A New Empire, Part III

By Rusty Priske, Nancy Sauer, and Lucas Twyman
Edited by Fred Wan

The Crane

The section of Kyuden Doji that served as the personal quarters for the Crane Champion was decorated in an elegant manner, with the furnishings, floral arrangements and wall scrolls carefully chosen to reflect both the lady’s personality and the wealth of her clan. Doji Kusari ignored it all as he made his way through the rooms — they told him nothing that he did not already know, and thus were of no account.

The rooms were also well-supplied with Daidoji yojimbo, and Kusari ignored them as well. Stopping to acknowledge one might draw the yojimbo’s attention away from his duty, and that would never do; Kusari had lost his first betrothed to dark murder and he had no intention of losing his wife and child-to-be in a similar fashion. Arriving at the door to Domotai’s private study he waited while Daidoji Kimpira, the head of her personal guard, looked him over carefully before sliding the door aside.

Kusari entered the room to find Domotai sitting on the study’s balcony, watching the morning sunlight play on the fading glory of the garden below. She was wrapped in a warm robe and held a journal in her lap. “Good morning, my wife. Does Kimpira ever sleep?”

Domotai laughed. “Good morning, my husband. I believe he sleeps in the middle of the day, but that is only a guess on my part — allowing me to know his schedule might constitute a security breach.” Kusari smiled at the wry humor in her voice. After the murder of Kitsuki Orika, Kimpira had quietly made changes to Kyuden Doji’s security, with the result that no one within the palace proper had died during the Night of the Assassins. Domotai did not like being followed around by her personal guard, but she no longer objected to them.

“He is a good samurai,” Kusari said. He knelt down next to her and rested a hand on the cushion between them.

“He brings great honor to his family,” Domotai agreed. She closed the journal and gently rested her hand on top of Kusari’s. “How did your mission to Mura Sabishii Toshi go?”

“Quite well. You were correct to send me to attend the final ceremonies for the passing of control from the Lion to the Crane. Naoharu’s agents had heard some talk of resentment from some of the Lion samurai there, but it was all swept away when it was announced that I was representing the Crane.” He paused, then changed the topic. “I heard that Nagori had left yesterday. Why so quickly? He can only have been back from the Tournament a few days.”

“He needed to make preparations for the Divine One’s Winter Court. It will be at Kyuden Bayushi, so there is little time.”

Kusari frowned. “The ‘Divine One’ — I do not understand how the Celestial Heavens could have selected her. I am sure she was honorable enough, for a Dragon, but the Lion Clan is filled with samurai just as honorable. And the men she has chosen to serve her? What good could she possibly find in them?”

“You doubt the actions of Heaven?”

“Say rather I am confused by them.”

“I am also confused,” Domotai said, “but I do not doubt. You would not doubt either, if you had spoken with Nagori.”

“What did he say?” Kusari had wanted to attend the Celestial Tournament, but Domotai had decided to send her older cousin as her representative instead.

“It was not what he said, but the way he spoke — his whole being. Your recall how crushed he was when Jorihime was killed?”

Kusari looked out into the garden, struggling with remembered grief. He had known exactly how Nagori felt after his wife’s death, had known what it was like to walk stone-faced and respectable though the duties of the day while inside his heart died. “I remember,” he said.

“He was changed, Kusari. He still misses Jorihime, but it is as if a great weight has been lifted from him.” Domotai smiled radiantly. “Whatever the Heavens found in her soul makes her worthy. And I am sure that she has chosen her representatives with some great purpose in mind.”

“I cannot doubt your testimony,” Kusari said. “But I fear that this purpose will make our clan’s position more tenuous in the Imperial City. She has not chosen a Crane to fill any position, or a samurai known to be friendly to the Crane.”

Domotai smiled again, but this time there was a calculating air to it. “No doubt many of our enemies are thinking such thoughts. And you were not born a Crane, so you would not know how disappointed they will be.”

“How so?” Kusari asked. “We can expect no kindness from the Chancellor or the Treasurer — and the Advisor is a ronin!” He could not keep the distaste from his voice.

“Kindness is not needed,” Domotai said. “When those men go to take up their positions, they will find that that their staffs — and the staffs of all the functionaries below them — are liberally filled with Crane courtiers. And those courtiers can not all be dismissed and replaced; they are capable and skilled, and have served the Throne with honor for years. Furthermore, to do so would anger all the lords and courtiers who the Cranes have traded favors with over the years. We do not control the top tier of the Imperial Court, and that indeed makes us weaker, but we are by no means without influence.”

