in frustration as its clawed foot found nothing but mud and wet grass. Tetsugi unholstered a sidearm and fired a few times at the oni as a matter of habit. He knew full well that the bullets would not harm the thing.
The Magistrate stood and readied himself for the oni's charge. The stormclouds over the Isawa Woodlands had not broken since he had seen the thing hours ago. He had tried running, but the shambling creature was far quicker than its disgusting bulk implied. When the oni had incorporated parts of Tetsugi's cycle into itself, it had also been able to move on the wheels of the machine.
For the past half of a day, Tetsugi had been playing cat and mouse with not only one of the demons, but had been narrowly avoiding the oni's mundane twin. The old Magistrate was beginning to realize that the light of Lady Sun would probably return to find his body a part of the oni's nest.
A light went off inside Tetsugi's visor just as the mechanized oni charged him. It was a proxmimity warning, and the Boar fell to the side just as the second oni roared behind him. The thing's claw raked along his left arm and back, and Tetsugi spun from the impact, again landing flat on the ground. He bit his lip as he felt the mudwater flow into the jagged wounds on his back, and his head went light for a moment.
The last thing Tetsugi saw before his vision faded into the Void was a green blur leaping from the trees at the oni.
Two weeks after the assault on Otosan Uchi, the heroes of the recent Senpet attack were to be honored by Yoritomo himself in the Diamond Palace. Outside the Palace, lights and reporters were everywhere as the heroes were escorted amidst the throng of socialites and noise into the great doors leading to Yoritomo's throne.
On either side of the Diamond throne, the heroes of the fight had been assembled shoulder to shoulder with the Champions of the Great Clans. Except one.
Shiriko walked quietly along the outside of the gathered crowd. She had worn one of her finer kimonos for the event, and the mask claimed to be her father's was held in her hand. The Scorpion Champion had chosen to walk the crowd before she had taken her position next to the throne. She had become convinced the Emperor's arrogance had gotten the better of him once, and it would happen again. Shiriko noticed the detail of guards around the room was light. She shook her head slightly, then noticed her cousin Oroki standing outside the throng of people. She turned politely when Hoshi Jack began his prayer, then discreetly moved between the members of the audience.
She walked up to Oroki quietly, disdain building up inside her. Despite her efforts, her cousin refused to show any real respect or trust for her. He had constantly meddled in her affairs in small ways ever since she was named Champion. As far as Shiriko was concerned, Oroki was too involved in making a game of everything to be a valuable asset as a person anyway. His resources were admirable, however, and Shiriko had constantly kept a close watch on him.
"I see you seem to be enjoying yourself, Oroki," she said quietly when she reached her cousin. Shiriko could tell she had caught him off guard, but Oroki turned smoothly and bowed to his daimyo. Even with his mask on, it was apparent to Shiriko that he was sizing her up once again.
"Shiriko-sama," he said finally, "It is good to see you,"
Shiriko had no use for lies, formal or informal, between those who were supposed to be her allies. "Oh, I'm certain you're overwhelmed, Oroki," she said, allowing a small amount of bitterness into her voice. She pushed past him slightly, to get a better view of the proceedings on the throne.
"Shouldn't you be with the daimyos," Oroki said, "The Emperor will soon begin."
Shiriko almost laughed, Oroki had not noticed she was not among them until now. "Oh, I know my place," she said to him, turning to fix her eyes upon him. "As should we all. I heard you had difficulties with the Imperial Guard."
"Nothing lingering," Oroki said dismissively, "Kyo seems to have been implanted, a rogue agent as it were. He and his men are dead, as is the Kitsuki they were chasing, so the matter seems to be settled. Kyo's successor seems as eager to forget about the incident as we are. The details surrounding his death have not been publicly announced."
The Scorpion Daimyo was not please with Oroki's games, and his lack of concern for the security of the Clan did not sit well with her. Despite this, however, he had handled the matter he had gotten himself into effectively. "Excellent," she said, "But do not forget. A Scorpion never forgets."
"I thought elephants never forgot," Oroki muttered.
She had no more time for this little game, "Shut up, Oroki," She said, allowing him the small victory of seeing her annoyed, "I find your wit irritating." She shook her head ruefully and turned to join the other daimyos.
After the ceremony, Shiriko waited pateintly outside Yoritomo's office for a private meeting. She stood calmly, planning what she would say to her Emperor, reporting the losses of her Clan, her concerns for the safety of the Empire.
"Bayushi Shiriko-sama," A man said, opening the door from the other side, "The Emperor would speak with you now."
Shiriko nodded and walked purposefully through the doorway held open by the Mantis guard. She came to stand in front of the seated Emperor, and knelt, placing her forehead on the ground in front of him.
"Rise, Scorpion," Yoritomo said.
She came to her feet and spoke, "My Emperor, how dare you?" she said flatly.
If Yoritomo was surprised by Shiriko's tone and words, the only indication was his eyes shifting suddenly to her, and his silence.
