The ongoing quest to capture the Ebon Daughter continues in the name of the Divine Empress.
Hunting the Ebon Daughter, Pt 1
By Nancy Sauer
Edited by Fred Wan
The Month of the Horse, Year 1172
The lands west of Ryoko Owari were appealingly flat, but Scorpion peasants had covered every arable scrap of ground with cultivated fields and irrigation ditches, which made it hard for a horse to work up a good, steady run. So Iuchi Jadaran reminded himself as he watched his cousin Quan pick his way towards him across the countryside. It was going to be a long and difficult search, and there was no profit in getting impatient already.
After a few minutes Iuchi Quan found the road and urged his horse into a gallop, heading towards his commander. As he came within range of speech Jadaran could see a wide grin on the man’s face. “You found something?” he called.
“Yes. Maybe,” Quan said. He checked his horse, then reached out a hand in greeting. “The trail, if that is what it is, is old and cold. But I think I have found traces–an echo, if you will. A memory of a great evil, passing through to the southwest of here.”
“Is it unambiguous?” Jadaran said. “Can you say for certain that you have found the Ebon Daughter’s trail?”
Quan’s grin faded. “It is too faint for certainty. But what else could it be?”
Jadaran didn’t answer. After a moment he turned his horse and sent it into motion. “Well, the Crab are expecting us–we need to go report.”
Quan matched his horse to his commander’s pace. “This should be our task, not theirs,” he said.
“Hmm?” Jadaran said.
“The Ebon Daughter–” Quan’s voice dropped in volume, “they say the Ebon Daughter was an Iuchi. She should be ours to hunt, not the Crab’s.”
“The Empress has thought it wise to give this task to the Crab,” Jadaran said. “We will do nothing to get in the way of their hunt.” Quan looked as if he might argue, but a stern look made him subside. When they arrived at the Crab camp there were only two men present, both studying a map spread out on the ground. “Hail to the Jade Sun,” Jadaran called out.
“Its light will purge all darkness,” one of the men replied. Passwords exchanged, he held out a hand in the Unicorn fashion. “I hope you bring us news, Iuchi-san.”
“Perhaps,” Jadaran said. “Hiruma Masato, this is my cousin Iuchi Quan. He is one of my finest scouts. He has found traces of the Ebon Daughter’s passage west, but cannot say for sure more than that. There are no definite signs of her to the southwest.”
“Greetings, Quan-san,” Masato said. He pointed to the other man. “This is Toritaka Okabe, one of my finest scouts.” He smiled. “We will be taking the northwest, then. Continue your work in the south; we need to cover every possibility.”
“As you wish, Hiruma-san,” Jadaran said. He turned towards the now-grinning Quan. “Take Moto Taban with you, and be vigilant. As the Crab say, we must cover every possibility.”
* * * * *
The Month of the Rooster, Year 1172
Everyone in Rokugan knew that the sound of conversation easily went through paper walls, and everyone knew it was rude in the extreme to take advantage of this. Moshi Minami knelt in the foyer of the Kuni daimyo’s office and weighed a definitive social gaffe against the Crab Clan’s well-known love for results. And being a Mantis herself, she had a certain immunity to social niceties, though few of her Moshi kin would ever admit to such. And it wasn’t as if she had been eavesdropping, after all–when they weren’t shouting, the men in the office were talking in tones loud enough to be heard all through the foyer and probably, Minami thought, half-way down the hall.
Decision made, Minami gracefully rose to her feet, crossed the foyer, and slid open the door of the office. “Excuse my interruption, Lord Kiyoshi, and you honored warriors of the Crab Clan, but this conversation is relevant to my interests.” She bowed deeply, scanning the room as she did so. There were three men present: Kuni Kiyoshi, who she recognized at once, and a Kuni and a Hiruma she did not know. All of them seemed surprised and irritated at her action.
“Who are you?” the Kuni she didn’t know said. As he spoke he pulled a scroll out of the satchel sitting next to him.
“I am Moshi Minami, representative to the courts for the Jade Champion,” she said. She reached into her obi and produced the jade seal that symbolized her authority to speak in the Jade Champion’s name.
“Daigo-sama has no interest in the courts,” the Hiruma objected.
“Which is why he has someone else deal with them,” Kiyoshi said. “Minami-chan, you were told to wait. Why are you interrupting us?”
Minami let the insult slide by: given her action being treated like a child was no less than she deserved. “Kuni-sama, I am here on behalf of the Jade Champion, who has been charged by the Empress with finding a cure for the plague that wracks our land. You are speaking of the Ebon Daughter, who is believed to have created that plague. I trust the connection is clear.”