“A multi-layered strategy,” Kusari said. “Akodo-kami would have approved.”

Before Domotai could reply there was a scratching sound at the door and Kimpira entered the room. “My lady, Naoharu-sama and your special magistrate have arrived. I have had them put them in the Wisteria Room.”

“Thank you, Kimpira-san,” Domotai said. “I will go down for our meeting in a few minutes.” She handed the journal carefully to Kusari and rose to her feet. “See that this is put in its place. We are not finished with it yet.”

Kusari nodded, feeling the weight of Toturi III’s words in his hands. “Do not fear, my wife. Our clan’s honor depends on it.”

* * * * *

Naoharu took a sip from his cup and raised an eyebrow. “Chrysanthemum petal tea?” he said.

Domotai nodded, putting her cup down. “We have a supply of real tea, to be used when visitors are present, but there is no point in trying to deceive either of you.”

“The Crab have used their lock on last year’s tea crop ruthlessly,” Fumisato said. “But with this year’s harvest coming on to the market the prices should drop.”

“Less than you would think,” Naoharu said. “Jinn-Kuen managed to negotiate several large multi-year contracts last year, and they will serve to keep the cost of tea high. The cost of supplying tea to the Crane winter courts will be breathtaking.”

“It can’t be helped,” Domotai said. “The Daidoji are pouring out their blood like it was water; the Doji will not flinch over mere koku.”

“Nevertheless Jinn-Kuen is a brilliant opponent, and he will continue to plague us.” Naoharu stopped for a sip of tea. “Perhaps something should be… done… about him.”

“The Crane do not deal in petty assassinations,” Domotai said. She smiled. “I have other plans for him.” Naoharu raised a polite eyebrow in inquiry, but Domotai turned her attention to the other man. “Fumisato-san, how goes the military front?”

“As well as can be expected, when one fights against the Crab. We have been pushed to the margins of the Yasuki provinces, but when they gather to drive us out of one area we infiltrate another. Their armies are larger than ours, and are filled with battle-hardened veterans — that is their advantage. Our clan’s courtiers have kept any other clan from helping the Crab overtly — nothing can stop the Mantis from trying to make a profit — and our maps of the province are far superior to theirs. Those are our advantages.”

“Superior maps?” Naoharu said. “How is that possible? The Crab have held that province for centuries.”

“The Crab Yasuki made maps that showed what was important to them — roads suitable for commerce, villages, profitable holdings. The rest of the clan paid it no attention, as there had never been a serious incursion from the Shadowlands there.” There was a note of disdain in Fumisato’s gravel voice over such tactical short-sightedness. “When Yasuki Hachi assumed control of the province he did what any Crane daimyo would do, and ordered maps — by the Daidoji notion of a map — made of his lands. When the Crab moved to seize the province, we made sure to seize the maps.”

“So the Crab have superior force, but have difficulties bringing it to bear. The Crane have the lesser force, but apply it effectively.” Naoharu sipped his tea. “My lady, forgive my ignorance on such things, but it seems to me that this is a way to avoid losing a war, not to win one.”

“If the Crane relied on military force alone that would be so,” Domotai said. “But we have the upper hand economically. The Crab control of the tea market hurts us, yes, but they cannot capitalize on it. Every koku they make has to go into buying supplies for the armies that man the Wall, and we control the markets for those supplies.”

“However much they bleed us, we can bleed them more.” Naoharu looked at her with admiration. “You are a hard woman, Lady Doji.”

“The Crab respect only strength, it is said. I will not shame my clan by flinching. The Daidoji are approaching the limit of their resources, but the Crab are depleting their supplies even faster.” Domotai picked up a small bundle of scrolls and handed them to him. “Our courtiers have been busy acquiring favors from other clans. Look over what we have here and see what you can use to hurt the Crab.”

“Your will, my lady,” Naoharu said. “I regret that Fate did not put Kaneka on his father’s throne — I think the two of you would have gotten along very well.”

“My relationship with Fate is somewhat troubled,” Domotai said. “Fumisato-san, does Zoushi need additional forces before winter sets in?”

“None beyond what he has already arranged for. We have planned out a number of operations to harass the Crab before the end of the season.”

“And the other matter? You have made progress on that?”

Fumisato nodded. “My time in the south has been very informative.”

“I do not question your methods — but it seems like this is taking some time.”