"You have declared war upon the world, Yoritomo-sama. Did you not beleive the world would strike back?" Shiriko's tone remained even, she would not allow her emotion to get the better of her. "The Senpet, weak, crippled, walked into this city, and if had not been for my army, Otosan Uchi would have fallen completely. Your guards were unprepared, your generals were slow, and your fleet obviously blind." Shiriko paused for a second. "If my agents had not receive that report-"
Yoritomo cut her off with a swift motion of his hand, "If your agents had not received that report, Bayushi Shiriko, they would have not been doing their duty." The Diamond Emperor stood, his eyes looking down on the Scorpion Daimyo. "You are passionate, young woman, much like your father. You are clever, and you are loyal to your Empire, much like your father. You are not, however, wise like him."
Shiriko bowed her head in difference, realizing her mistake. Though she was right, Yoritomo was still her Emperor.
"The Hida will not be able to move their Fortress back to the Crab lands for another three weeks. In the meantime, I beleive the Emperor's loyal Scorpion army should keep watch on the seal." Emperor Yoritomo sat down again, waving his hand at the Mantis guard at the door. Shiriko was dismissed with her orders.
"Hai, Yoritomo-sama," She said, and bowed stiffly.
"Good morning, Daiken," Tetsugi leaned forward in his hospital bed as the young Crane came through the doorway into his room. She held a stack of papers in her arms, and bowed low to the Magistrate, nearly dropping them everywhere.
Tetsugi managed a weak smile and motioned for her to take a seat. On the other side of the bed, a younger magistrate say lazily, as if he had been there all morning. He had on a set of goggles like Tetsugi wore alot, and when Daiken sat down, he just waved his hand casually at her in greeting.
"Iuchi Fujinku, my assistant," Tetsugi said, introducing the other magistrate to Daiken.
"Konichi-wa, Iuchi-sama," She said in her light tones. Fujinku just nodded. The Crane turned back to Tetsugi, and laid the sheaf of papers next to him on the bed. "Quite alot has been going on while you were in that coma, sama."
"Start with the important items, please." Tetsugi said.
Daiken nodded, pointing to the top paper, "Tsuruchi Kyo is dead, apparently there was a mess down in Bayushi's Labyrinth involving him, Bayushi Oroki, and Kitsuki Hatsu." Tetsugi picked up the paper, which was stapled to several others. A two death certificates, a report, and a file marked confidential. "Hatsu-san is beleived dead as well, though a body has yet to be recovered. Oroki and several witnesses all said Hatsu was shot to death by Kyo."
"Thank you, Daiken. I think I can read the rest," Tetsugi said, dismissing his secretary with a wave of his hand. Daiken saw the look on his face and nodded. The Magistrate usually wished to read important matters first hand. She stood, bowed quickly, and walked out.
Tetsugi opened the confidential report, and the Iuchi leaned in to read. "Tetsukansen," he muttered, and Fujinku leaned in closer. "Excuse me, Chobu." Tetsugi said, pushing the other man back by his visor.
"Hey, leggo, old man," Chobu said, falling back into his chair. "Fujinku..." he started muttering slowly, "Fu... jin... kooo... I don't like that name." Chobu scratched his chin in thought. "Hey! If Kyo was on their side, how come he shot my father?"
The Boar Magistrate narrowed his eyes in annoyance, "Your father's death was probably there to shake things up. In case you hadn't noticed, he wasn't aiming for the Emperor."
Chobu shrugged, "Yah, well... whatever. Maybe he wasn't implanted when dad went crazy."
Tetsugi nodded, "Could be. They want me to approve the new Captain of the Imperial Guard." He started reading quietly.
"Who is it now?"
"I fear if I tell you, you'll just be out to kill him, too."
Chobu grinned, "Probably."
"Excuse me," both men looked up to the hospital room door to see a man in green armor standing with his hand on the doorway. "Am I interrupting something, Tetsugi-san?"
"No, Meda-san," Tetsugi tried to stand out of habit, but winced in pain and gripped his side for his effort.
Doji Meda nodded gravely at the Magistrate, "I just received word of your condition last night. I am sorry I had not come to see you sooner." The Emerald Champion walked in and sat down in the seat Daiken had just vacated. Meda nodded at Chobu, who was suddenly sitting up straight. Chobu nodded back respectfully.
"It is allright, Meda. I have had time for visitors only recently." Tetsugi motioned to Chobu again, "This is Iuchi Fujinku, my assistant. He is the one who found my body near the Isawa Woodlands."
"Hai, I had heard of your encounter." Meda leaned forward in his chair, "Can we speak of... private matters with your assistant?"
Tetsugi's eyes locked with Meda's, "Fujinku," he said lowly, "please wait outside."
Chobu was about to make a snide comment, but quickly remembered that two of the most powerful men in the Empire were in the room with him. He stood, bowed, and swore he'd say it later before he left.
