by Nancy Sauer
edited by Fred Wan
The room in the High House of Light that Togashi Satsu used as a meditation chamber had a wide balcony that faced south, and from it one had a spectacular view of sunrise. The first rays of dawn caught the snow-covered peak of the mountain to the west and transformed it into a shining, rose-gold beacon. As the sun rose higher the line between sunlight and shade slid further down the side of the mountain until daylight completely filled the valley below; a green jewel caught in the stony folds of the land. Satsu ignored it completely. Sunk deep into his grandfather’s spirit his mind ranged over the Dragon provinces, stopping when something caught his attention. On the fringes of a small farming village figures gathered on the edge of a road, and Satsu paused to study the scene. Bandits, he thought, and looked for something to identify which village it was.
Let it be, his grandfather’s voice said.
‘If I learn where it is, magistrates can be dispatched,’ Satsu replied. He had traveled around the Dragon lands in the years before his parents’ departure, and understood well how easy it was for bandits to bleed a remote village dry.
It doesn’t matter. They don’t matter. To act is to interfere, to interfere is to warp the future.
Satsu stirred uneasily, his tail making rasping noises as it moved against the room’s tatami mats. ‘It is a small thing….’
Pebbles beget avalanches. You do not know the consequences of this action.
It was true; he did not. Satsu bowed his head in compliance and returned to the vision.
* * * * *
It was indecently cold for a morning in high summer, Moshi Chuuya thought. She strode along the road fighting the urge to grab the edges of her scarlet cloak and wrap it more tightly around her–she’d be warmer then, but that was a bad starting position for a fight and if she were fortunate there would be a fight very soon now. So she told herself again that the walk was warming herself up nicely and fixed her mind on what was coming. That would make all the cold worthwhile.
A mile further along the road and around a sharp bend and she was there: a place where the land rose up on the right, creating a sheer face of rock slightly taller than a man. Off to the left were barley fields, punctuated with stands of scraggly trees where it was too rocky to cultivate. And standing in the middle of the road were three shabbily-dressed men with swords out and ready. “Good morning, Phoenix-san,” the man in the center called out.
Chuuya smiled to herself. She loved her cloak: its color emphasized the rich blackness of her hair and led stupid people to make assumptions about her. “An odd greeting for a man with steel in his hands,” she said.
“Oh, Phoenix-san, this area has a terrible bandit problem–we are just being cautious.” The man smiled. “For a small fee, we would be happy to escort you for a while, so as to avoid them.”
“A generous offer,” Chuuya said. “But I don’t foresee having any problems.” She made as if to continue walking.
“Togashi Satsu has foresight, it is said. It hasn’t helped his people any,” the man said. He raised his left hand slightly. “I think you should reconsider.”
“A samurai’s word is her deed,” Chuuya said.
“So be it,” the man said, and dropped his left hand with a slashing motion. There was a twang of bowstrings, and then two arrows thudded into him. He collapsed onto the road without a sound. His two companions had a moment to gawk at him and then they too became targets. Chuuya ignored them, drawing her sword and charging the nearest group of trees. Two more men had begun to rush out when the leader gave the signal; now they stood open-mouthed at the sight of his death. The Moshi carved through the first one unopposed. The second tried to recover and fight her off, but his skills could not compare to hers and she left him bleeding his life into the rocky soil.
Chuuya walked back to the road, cleaning her blade and feeling satisfied. She was a rarity in her family; a woman who could not talk to or hear the kami. Her parents had debated whether it would be worthwhile to have her trained as a courtier, or to simply marry her off quickly for some political gain, but she had surprised them by asking to be sent to the Tsuruchi’s magistrate school. It was true, she had argued, that she could not support the Celestial Order directly as her sisters did with their holy rituals–but the Empire’s laws were derived from the order via the Emperor, so she could accomplish the same effect by upholding the law. Her parents had been deeply impressed by her logic, and had made the necessary arrangements. Her Tsuruchi instructors had been less impressed, but that hadn’t bothered her–it was not her place to argue with her sensei. Now she was a magistrate herself, and no lawbreaker was safe from her just wrath.
