A STORY OF THE DIAMOND EMPIRE
BY SETH MASON
Selena looked around the dirty little cafe and stirred her tea with her index finger. Dusk was approaching, and she was expecting Sano to arrive any time. The neophyte Oracle looked around again, "Any time..." she muttered slowly to herself.
Just then, the young-looking man walked in through the main doors. Sano was wearing the same ancient kimono, his long black hair tied back in the same knot. The henshin sat down opposite Selena Totec and looked around quickly.
"Where's Calin?" Selena asked, leaning back in the cracked booth seat. "And where the hell have you been?"
Sano raised an eyebrow at the gaijin woman. "Why don't you tell me, Miss Oracle?" He looked down at her tea, and dropped his eyes to the side. "I'm sorry."
Selena shrugged, "Don't worry, Sano. I got used to you a long time ago, remember?" She picked up her tea, and brought it to her lips, "It'll wash out." she muttered, then sipped.
Sano looked up, "What did you-" Just then, the cafe was rocked by a nearby explosion. The Unicorn magistrates had been using heavy explosives to quickly disperse and remove the ruin left by the Senpet attack. Selena was shaken, and the tea spilled down her shirt.
They both looked at the spreading wetness on her shirt, and muttered at the same time, "It'll wash out..."
Selena didn't take her eyes of the tea. "Sano, why can't I foresee who this great evil puppeteer is, assemble the other Oracles, and destroy him with our power?"
The Phoenix shook his head slowly, "Selena, I've told you a hundred times..."
"I know, I know," She said, looking up, "But, if this guy is causing so much trouble... He's trying to recreate the Shadowlands, damnit! I'd think that five people's lives being forfeit to destroy this man is quite fair, wouldn't you?"
"If you wish to step on them like insects, they will scatter like insects, fleeing to the darkness," Sano raised a hand to calm the Oracle. "There is a deeper evil to be found and combated here. We must draw it out, and an Oracle raining fiery death upon his servants will not help matters."
The gaijin woman slumped her shoulders in resignation and rolled her eyes. She picked up her teacup and muttered, "Munashi's a pretty damn big ant, I'd say," She sipped quietly, the added, "And he's got some colorful bugs working for him." Selena drank some more tea before she realized Sano was staring at her, slack jawed. "What?" she asked.
"Munashi?" he said softly.
"Yah," Selena replied. "He's one of the evil ones. Why?"
Sano stood quickly and smoothed out his robe. "Thank you," he said quickly, then turned to leave.
"Wait!" Selena called, nearly shattering her cup as she dropped it on the table, hurrying after him, "What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm going to face Munashi," he said evenly, walking out into the warm evening.
"Then what the hell was that whole tirade about the ants and the bugs and everything?" Selena almost yelled, her frustration evident, and her accent growing thicker with her temper.
Sano spun on her, and pointed a finger in her face, as a frustrated sensei would to a lazy student, "You are wanting to go in and flatten the entire Dojicorp tower, aren't you? You're always looking to solve these problems in the same way. This is something I must handle. I have returned to Rokugan to deal with the corruption of the elements, it is my duty. You are an Oracle, your destiny lies elsewhere, damnit!" Sano's face began to redden as the strain of appearing calm increased, "I picked you because you're one of the most pure souls I've ever met, Selena, but you've still much to learn about your place in this universe."
Selena Totec stood out in the street and watched the man turn and leave towards the heart of Otosan Uchi.
It had been too easy.
As Rishi crept through the dark, silent hallway, he smiled to himself and clutched the device in his hand. His lord, Heichi Tetsugi, had come home early as the doctors had instructed. The Imperial Advisor was prescribed medication and painkillers for his wounds, which he took before taking a long nap.
And as Rishi came to his master's bedroom doorway, the tetsukansen in his hand seemed to throb in anticipation. The servant moved inches closer to his master's bed, taking each step with the utmost care. Rishi's true lord, a master far darker than Tetsugi, had spent years placing him so near to the Imperial Throne and its agents.