Kiyoshi stared at her for a moment, then gestured. “Close the door and sit down.” Minami did as she was instructed, and after she had settled Kiyoshi nodded at the Kuni. “This is my vassal Kuni Iyedo, the Witch Hunter who is leading the Crab’s efforts to find the Ebon Daughter. The man beside him is Hida Manoru, a scout from the Legion of Jade.”
“I am honored to meet you both,” Minami said.
“To serve the Jade Champion is its own honor, and I am sure you serve him well,” Iyedo said. “But I don’t see how you can help us.”
“I have been listening to your account of the search, Kuni-san, and from my years in court I have recognized a pattern. Your search is not going as you think it should because the Unicorn forces you are working with are obstructing you.”
“They want her to escape?” Iyedo said incredulously. “You accuse them of treason?”
“Absolutely not!” Minami said. “But that is the problem, you see. You must know that it is suspected that the Ebon Daughter is, was, Iuchi Yue. The Unicorn want her captured more than anyone else, but they want to be the ones to capture her so as to purge their shame.”
“I don’t believe it,” Manoru said, an angry look on his face. “I have served with Unicorn samurai often. The Empress has given this duty to the Witch Hunters of the Crab and they would never shame us that way.”
“You are not looking at this from the correct perspective,” Minami said.
“Yes I am,” Manoru said. He was beginning to look distinctly threatening.
Minami spent a moment mentally blessing her Yoritomo teachers; without them Manoru might have been frightening. “If the Unicorn capture her and immediately turn her over to Iyedo-san, who is commanding the search, well then the Witch Hunters have fulfilled their duty,” Minami said. “You see how simple things can be?”
Kiyoshi spoke, overriding whatever Manoru was about to say. “Iyedo, what do you think of this?”
“It makes too much sense, Kiyoshi-sama,” Iyedo said. He bowed his head. “I am shamed that I never noticed what they were doing. I accept my dismissal as commander, as it only just.”
“I’m not dismissing you; that would be a waste of experience.” Kiyoshi glanced at the two Crab, making sure they knew he was speaking to both of them. “The Unicorn have been standing with us almost since this war began, and it has become too easy to think that they understand. But they don’t. None of the other clans understand what they are dealing with with the Shadowlands, so they do stupid things like this. But we know. We must never forget.” There were sounds of agreement from both men, and Kiyoshi nodded in satisfaction. “Return to your search now. Iyedo, I leave to you how to handle the Unicorn.” The two men offered parting bows and withdrew. When they were gone Kiyoshi favored Minami with a slight grin. “Your gamble paid off, Moshi-san.”
”I am relieved that I was correct in being able to assist you, Kuni-sama,” Minami said. She bowed her head slightly, just enough to show that she understood that the Kuni lord was choosing to forgive her.
“We would have figured it out eventually, but you saved us hours of yelling at each other. The obvious answer is sometimes the hardest one to spot.” Kiyoshi made a dismissive motion. “Now, how can I help the Jade Champion?”
“It is he who wishes to help you,” Minami said. “He has come into information that he feels is important to your efforts to capture the Ebon Daughter.” She paused for a moment, and at Kiyoshi’s nod went on. “The first matter requires some history. You recall that the Empress had sent out a call for the man known as Daigotsu to be brought before her?”
“I do,” Kiyoshi said. His face had gone blank of expression.
“As matters turned out, he somehow initiated contact with her. How I do not know; Daigo-sama did not explain that to me. But as part of that contact Daigotsu presented to the Empress his knowledge of the magnitude of the Ebon Daughter’s power.”
“And she believes him?” Kiyoshi said, his tone disparaging.
“Kuni-sama, I believe I am correct that the Crab have begun to allow Daigotsu’s followers to fight at their side.”
“We do not!” Kiyoshi said. “They show up to a battle, and we ignore them. Unless they do something stupid, like perform maho.”
“So you agree that while they are our enemies, they are also Kali-Ma’s enemies, yes? So Daigotsu has no reason to lie about the Ebon Daughter.”
“I–agreed. But we know she is strong, probably as strong as Isawa Sezaru was.”
“Stronger than Sezaru,” Minami said. “Stronger than Iuchiban. She has both the ability to speak with the kami and the strange, foreign magics granted her by Kali-Ma.”
Kiyoshi was silent for a moment. “We knew this would be difficult,” he said. “But until we find her, we can’t make detailed plans for how to contain her.”