“We may only have one strike, Domotai-sama. It must then be flawless.”

“The way of the Crane,” Domotai said. “Let it be so, then.”

The Dragon

If a hawk were to fly over the northern edge of the Great Wall of the North, it would easily see the peak of Tenkenniyoru Yama, the second-largest mountain found in the boundaries of the Emerald Empire. However, even the keen eyes of a hawk would be hard-pressed to distinguish the rocky walls of the Furthest Fortress, the most remote outpost of the Dragon Clan, carved into its side. Designed by a direct ancestor of the Tamori family, the high walls of the ancient castle resemble a sheer cliffside, and the single winding path leading to its gates is lined with the assorted shifting detritus of a hundred passing caravans and rockslides caused by the partial yearly thawing of the snows above.

If the hawk were a curious and careful observer, it could follow the single trail of smoke from above the castle’s kitchen to the central heart of the small fortress – its courtyard, home of a few meager fruit trees and a sizeable vegetable garden. The dark, fertile soil of the courtyard stood out unnaturally against the stone mountainside, a testament to the most powerful of the Tamori family’s gifts: the ability to coax the earth into sustaining life where it seems unsustainable. The humble shugenja stationed at the Furthest Fortress gave daily thanks to the kami for this small miracle, but if Tamori Shimura paid any notice to this small miracle, he gave no indication. The shugenja stationed at this distant outpost had some small skill, but Shimura was yamabushi of a rank far beyond his years, a warrior and priest who, if needed, had the power to shake the core of Tenkenniyoru Yama itself. This was not lost on Mirumoto Kei as she stared at the young man from across the castle’s main threshold: in fact, the arrogance was etched so transparently on the young man’s features that she likely could have repeated his disdainful thoughts to him, verbatim.

“Less than a month ago, you were spared the remainder of your term on the northern watchtowers at the request of Lord Satsu himself,” Kei said, frowning, “and he placed enough trust in you that he allowed you to accompany him to the Celestial Tournament, where you witnessed the glorious ascension of the Empress.”

Shimura set his jaw and nodded, “Yes. A great honor.”

Kei rubbed her temple with her right hand, ignoring the blunt answer, and continued, “Then, you personally accompany the new Dragon Champion on her tour through each of the clan’s ancestral holdings, yet not once do you show more than the required courtesy, and at no point do you lose that sour expression on your face. One would almost think that you don’t appreciate the honor you have been shown.”

Slowly, the young shugenja raised an eyebrow as he met his Lady’s gaze, and bowed deeply. In a gravelly monotone, he whispered, “I apologize if I have slighted you in any way.”

Frowning, Kei stared at her vassal. She turned and beckoned for him to follow her deeper into the fortress. “This is a personal audience with your Champion, Shimura. My aides are either at the foot of the trail here or resting in their chambers. We are essentially alone until Berii arrives this evening. You have my leave to tell me what you are thinking.” Turning her head, Kei nodded to Shimura. “You will not be punished for speaking truth.”

Shimura paused his stride. “I… I wish to be returned to the front lines. When Lord Satsu called me from the border, I thought he wished me to help with investigation of the murder of my parents.”

Kei nodded, and motioned for him to follow her further, down a winding staircase into the heart of the mountain. “But he instead wanted you to accompany him to the Tournament, and now he is the Voice.”

Between gritted teeth, Shimura replied, “And his duty to the Empire is more pressing than the continued investigation of the deaths of the Tamori daimyo and an Elemental Master.”

Invisible in the shadowed passageway, Kei smiled. “Not entirely true. But I see that you share some of your mother’s unique oratory style, and a bit of the Earth’s dense nature.”

“My Lady?”

Placing an arm out to her side, Kei stopped abruptly. Shimura could see a strange mixture of bemusement and anger in her eyes as she turned to face him. “Shimura, do you really have no idea why you are here?”

Shimura averted his eyes, glancing at the stone steps. His champion took two steps back up the stairs and watched him as his eyes widened with realization.

“Adopted or no, Shimura,” Kei said, “you were chosen by Tamori Shaitung herself to be her designated heir. You were raised by her, groomed by her, and she never altered that decision before her death. Quite simply, Shimura, you are here because I wished to find out if the new daimyo of the Tamori is a fool or simply hard-headed.”

Shimura’s mouth was open slightly, his lips held apart by an uncertain mix between fear and laughter. Composing himself, he smiled sardonically, and replied, “I suppose that is for you to decide, my Lady.”