As the servant leaned over Tetsugi's sleeping form, a dark fist seemed to materialize from the shadow itself, and closed around Rishi's slim neck. A solid crack followed, and the fist dropped the man. As the body hit the floor with a loud thump, a man stepped forth from the shadow.
Half a second later, Heichi Tetsugi was holding a gun to the shadow-cloaked man's temple. "Thank you for saving me. Please step into the light or I will kill you right now." the Magistrate said quietly.
Even in the darkness, Tetsugi could see the other man's lips curl in a smile, and both knew he would be too slow due to his medications. The shadowy figure quickly stepped backwards, back into the shadow, into the wall. Into nothing.
"We all have our parts to play, Advisor. Some of us have more to play than others. Do not forget your part." A deep voice seemed to echo in Tetsugi's mind as he stood in his room, feeling like an idiot for pointing his gun at empty space in front of him.
The Boar reached down to an intercom next to his bed, "Ready my car, Saiko. I'm heading back to my office for the night," Tetsugi put his weapon down, and finished, "And there's a dead body in my room. Take care of it please."
Sano looked at the great towers of Dojicorp and how its lights seemed to nearly shout out against the darkness of the night sky. The ancient henshin could feel more than he could see the men moving away from the building. Daidoji samurai.
He gathered his red robes around him tightly, and moved quickly across the street, trying to remain unseen by the soldiers. As Sano looked up and down the street, he saw the figure of Doji Meda, the Crane Daimyo and Emerald Champion. The Phoenix had heard of Yoritomo holding some sort of audience this evening, but Meda's contingent was not a simple honor guard. The Crane were moving for war.
Sano's attention suddenly focused on the blade at the Crane Champion's side. Even from this distance, the man who had studied the kami for a thousand years could feel the darkness within the shrouded it. It was an artifact he had not seen since he had left the Empire nine hundred years ago. Though its form was cloaked, Sano knew that Doji Meda was carrying a Bloodsword into battle.
The henshin could feel the illusionary magic surrounding it, and easily traced its source by means of magic not known to Rokugan. Sano's eyes turned upward as it became obvious to him that the blade's current master was somewhere in the Dojicorp Tower. In the Fantastic Gardens.
Sano pressed his hands together, and chanted gaijin words. A slight wind circled him, and he began to rise into the air, and as he rose, his form started to fade. Soon, Asako Sano flew invisibly towards the Dojicorp Tower.
Tetsugi strode out of the elevator, towards his office doors. "Good evening, Daiken," he said quickly as he approached her desk. The Kakita was silently typing away on her computer, while a small desk TV played somewhat loudly. Half interested, the Magistrate turned to see a small, energetic man in the dress of a Yasuki merchant nearly bouncing around the screen.
"Free!" The little man about burst as he shouted, shoving a large jade carving of Shinsei into the camera, "This wonderful jade statue can be yours for free with the purchase of two..." He looked away, patting down his sweat-beaded brow, then back to the camera, "No! One! With the purchase of one set of these ginsu knives guaranteed for life!"
Daiken looked up to see her employer frowning at the screen. She smiled weakly, "Oh. It's uh... Yasuki Garou. His little show must have come on without me noticing."
Tetsugi raised an eyebrow and continued into his office. "Reminds me why I don't watch television anymore," he muttered, closing the door behind him.
Daiken fought back the urge to stick her tongue out at him.
The Imperial Advisor shook his head as the door closed behind him, and stepped to his desk, only to find the seat swiveled around, facing the city.
"I was expecting you," A man's voice came from the occupant of the chair. It wasn't the same voice from his home half an hour earlier. The chair turned and Tetsugi saw a bald man with dark skin, gaijin features, and dressed completely in a black suit with a long coat. "Of course, you're early."
"That's my seat," Tetsugi said, setting down his briefcase, pointing the hidden gun towards the intruder.
"By all means, you can have it," The man's accent was thick, but the Boar couldn't place it. It could have been anything. "You don't need to shoot me for it, anyway." The man motioned to Tetsugi's briefcase as he stood. "I'm not here to harm you. I know enough about you that you probably won't believe me," he stood aside as Tetsugi stepped calmly past him and took his seat, "but I'm an Oracle."