“Kuni-sama, I believe that the Phoenix could be of help here.”
“How?” Kiyoshi asked. “Shall we preach the Tao to her? Or stand around her in a circle until she tires of killing us and takes a nap?”
“Or you can destroy her power by cutting her connection to the kami,” Minami said.
Kiyoshi blinked. “That is possible?”
“So the records of my family imply, though mentions of it are scanty. The Phoenix do not like to discuss it, as it is reserved as their greatest punishment of shugenja in their clan. It is called the Ritual of Forgetting.”
“It would need to be modified, to contain her gaijin magic as well,” Kiyoshi said thoughtfully. He pulled out a sheet of paper from next to his desk and flipped it over, then he picked up a brush and started making notes on the back.
“You think that can be done?” Minami said.
Kiyoshi looked up and smiled. “She and her goddess’s pit-spawned soldiers have overrun my clan’s lands. We will get this ritual from the Phoenix. We will make it work. And then we will drag her before the Empress for judgment. It will be done.”
* * * * *
Month of the Boar, Year 1172
Shiro Akibara had been sited with an eye to the land it looked over, and it contained many balconies to allow its residents to take in the majestic view around it. Kiyoshi stood on one of those balconies, looking out in amazement at a large grove of trees. He was no stranger to trees or forests: in his wandering days he had seen the small, carefully managed forests that helped supply the Crab with lumber, and he had seen the vast, alien forest of the Shinomen. The grove had nothing in common with them, for all that it was made up of similar kinds of trees. The grove was pure, self-complete, holy. Even from here he could hear the songs its kami sang, and he wondered in envy and horror what it would be like to live all of ones life in the presence of such a place.
A soft rap on the floor next to Kiyoshi brought him back to himself, and he looked down to see a Phoenix acolyte in a full bow, her head resting on the floor. “I apologize profoundly for disturbing your meditation, Lord Kuni,” she said, “but you wished to see Master Bairei as soon as possible, and he is ready now.”
“Get up,” Kiyoshi said, relieved to be irritated at something. “And yes, take me to him now.” The acolyte rose without comment and led him across the castle to a large room lined with more scroll racks than Kiyoshi had ever seen in his life. He wondered what Kyuden Isawa’s library had looked like, if this was the library of a small, obscure castle .
A man emerged from the racks on Kiyoshi’s left, rolling up a scroll as he did so. “Ah, Kuni-san, you are here. I was quite surprised to hear that you had arrived here; this is not the season for travel, especially to the north.”
“The Mantis were able to bring me up the coast,” Kiyoshi said. “You would be amazed at what they consider ‘good sailing weather’ to be.”
“Indeed,” Bairei said. “For all the conflicts between the Mantis and Phoenix, none of my kin have ever doubted their skill on the waves. But even so, I am sure that required some very great issue for you to make the trip.”
“The will of the Empress,” Kiyoshi said. “The Daughter of Heaven has commanded that the Kuni Witch Hunters capture the Ebon Daughter, and I have committed the resources of my family to aid them. I am here because I have heard that the Phoenix have a ritual that would be of help.”
“You honor your clan with your diligence,” Bairei said. “What is the ritual you are interested in?” His tone was as cordial as before, but Kiyoshi thought he saw a certain wariness in the Master of Water’s eyes.
“It is called the Ritual of Forgetting,” Kiyoshi said. “It renders a shugenja unable to contact the kami.”
“I do not recall such a ritual,” Bairei said.
“I don’t think it is used often. But I have heard you are a man of great intellect, so perhaps time will help bring it back into your memory.” Kiyoshi clamped down on his impatience, rooting himself in the earth. Minami had warned him that this would happen, and she had helped him develop some strategies for dealing with it.
“I am flattered,” Bairei said. “But this ritual, if it exists, would be very dangerous. Something with that much power to destroy might be best left in the hands of my clan, where it could be held in safety.”
“Dangerous rituals do need guarding,” Kiyoshi agreed, thinking of some of the things he had read in Shiro Kuni’s library. “But I am sure the Phoenix would agree that sometimes a risk must be taken. The Empress has given your clan the duty of investigating the nature of the Destroyers: such a thing would be worth a little risk, yes?”
Bairei was silent for a few moments. “One would expect the Ebon Daughter to know something of the nature of the Destroyers,” he said.
“One would indeed,” Kiyoshi said.
“You have caught my interest,” Bairei said. “I will do some research to see if I can recover more information on this ritual.”
“Thank you,” Kiyoshi said. Another step, he thought. Another step closer to victory.
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