Kei narrowed her eyes. “I assure you that I will, Shimura.”

The Champion of the Dragon turned and continued downward. The staircase spiraled narrowly into the mountain, surrounded by a tunnel twice the height of the Dragon daimyo and capable of fitting three armored samurai shoulder-to-shoulder. At the staircase’s base, a pair of massive steel and iron doors stood, emblazoned with the mon of the Dragon Clan. A complex system of metal bars, bubbling liquids, and strange magical wards surrounded the doors, forming a massive lock to hold them shut.

“This is where we stop,” Kei said, looking up at the doors. “These doors and the vault behind them are called ‘The Final Riddle.’ Satsu took me here when I was named daimyo of the Mirumoto, and I believe him to be the one of the only living beings capable of opening these doors. The vault behind them is the reason for this fortress, the reason why the Clan tributes thousands of koku each year to maintain this outpost.”

Shimura frowned. “What is in the vault?”

Kei smiled at Shimura, then turned back to gaze up at the doors. “The Dark Oracles have been active in our mountains, Shimura. The Dark Oracle of Earth was killed near our border last month by a team of Isawa inquisitors. All the while, Chosai harries us from the north. What do you know of the Phoenix, Shimizu? Do you have contacts among them?”

“I know the Phoenix killed my birth parents, my Lady.”

Kei placed her hand to her chin. “Your father was a Phoenix, Shimizu.”

“My adopted father,” Shimura replied, scowling.

Kei shook her head sadly and unfurled a scroll. “Both your fathers, Shimura. How young were you when your parents died?”

“Four, my Lady.”

“Young Tamori Ichi,” Kei read, following along on the scroll with her finger, “first son of Tamori Toyo and Tamori Kanji, formerly Agasha Kanji of the Phoenix.” Kei looked up at Shimura sadly, and offered him the scroll. “Shaitung and Nakamuro married later in life and needed an heir, but they chose to adopt you for more than your potential with the kami. You may have healed the rifts between our clans, had your parents not died first.”

Shimura held the scroll limply, like something dead. “Which set of parents, my lady?”

Kei looked away from Shimura, towards the stairs. “Berii is your new opposite in the Kitsuki, Shimura. You are both to work to investigate our mountains – every hidden cave, every zokujin hole, every peak. If there is something the Dark Oracles want here, we must find it first. I want you to send a delegation to the Phoenix to find out what they have learned about the Oracles. No clan matches the insight of the Phoenix into the ways of the kami, but we are the Dragon. They may be upsetting the balance, and we among the Dragon are the ones who seem to be paying the price. Remember the kindness both clans have shown you, Shimura, but watch them closely.”

“Of course, my Lady,” Shimura said, bowing deeply before turning to ascend the stairs.

Kei placed her hands flat against the massive doors. She smiled as she recalled the sense of awe she felt when Satsu first revealed his glorious, golden dragonic form to her, and how the sound of his voice echoed in her mind as he swung the door open to reveal the empty vault: “There is nothing here, Kei, but a lesson. The vault is empty because that lesson has yet to be taught.”

The Spider

Daigotsu tapped on the arm of his great black throne, almost absent-mindedly. Shahai leaned over and said, “You seem distracted. What is it?”

A storm rippled across Daigotsu’s features, but he held it in check. She did not yet know what he knew. “There has been a resolution to the tournament by now. There should also be a new Emperor.” He then went silent.

Shahai knew what that meant. If the Spider had been victorious in the tournament, and the Heavens had chosen a follower of Fu Leng to lead the Empire, he would have known it. He would have felt it. “This does not change anything, my lord. You have made great strides in turning the Spider into a respected force among those simpletons in Rokugan. The Unicorn have pledged to champion our cause. Whoever is on the throne, it will make no difference. Our son will one day rule the land whether it is the Heavens’ will or not.”

Daigotsu scanned the underlings through the hall. They all maintained their distance, which gave the masters of this place some semblance of privacy. He spoke to Shahai without turning his head. “The samurai of Rokugan will writhe and suffer the way Fu Leng was forced to suffer. They claim to be devout, but know nothing of true devotion. When we stand as their equal, then we will show them that their lives have been just an illusion and jigoku will be their destiny.”

Shahai started to laugh – a guttural, unpleasant sound – when the great doors at the far end of the hall flung open. Two men, panting and sweating from their exertions, ran towards the throne. “Lord Daigotsu, we bring news!”