“Chuuya-san!” The shout brought the Moshi’s attention to her two partners, who now waited on the road. Tsuruchi Fuyu grinned and plucked his bowstring, its thrumming marking his approval. “Another magnificent victory over the lawless–I salute you!” He bowed deeply. Standing next to him, Tsuruchi Masako rolled her eyes and exchanged a smile with Chuuya. “We should inform the village headman, so he can have the bodies disposed of,” she said.
“Indeed,” Chuuya said. “Then back to Toi Koku to pick up some more reports of bandit activity.”
“And then to killing more bandits,” Fuyu said.
The Mantis trio had finished their business in the village and had been traveling several hours when they encountered a Dragon samurai. He was a sharp-faced man whose kimono was marked with the Mirumoto mon, and he pulled his mountain pony to a stop in front of them and demanded to know who they where and what their business was.
Chuuya fixed a pleasant smile on her face and made a show of looking the Dragon over before she answered. “I am Moshi Chuuya, a magistrate of the Mantis Clan. My companions are Tsurushi Fuyu and Masako, also magistrates of the Mantis. We are pursuing various bandits who have caused our clan harm. Now, who do I have the honor of speaking to?”
“I am Mirumoto Jairuzu,” he said. “And you have no authority in these lands.”
“I am afraid you have been misinformed, Mirumoto-san,” Chuuya said. She pulled a scroll case from a pouch and let the morning sunlight play on the seal it bore. “We have been authorized by the Otomo daimyo.”
“Who is dead,” the Dragon samurai said flatly.
“The Emperor is dead, but lives on in the Heavens,” Masako said. “His laws live on also, and they clearly prohibit the banditry your clan has allowed to flourish.”
Jairuzu flushed slightly. “We have not allowed it. We are studying the problem so as to succeed when we make our move.”
Fuyo snorted. “You don’t wait until you know you can make a shot. You pick your target, and then you shoot. No wonder the Crane rolled over you–they at least have the courage to make a decision.”
Chuuya quickly stepped between the two men before the Dragon could form an answer. “Mirumoto-san!” she said loudly, “we have answered your questions. We are going to go about our business now. Carry the Fortunes.” Jairuzu glared at them for a long moment, then silently kicked his pony into motion and rode on.
“We could have done without that,” Chuuya said as soon as Jairuzu was out of hearing range.
Fuyu shrugged, unrepentant. “You saw the look on the headman’s face when we told him the bandits were dead. They must have been brutalizing that village for months while the Dragon ‘studied’ the problem.”
“Hesitation is unbecoming in a samurai,” Masako agreed. “The solution to a bandit problem is to kill the bandits. How hard can that that be?”
Chuuya sighed and started walking. She had heard the legends of Togashi’s great knowedge and of how Satsu had inherited it, and it depressed her at how little was being done with it. Someone needs to tell the Dragon Champion he’s doing it wrong, she thought to herself.
* * * * *
“Iweko is doing all she can to reverse the judgment, but is encountering difficulties. The new daimyo, Taneji, does not wish to be seen as lessening his family’s importance and the other clans….”
Satsu found it difficult to pay attention to what Mareshi was saying. He already knew what was occurring in the capital and that he would take no action in response to it, which made the other man’s reports pointless. Satsu had established his daily routine years ago and hesitated to change it now, for fear of the consequences. His grandfather’s vision was a great benefit, and Satsu was duly grateful for Togashi’s guidance–but sometimes he watched Mareshi crisply issue orders to his soldiers, blissfully unaware of the implications of action, and envied his vassal.
“What is your will, Satsu-sama?”
“We will take no action at this time,” Satsu said.