Tetsugi just nodded, "That makes four." He said.
The Oracle narrowed his eyes. "What?"
"Do you expect your peers to go unnoticed," the Advisor said coolly, "when one comes in and throws hail out of a clear sky, another shakes the ground when no earthquakes are possible, and yet another causes fire damage in Little Jigoku that cannot be accounted for?"
The Oracle crossed his arms and frowned, "Hrmph. I suppose you really don't need an Oracle's advice, then, do you?"
"Yoritomo's time is done, and the Day of Thunder draws near, correct?"
The Oracle blinked, "Is that your question?" He was caught a little off guard. Most people spent hours debating what they would ask an entity capable of giving any answer.
"Yes." Tetsugi nodded.
"Your Empire is always foremost on your mind I see," The Oracle smirked. "You are correct, Imperial Advisor. Kharma is not a myth, though your Empire seems to think so of late. Yoritomo has slaughtered millions of innocents. He will die. And your Empire will face the Day of Thunder without its leader."
"Our leader?" Tetsugi smiled "That's rather cryptic. You don't necessarily mean Yoritomo, do you?"
"One question only, I'm afraid. And I even bent the rules for you, because you asked two already." The Oracle bowed and turned to leave. "Good luck, Tetsugi. Things are going to get a lot more complicated. Starting with that phone call." The man let himself out as Tetsugi found himself once again, staring into empty space where a man had once been.
Then the phone rang.
Tetsugi smirked at himself as he picked up his private line, "Hello," he said.
"Good evening, Tetsugi-san," Came the almost too cheerful voice of Bayushi Shiriko, the Scorpion Champion and something of a friend of his. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything?" she asked.
"Not at all," The Boar replied, "My last appointment for the evening just left."
"Good." She said, and Tetsugi suddenly felt like he was being circled by a wolf. "I was hoping you could clear up a few details for me. I've been doing some research since I got down to the Seal in the Crab lands,"
"Ah, I had heard of your reprimand, Shiriko-san. I had warned you that one day your cleverness would outpace you." Tetsugi sat back in his chair and prepared himself for yet another duel of wits. "What can I answer for you?"
"Where exactly are the Boar lands again?" She asked.
"Also, I was attempting to do a little lookup on your family, too. I wished to know what the blood of the Heichi was capable of. Sadly, the Imperial Library On-line has nearly no records of the Boar, save for those you're written yourself."
A dead silence hung in the air, as Tetsugi could not bring himself to words. She knew. Somehow, the Scorpion Champion had managed to find the true history of the Boar. Anything he said in response would been seen as it was. A lie.
"Yes, Tetsugi-san," she said almost in a whisper. "I know."
And then Shiriko hung up.
Tetsugi put the phone down with a numb hand, and looked out the window. Two unseen visitors, one dead servant, and now this. Just when did I lose control here he asked silently to himself.
"Tetsugi," Daiken's voice came over the intercom suddenly, bringing the man back to reality. "One of the Emperor's agents is on line two. He says Yoritomo-sama requests your presence at a special audience he and his son are holding."
"Tell him I'll be at the Palace in five minutes," He told Daiken. He stood, and adjusted his belt. He had almost forgotten the audience planned for tonight. The invitation was a formality, nothing went on in the Diamond palace without him knowing.
As Tetsugi remembered his promise to Doji Meda, he looked out his window to see what seemed to be a small stream of blue-clad soldiers leave Dojicorp.
Nothing went on in the Diamond palace without him knowing. Nothing.
Asako Sano stepped silently into the dimly lit Gardens. It had been a small task to walk through the thick glass windows, and even simpler to find the source of corruption that stank like rotten meat to him. As the henshin saw his prey before him, he raised his hand, and the Garden lit up brightly. Even the foulness in this place could not deny the Phoenix's power.
Munashi looked up from a small shrine he knelt before, and his eyes grew wide. "Sano!" He hissed, and quickly stood.
"I am here to end you, tsukai." Sano said evenly, stepping toward him, attempting to ignore the fact Munashi shouldn't have known his name.