The Dark Lord waved the guards aside who moved to intercept them and said, “Usharo and Sahara. What happened? Where are the others?”

Sahara stopped, yards from the throne. “All is lost, Lord Daigotsu!”

“Stop babbling nonsense and tell me what happened!”

Usharo stopped Sahara’s words with a gesture and then said, “Apologies, Lord Daigotsu, but we came from Seppun Hill as quickly as we could.”

“Who was victorious?”

“Moto Jin-Sahn, but that is not the true news, Lord Daigotsu. The Voices of the Sun and Moon made a proclamation and have elevated a mortal to rule Rokugan as an extension of the gods.”

Daigotsu looked annoyed at Usharo’s inability to get to the point. “Well? Who is it?”

“Kitsuki Iweko.”

Shahai tilted her head to the side and looked at Daigotsu thoughtfully. “This is not the worst result. The Kitsuki are pragmatic. With the backing of the Unicorn we will be able to make our case and…”

Usharo cut her off. “No, my lady.”

Daigotsu’s eyes flashed with rage at his follower’s presumptiveness. “Explain yourself.”

Usharo nodded. “Iweko has taken Susumu prisoner. He was able to get a warning to me, though. She knows everything.”

Eyes widening, Daigotsu said, “What do you mean?”

“She knows what the Spider are. What we truly are. She knows that you are behind them and what you have been trying to accomplish.”

Daigotsu’s grip tightened on the arm of the throne. “And?”

“And she has outlawed the Spider clan. She has declared that anyone found bearing the Spider mon is to be killed on sight. Any former Spider bearing the mark of the taint will also be killed on sight. It is only the untainted, if they cast off allegiance to the Spider, who can remain alive.”

Daigotsu spit out the next words. “So you are safe then. Tear off that mon and break your oaths to me and you can go live among them, as a lapdog.”

As Usharo shook his head, Sahara said, “I would rather be torn apart by a pack of the Unicorn’s dogs then renounce you, Lord Daigotsu.”

“We are with you, Lord Daigotsu, to whatever end.” Usharo’s weariness vanished as if his devotion to Daigotsu had revitalized him somehow.

The Dark Lord did not acknowledge their pledges. “What else?”

“Iweko has named Jin-Sahn Shogun and has given him his first orders. He is to find us and eradicate us. We fled Seppun Hill with samurai on our tails. We separated from Katsu and Keigo to increase our chances of getting this news to you.”

Daigotsu stood and thought for a moment. “If she knows everything, then she likely knows where we are.”

Usharo nodded. “That was the impression Susumu gave, Lord.”

“All out war against all of Rokugan would not serve our purposes.” Daigotsu paused and then said, “I require solitude. Leave me.” He waved his arm over the various members of the court. None thought twice as they scrambled out of the large chamber, Usharo and Sahara bringing up the rear, closing the great doors behind them.

Daigotsu turned to where Shahai sat. She started to speak, “This is only a setback…” but Daigotsu cut her off.

“Even you, my love. Leave me.”

Shahai’s expression ran from surprise to disappointment to anger in mere moments before settling on resignation. She stood and bowed to Daigotsu, before leaving the great hall from a different entrance than the rest had.

Daigotsu waited until the hall was empty before stepping down off the dais and walking through the hall. He walked over to one of the great tapestries that adorned the chamber. It was made of black silk and showed a tree, stripped of any leaves or blossoms, also made of black silk. The black on black combination almost made it painful to look at, as if the pattern was trying to be elusive. The great hall was not brightly lit, so this effect was magnified.

Daigotsu grabbed on the tapestry and yanked it from where it hung and let it crash to the floor. He then moved to the next tapestry and repeated his actions. He moved all around the circumference of the room, pulling them down from the walls and letting them fall to the floor. He did so with no hint of anger. He acted methodically and passionlessly, at least to any who would have been able to see him. Yet these actions were not for any other eyes.

He then moved to each wall sconce and extinguished the flames there. After each one went dark, he pulled the sconces from the wall and let them crash to the floor. He left only one, casting a faint and flickering light across the large chamber.

He then cast a baleful glance at the great throne. The black stone seemed to have been carved directly out of the structure of Black Silk Castle. Daigotsu knew that was an illusion, but he recognized the symbol for what it was.

He drew on the power that he always felt. He summoned all the kansen within reach of his call and bade them to gather around him. Where they were normally unseen, now they flickered in a nimbus of energy, crackling and glowing, dwarfing the glow from the single torch.