"The Empire is in chaos," Meda said, "Yoritomo holds slim threads of control on the Clans, and his own house. I trust you have read the reports of the Senpet attack on Otosan Uchi."
Tetsugi glanced at the stack of papers on his bed, "My secretary has only just delivered my waiting reports. I have only read the incident with Kyo... though I have heard plenty of the attack."
"Trust me when I say this, then." Meda paused a moment, and closed his eyes, "Our Emperor is mad. His men were unprepared for any sort of strike, and if the Scorpion had not surprised the Senpet, this city would have been lost."
"Why are you telling me this?" Tetsugi said, his tone neutral.
"Because you are literally the left hand of Yoritomo, Tetsugi. You are an adivsor to an Emperor... And when the time comes, I want to know you will be at my left hand."
The Magistrate leaned back in his bed, exhaustion already creeping into him. "When what time comes, Meda?" He asked, already knowing the answer, and the reply he would give.
"When a man must choose between his Emperor and his Empire."
Tetsugi closed his eyes and laid still for a moment. The silence in the room was thick, and Meda began to wonder if he had made a mistake.
"I should rest now," Tetsugi finally spoke, "I have to go over these reports, and maintain my duties..." He looked up at Meda, "for the Empire."
Meda nodded and stood. He bowed to the Magistrate, and let his hand fall to the ancient sword in his obi. As the Emerald Champion left the room, a small smile played across his face.
In little Jigoku, a lone woman walked down a filthy alley, stepping over the shattered walls of buildings and the occasional face-down body. "Pleasant place," she muttered, her accent thick. Dressed in loose black motorcycle leathers and a leather coat, she probably would have passed for an off-duty Otaku if it wasn't for her face. Her skin was a darker tone, her large, round eyes sat above her high cheekbones, and the woman's long hair was pulled into a braid that curled thickly at the end.
Her name was Selena Totec, and she was far from home.
Selena looked up at the sun, hanging above the broken skyline just barely. She would have to start looking for a place to sleep tonight soon.
"Hey, slow down, mama-san. I wanna see you move sloooow," A rough voice called out behind her, and Selena turned to see three men... no, three ugly, unwashed men in dirty clothes leering at her.
"Go away," She said, brushing a loose hair from her face.
"Oooh, foreign blood." The leader, a taller man with a lead pipe in his hands said. "Me like."
"Fire." Selena muttered.
A gout of flame erupted in front of her, and began moving down the alley towards the three men. The gang members yelled in surprise and ran off.
"Play nice with the mortals, Selena," A man in red robes stepped out into the alley from a broken wall.
"Sano." The gaijin said, smiling wickedly. Asako Sano bowed to her, and Selena just nodded. "Can't hurt the mortals... I know. I'm learning all sorts of interesting things about my new life." She stepped towards the henshin, her fists clenched, "For one, I have come to understand my current... situation is your doing."
Sano's eyes grew a little wide. "Selena. Calm yourself, I only did this because-"
The ground beneath Sano's feet exploded into flame, and the Phoenix nimbly jumped to the side, caught himself seven feet up the wall, and sprang off, landing in front of Selena. "Selena... angel, listen to me," he said quickly.
The woman's only reply was a spinning kick to the head, which Sano blocked easily, caught her foot, and threw her to the ground.
"Listen, damn you!" He barked at her. "You're the Oracle of Fire now. You're the only person I know who could take the responsibility. Part of that means you're going to have to quit being so..." He trailed off.
Selena stood and brushed the dirt off her legs, "Angry? Rash? Tempramental?" She laughed, "Isn't that what you Rokugani envision fire as?"
"Fire is the way of speed, of action," Sano replied, "and the way of quick wits. Quit being so childish. You have a task to perform."
"Ooh, look at Asako Sano, the mighty immortal Rokugani, commanding an Oracle around."
Sano ignored her comment and stretched out his hand to her, "I'm going to ask you a question. Try to answer as an Oracle... not as..."
"The woman you fell in love with once?" She said, raising an eyebrow.
"Not as Selena," Sano said. Selena took his hand, shaking her head ruefully. "Alright," The Phoenix said, "I'll start with an easy one, but one you shouldn't know without your inner voice helping. Who was the last Hantei Emperor?"
Selena closed her eyes, "The last Hantei Emperor..." She said, her voice low and quiet, "The last Hantei Emperor was... Frank. He had a really cool shoe store after-"
Sano cursed loudly. "Damn woman." He sighed, "I have other business to attend to." He handed her a key from his obi and handed it to her. "Two blocks south. There's a nice diner next to the hotel, run by a man who calls himself Shotai. Try to practice your foresight."
Selena nodded, "Thanks."
Sano turned to leave, but stopped. "Selena," he said quietly, "be careful." Before she could respond he had dissapeared back into the building.
"Oh well," she said to herself, "At least I..." Her eyes glazed over suddenly, and her voice took on a deeper tone, "The Hantei line lives, henshin. Not all of Uikku's prophecies have come to pass..."