Mareshi made as if to speak, then stopped and looked up at the sky. Satsu looked as well, his attention drawn by the feeling of tension that suddenly came upon him. The sun had dimmed as if shining behind a dark curtain, and the sky had taken on a solid, filmy look. As the two watched it seemed as if the sky was tearing in two and in the revealed gap there was a new sky, of a brilliant pure blue that had never before been seen. A peal of thunder shook the area as the tear continued down towards them, and as Satsu watched he was suddenly struck by the idea that it was heading straight for him. Mareshi must have had the same idea, for he swept his katana from his saya. “Run, my lord,” he shouted, “I’ll–”
Then the tear reached them with another peal of thunder, and Satsu saw nothing else.
* * * * *
Shiba Tsukimi looked up from the scroll she was reading, disturbed by a sudden roil of emotion. It puzzled her until she identified its source: the Soul of Shiba within her. “And so it begins,” she said, feeling her own surge of sympathy for Satsu. “May the Fortunes watch over you.” It didn’t seem to be exactly the right prayer, given the circumstances, but invoking his ancestors would have been even more inappropriate. Tsukimi went back to her reading of the Tao. The Sun and Moon could fall from the sky, but wisdom was ageless.
* * * * *
The first thing Satsu became aware of was that he was again in the form of a man. The second was that he was standing in a courtyard covered with white sand, and before him was a dais with seven people kneeling upon it–six men, with a woman in the center. The Seven Fortunes, he realized.
“Very dramatic,” Togashi said. “Did you have Doji’s help in planning it?” Satsu startled at the words–he had become accustomed to his grandfather being a passive presence in the back of his mind, but now Togashi was in control of his body. For some vague reason the idea of being shunted aside in such a fashion disturbed him.
“From the time Yakamo fell you must have known that you would be called to account,” Daikoku said. “But you did not even so much as warn your grandson. How you love to waste time!”
“I do not see that I answer to you,” Togashi said.
“You will answer to Tengoku,” Bishamon said, “who has charged us with the duty of enforcing its judgment on you.”
“Judgment? What crime have I committed?”
“Crimes,” Jurojin said. “We shall begin with your refusal to die an actual death. From the moment you and your siblings became residents of Ningen-do you became mortal, and subject to the mortal cycle of life and death–but you refused both by becoming a spirit and inhabiting the bodies of others.”
“I had to remain in the mortal realm to counter Fu Leng. I had bound myself to fight him.”
“Shiba also incurred obligations to the living,” Hotei said. “But he did not shirk the necessity of death.”
“I did not know what would happen if I could not directly guide matters,” Togashi said.
“Shiba did not know, but he acted anyway,” Bishamon said. “What did you do? Doji, Shinjo, Akodo, Bayushi, Hida–all of them acted like the children of the gods that they were and made a difference in the Empire that Hantei was crafting. But you, you hid yourself in the mountain and did nothing. Simple cowardice.”
“I could not know what would happen if I interfered,” Togashi insisted.
“And yet you did interfere when it suited your purposes,” Ebisu said. “You set in motion the events that led to a mortal slaying a god and stealing his divinity, in defiance of the Celestial Order.”
Togashi made to speak but before he could Benten leaned forward, anger in her bearing. “And let us not forget the treachery you showed to Bayushi and his beloved. She came to you for help, desperate to prevent the rot in her soul from hurting her lord and clan. What did you do? You locked her up with her darkness for a thousand years, just so you could leave Hitomi with an insoluble riddle. What cruelty! It would be inexcusable in any case, but you did it to someone you should have considered a kinswoman.”
“No more from you,” Benten said. “You are condemned by your actions and inactions, and Tengoku’s patience with you has run out. The time for judgment has arrived.”
“And my grandson?” Togashi asked quietly.
“He is complicit in your defiance against the Celestial Order, and has neglected his duties as a lord,” Fukurokujin said. “But he is a mortal, and his judgment will not come until his death. That is the way of things.”
I will not yield, Togashi thought to Satsu. Before the startled young man could reply agony shot through him, as if his bones were being plucked out of his flesh. He did not cry out, but he dropped to his knees, panting with the effort of managing the pain. When it had passed another man stood next to him on the white sands.
“I will not accept your judgment,” Togashi said to the Fortunes.