Daigotsu strained under the power. Keeping the kansen bent to his will strained the limits of even his control. When he felt he could gather no more power he unleashed it at the throne.

The energy, as red as blood and as charged as pure lightning, erupted from where he stood and struck the throne. The stone was rent asunder, first cracking down the middle and then exploding in a shower of stone shards, filling the room. Daigotsu made no move to defend himself from the debris and a number of shards sliced into his skin, though he paid them no mind.

The red energy danced around the room for a moment and then vanished, leaving that single torch as light. “Why?” he whispered under his breath. “Why won’t you answer me? Why now, of all times? Have I not served you with absolute devotion?”

There was no answer. As there had not been for weeks.

Daigotsu, ignoring the trickles of blood on his face and arms, wrenched the remaining torch from its sconce and thrust it, still burning, into the closest fallen tapestry. He watched as it ignited and slowly spread from one tapestry to the next. He watched the flames until they completed a ring around what was his throne room. He then flung aside the great double doors and walked into the throng that waited outside, startled by the great explosion. As they saw the flames and the Dark Lord, they fell back, even the greatest among them cowed by the enormity of his wrath.

With the glow of the fire behind him, Daigotsu looked at his followers, as if daring one of them to make a sound. Finally he spoke, “Rokugan has a new Empress and she has condemned us. We have been condemned before.

“Rokugan has a new monarchy and it tells us we are not welcome. We have been told this before.

“Rokugan has renewed its devotion to the Celestial Heavens and we are told that Fu Leng is unworthy of similar reverence. We have been lied to before.

“This new Empress tries to divide us by promising leniency to those who do not bear the mark of Fu Leng and who cast off their devotion to me. Tear the Spider from your chest and grasp jade in your hands and you will be forgiven, as if one could forgive someone who so easily turns away from their brothers and their promises and their oaths.

“I tell Rokugan, no.”

A murmur of ‘no’ went through the crowd.

“I tell Rokugan that we will stand as one in the shadow of Fu Leng and we will not be dissuaded by your promises and threats. I tell them no.”

This time the sound of ‘no’ was much louder as the crowd picked up their leader’s call.

“I tell Rokugan that we will take our rightful place, just as Fu Leng will take his rightful place, and we will teach you who is the true power in this land. I tell them no!”

The crowd all but screamed “NO!” in response.

“They wish to hunt us down? We will not make it easy for them, and we will make them pay for each step they take. If the Shogun wants to come for us in the Shinomen Forest, let us make it easy for him to find his way…

“Burn down the forest! Leave no tree untouched!”

The Spider roared with approval and rushed to fulfill his command. For now, rage and passion would fill their hearts. By the time it had been quenched, and the notion of their gambit having failed returned to them, their Dark Lord would have new purpose for them. The answer was there, an opportunity dangling before him. He simply needed the time to uncover it, as he ever had.

* * *

Nintai stepped out of the shrine and watched the light filtering its way through the leaves and down to the forest floor. He stretched and ran his paws through his thick mane. He glanced at the figures in the trees. The Asp warriors who stood guard never entered Te’tik’kir’s shrine, but they also never let down their watch. Nothing could reach the structure without the Naga knowing about it.

Something odd reached the edge of Nintai’s perception, though. He sniffed the air and caught a hint of something unexpected. Before he could place the odor, however, there was a noise in the underbrush. The Kitsu looked towards the Naga and saw that they showed no concern over the noise. That was enough evidence to allow Nintai to know who it was.

Chi’kel, one of the few remaining Nezumi on the mainland of Rokugan, burst from the foliage and scampered to where Nintai stood. He was chattering excitedly in the language of his kind.

“Chi’kel!” Nintai put his paws out, trying to calm the excited Ratling. “What is it? You look like you have seen the return of the Blood Rain.”

The Nezumi stopped short and switched to the halting, broken version of Rokugani that the Ratlings were able to utter. “Danger! Danger, Nin’tai! Chi’kel must-must warn!”

Nintai furrowed his great brow. “Chi’kel, calm yourself enough to tell me. What is the danger?”

Chi’kel looked into the Kitsu eyes and took in three sharp breaths, trying to center himself. “It is the forest. It burns. The forest burns!”

Nintai moved away from Chi’kel, startled. He sniffed the air again, and this time was able to place the smell.

The Shinomen Forest was on fire.


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Author: Joe Fulgham View all posts by