"I don't think so, Phoenix," the Asahina's eye clouded in darkness as he hissed a string of dark prayers. Inky darkness flew from his hands towards Sano like tendrils. Sano simply raised his palm to them, and they withered where they touched him.
"I don't care what you think," Sano said, and pulled the Golden Obi of the Sun Goddess out from the folds of his robe and held it before him. The very plants in the Garden seemed to recoil before the holy item, and even Munashi stepped back in fear.
"Stop playing with the child," Came a familiar voice from behind Sano, and he turned to see Togashi Koan standing ten feet from him, his ringed staff held at the ready for a battle.
"Koan!" Sano said, surprised.
Munashi once again raised his hands to bring down darkness upon the Phoenix, but Sano quickly turned and made a gesture at the Crane. Munashi suddenly fell to the ground, as if bound at the wrists and ankles. "Your foul magic has poisoned his mind!" He spat at the maho-tsukai.
"Oh, don't be fooled," Koan said, drawing Sano's attention back to him. "I'm thinking for myself quite fine."
"Koan," Sano began.
"Two thousand years!" Koan growled, and gripped his staff. "You've only begun to realize the pain in store for an immortal, cursed to walk this planet forever. I cannot die until I have fulfilled my destiny, this is what Togashi has told me." He stepped closer, hate clouding his face. "For two thousand years, I have tried to find my path. But I have not. I have resorted to the only path left."
"The path of evil," Sano said quietly, understanding.
"I will destroy this Empire, or I will be destroyed. My suffering will be shared, or ended."
"Do not stand between me and the tsukai," Sano said, his hands spreading, and a staff of light appearing in them, "Or I will destroy you."
Suddenly Koan's face contorted in mad glee, "Would you!" He screamed, leaping at the henshin, fire sprouting from his mouth.
Bayushi Shiriko drummed his fingers on her chair. She had been in the castle of the Phoenix and Crab for something like two weeks, but it had seemed an eternity. There was nearly no life here, and almost no purpose for her presence. It was common knowledge the Shadowlands were destroyed, but the Scorpion knew better. The truth was that small pockets like the Shadowlands had been popping up all over Rokugan, but none near the Seal.
So what was she doing here?
Shiriko glanced down at her father's journal, where she had read the true history of the Boar Clan. Information she had used to score a resounding blow against her opponent in a years long mental war. But that was it, really. Unlike her cousin Oroki, Shiriko gained no special pleasure from simply manipulating and causing suffering for no reason. She would probably never attempt to bring down Tetsugi or blackmail him to do something he wouldn't normally do. He was loyal to the Emperor, and though he had obviously been lying to the Empire for ten years, the Scorpions had a file on him larger than any other man in the Empire.
He was a perfect agent to keep the Emperor safe, and she would never wish him otherwise.
The Scorpion Champion stood and sighed, flicking the top of Dairyu's journal with her finger. And then one of her guard came in.
"Shiriko-sama" the samurai knelt and placed his head on the stone floor.
"Rise," she said, interested, "and report."
"Sama, there is a skirmish near the Seal."
Without hesitation, Shiriko adjusted the fit of her Clan's ancestral blade on her belt. "By all means then, let us take care of it. As the Seal's current guardian, I wouldn't be expected to do less."
As the two quickly exited the room, and shadow seemed to reach for the door.
The floor shook as Sano's staff impacted on Koan's chest. The old monk was thrown back as the thunderclap echoed across the chamber, and he landed on his back. "You're tired, old man," Sano said, his mouth bleeding from Koan's own weapon, his robes half destroyed by near misses from his fire.
"I shall fight until I die," The monk leapt from the ground with blinding speed and kicked at Sano's face. Sano parried with his staff, countered low, which Koan dodged by flipping backwards. Sano rolled back to avoid Koan's feet hitting his chest, and summoned lighting to strike the ise zumi. Koan reached into the air and caught the lighting with his hand, again moving with speed far beyond mortals. He clenched his hand and simply threw the lighting back at Sano, who was knocked back into a window from the blow.
"Perhaps my destiny is to die in combat with you, old friend." Koan's eyes were now fully eclipsed by madness.