“Defy us and we will destroy you,” Bishamon said.
Satsu watched in horror as the Fortunes shifted from their beneficent aspects to their wrathful ones and the air in the courtyard began to crackle with power. His grandfather was clearly in the wrong: defying the Celestial Order defined wrong. But Togashi could no longer see that, and his flawed vision was about to destroy him. The hair on the back of Satsu’s neck prickled as he thought of the tattoos on his body that bound him to his grandfather’s spirit, and of all the monks of his order who had the same tattoos. No, he thought, horrified. He had to stop Togashi. Satsu stood up. “Grandfather, stop. You must not fight the will of Tengoku.”
Togashi swung around to glare at him. “Quiet, child.”
It took all of his strength, but Satsu managed to meet Togashi’s eyes. “Grandfather, this is the way of things. You must accept Tengoku’s will.”
“I will not,” Togashi said.
The Dragon Champion was suddenly reminded of the final words of the madman Kokujin, a demon in human form if ever there had been. As he had died, Kokujin had issued a prophecy of sorts, one that had been relayed to the Dragon by Togashi Matsuo. [i]Your lord’s flawed visions will lead to your order’s ruin,[/i] he had said, [i]because you cannot see that he is imperfect.[/i] Academically, Satsu had always understood that his grandfather was not perfect. How could he be? In practice, the inclination to accept his wisdom as infallible was difficult to resist. And yet here, now, was proof that Togashi was capable of misjudgment, of error. If he did this, if he refused to bow down before the judgment of Heaven and was rebuked or even destroyed, what would become of all those who carried his essence? Those who bore that tiny fragment of his blood in the form of the mystical tattoos that signified membership in the Togashi order? Would they suffer for his sins, or even die? Satsu did not know. He knew only that his grandfather must be shown the error of his ways. And he knew only one way that might be done.
Satsu took a step nearer to his grandfather and lightly touched his shoulder. The courtyard was utterly silent as the Fortunes looked on, waiting. “Then neither will I.”
Togashi stared at his grandson in surprise, and Satsu could see a thousand years of memories suddenly being looked at with fresh perspective. He could feel his grandfather’s spirit and once again sank into it, watching as the patterns of history unwove and reformed over and again. No, Togashi thought. There are consequences to not acting. Satsu did not respond, watching as the vision slowly wove itself together one last time. Togashi stepped away from him, breaking the connection, and walked towards the dais. “I am ready,” he said, and bowed to the Fortunes.
“At last,” Fukurokujin said. He rose to his feet and began to walk towards the gateway. “Come with me.” Togashi followed him without giving his grandson a second glance.
“Togashi Satsu,” Benten said. “You do not belong here.”
“No, my lady,” he said.
“You will be returned from where you came, and to what you really are.” She smiled, a trifle impishly, and Satsu suddenly understood why so many samurai did foolish things for love. “Carry the Fortunes.”
Satsu tried to answer her, but there was a peal of thunder and he was standing back in his garden, blinking at the sudden change.
“Halt, you! Where did you–”Mareshi rushed forward, sword in hand, and then abruptly stopped and stared at him in horror. “Satsu-sama!” He threw himself to the ground in a warrior’s bow. “My lord, I did not recognize you. My shame knows no bounds–please allow me to make the three cuts, so as to clear my family of my foolishness.”
Satsu looked around. Every Kitsuki in the castle seemed to be in the garden, and half the guards. They were all staring at him in curiosity, and it suddenly occurred to Satsu that this might be the first time some of them had seen him in human form. “There is no shame in being diligent,” he said, “and you have clearly been diligent in searching for me.”
“Thank you, my lord. But what happened? Are you well?”
I am mortal, Satsu thought, no different from any other man. Already he could feel the loss of his grandfather’s vision. The dragon-form, too, had been taken from him. “Tengoku called for Togashi, and he has returned home. I am…” he paused for a moment in thought. He could do something about the bandits now. And get rid of those Mantis magistrates that were parading up and down his clan’s lands. “I am quite well.”
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