Wordlessly, Sano stood and incanted once again, and ran at Koan faster than the old monk's eyes could follow. The gaijin magic increased Sano's speed two hundred fold, and though Koan kept up with the first of the kaze-do attacks that followed, he was soon overcome as Sano hit him countless times in the chest and head before allowing him to fall to the floor.
Neither of them had noticed the Munashi had come free of Sano's earlier magic, and was making his way quietly to his shrine.
"To the east!" Shiriko shouted over the din, "Fire!"
Two dozen rifles fired in unison, sending scores of goblins back to Jigoku. The Scorpion Champion had arrived with her guard just as the Scorpion patrol was being overcome by the gibbering goblin horde. They had sprung out of nowhere, and Shiriko cut them down quickly.
What had followed was worse. Three ogres, and countless goblins had attacked from the darkest shadows near the Seal, and Shiriko cursed herself inwardly for falling into the trap.
Thirty-three men remained alive, and Shiriko knew help would not come in time. Bayushi Hatori, her yojimbo, came to her, "Sama! We must escort you to safety!" he yelled over the gunfire and screams of the dark things.
Shiriko and Hatori turned as a great ogre yelled, and charged the Scorpion alone. It was incredibly fast, and Shiriko loosed Itsuwari from its saya, but she was too slow. The ogre pushed aside Hatori like a rag doll and grabbed Shiriko around the chest. Her arms were pinned to her sides, and she could barely hold the Scorpion Sword. Shiriko's mind exploded into pain as she felt several ribs crack.
"Drop your weapons!" A human voice called out from behind the goblin horde, and most of the fighting stopped due to sheer confusion. The ogre loosened its grip on the Scorpion Champion, but not enough to allow her to move her arms.
The goblins backed far away from the Scorpions, and dropped to their knees, as samurai before their lord. The Scorpion bushi looked around in confusion, until a group of goblins began to part to allow a shadowed man into the center of the goblin circle.
"Drop your weapons," Said the voice of Yogo Ishak, traitor of the Shadow Wars. "Or I will kill your daimyo."
Koan rolled to the side, narrowly avoiding Sano's staff again, and flipped nimbly backwards twice.
Sano dropped his staff, which disappeared, and punched toward the ise zumi who stood many feet away. The air between them rippled, and Koan was thrown backwards by a solid blow that he could feel through his whole body. Koan hit the floor, and attempted to stand, but only came to rest on one knee.
"You're finished, old man," Sano said, his staff reappearing in his hands. "End this madness." He stretched a hand to Koan, "Let me help you."
Koan looked up at the form of his onetime student. Sano's eyes begged the other immortal to let him help. Just then, the Dragon looked behind the Phoenix, and his lips curled into a wicked smile.
Sano turned just in time to see Asahina Munashi clutch at the sky, and start incanting gaijin words from a weathered old book. The henshin's heart froze in terror as he felt his link to the spirits disappear, and he began to lose strength in his body. He fell to his knees, then collapsed forward onto the ground.
Koan stood shakily. Munashi gave the ise zumi a critical eye. "You lied."
Koan chuckled and limped toward the form of the henshin, and kicked him hard in the ribs. Sano still had enough strength to grunt in pain. "What did I lie about?" He asked in a bored tone.
"You said you were a simple monk," Munashi said, "You said nothing about living at the dawn of the Empire..."
"What did you do to Sano?" Koan asked, dismissing the topic.
Munashi closed the book in front of him, regarding the ise zumi quietly for a moment, then allowing the discussion to pass, for now. "An ancient organization," The Asahina explained, "was interested in destroying the original Kami. The children of Sun and Moon. Only after the Kami all died due to reasons beyond their control did they finally perfect a way to bind a Kami's power."
Koan's eyes furrowed in surprise, "Are you saying Sano is a Kami!?" He almost yelled.
"Close enough, it seems," Munashi laughed slightly, and reached down into Sano's robes. "And now this," He said, drawing the Golden Obi into the light, "is mine."
Munashi's laughter filled the room, "It shall make a wonderful tribute to our master to corrupt this ancient thing."
Sano only stared blankly out the window, knowing he had failed for the final time.