The Great Clans continue to react to the aftermath of the fate of the Spider Clan and the changes to the cosmology of Rokugan.
Aftermath, Part 2
By Shawn Carman
Edited by Fred Wan
Shiba Tsukimi entered the stone chamber wherein the Elemental Council of Masters met deep beneath Kyuden Isawa. She always found the chamber slightly too cool and entirely too damp, but she supposed that was the nature of a place so infused with the elements. “I apologize for my tardiness,” she said cordially. “There were matters of some significance that required my direct attention.”
“While I certainly am more than happy to forgive such a minor indiscretion,” Isawa Emori said, flashing a smile toward Tsukimi, “you must admit, it is rather unconventional for the Champion to keep the Elemental Council waiting.”
Tsukimi took her seat and regarded the Master of Earth with a patient expression. “I was meeting with the officers who will protect the Phoenix delegations to the south. You can of course understand why the selection of such men would be an important task. It is of the utmost importance that your selected acolytes be well protected as they attempt to undo the damage the Destroyers wrought on our Empire. Do you disagree?”
Asako Bairei smiled warmly at her. Tsukimi had always considered his a fatherly expression. “We are enormously grateful, Tsukimi-sama, and we thank you for your time and attention on our behalf. Your tardiness is of course forgotten. Shall we proceed?”
“By all means,” Tsukimi said. She would be grateful to have this meeting behind her, but she suspected it would take longer even than she had anticipated. “As the Great Clan tasked with maintaining mastery over the elements as well as interpreting the wisdom of the Tao on behalf of the Empire’s people, the recent theological upheaval we have experienced will have long-ranging effects that we must be prepared to address.”
“You state the matter with such simplicity and detachment,” Isawa Kimi observed. The Master of the Void peered at Tsukimi carefully. “Is it simpler for you to deal with this burden by doing so?”
“Yes,” Tsukimi said flatly. She knew better than to conceal things from Kimi. “It is… a great deal to endure at once.”
“It is a disaster of apocalyptic proportions,” Isawa Mitsuko insisted. The Master of Air was clearly furious, and seemed to be the reason the room was cooler than normal. “What has been done is a mistake of unimaginable magnitude. It is horrendous. It…”
“…it cannot be undone,” Tsukimi said. “We know this. What has been done is done, and we must deal with what remains. Our time here will be far more productive if we accept that from the onset.”
“I cannot abide by such foolishness!” Mitsuko nearly shouted. “I have fought my entire life against corruption and weakness, and now the Empress pardons the most villainous men and women in all of creation? How is that something that can simply be accepted?”
“I am Champion,” Tsukimi said quietly. “I will brook no treason within the Phoenix. Is that what you advocate, Master Mitsuko? Treason against the Divine Empress?”
Mitsuko locked eyes with Tsukimi and held her gaze for at least a minute before looking away. “No,” she finally admitted. “No, I would not see treason within our ranks. I would be a poor excuse for an inquisitor if I entertained such a notion.”
“I am greatly pleased to hear that,” Tsukimi said sincerely. “I think we would all agree, then, that we need to understand what has happened, and then we can decide how the Phoenix can best serve the will of Heaven in this new situation. Does anyone disagree?”
“I do not think any of us would disagree,” Bairei said, still smiling.
“Thank you, Master Bairei,” she replied. “If you would please explain the present understanding of the situation?”
Bairei nodded and folded his hands into his sleeves. “All the information we have available at present is taken from Shiba Danjuro’s firsthand accounts of the incident in the Scorpion lands, as well as corroboration from the shugenja who were there at the time. Danjuro-san’s rather detailed report confirms exactly what the shugenja were able to tell us based upon their communion with the kami at the time of the incident.”
“Can we depend upon the testimony of the shugenja in question?” Mitsuko asked pointedly.
Bairei gestured to a scroll on the table. “I have a complete list of their names as well as their backgrounds. I think you will find that the group as a whole deserves a great deal of trust from us.”
“I trust your judgment,” Mitsuko said. “Please, continue.”
“What we know for certain is that Kali-ma slew Fu Leng, and was in turn slain by Daigotsu,” Bairei continued. “What we cannot confirm for certain at this point is the claim that Daigotsu has ascended to assume absolute mastery over the Realm of Evil.” Here he gestured to another scroll, one that was open and which depicted a number of spheres in a strange but balanced arrangement. “We know that the more distant realms, most specifically Tengoku and Jigoku, have a will or sentience of their own. The notion that a mortal soul could overcome this sentience and replace it… well, it is quite disturbing to say the least. Quite frankly, however, we simply do not know enough about the situation to determine its veracity.”
“How can we gain more information on this matter?” Emori asked.
“For once, I will confess that I am absolutely disinterested in gaining additional information on this subject,” Bairei said. “It essentially amounts to attempting to understand the nature of evil itself, and in that I have no interest.” He shrugged lightly. “If we are to assume that the agreement with the Empress will be honored, one might even postulate that doing such a thing might constitute a willingness to embrace the Taint.”
“What of these Dark Fortunes?” Isawa Ochiai asked, breaking her customary silence. “What ramifications can we expect as a result of their existence, assuming that they do in fact exist?”
“I believe they do,” Bairei answered. “The testimony of the shugenja who were present very closely matches the accounts we have on historical record of shugenja who were in the presence of the recently departed when Imperial decree elevated them to the position of Fortunes.”
“Let us maintain the assumption, then,” Ochiai said.
“On that assumption, then, one must further assume that they are capable of the same feats as traditional Fortunes. They can and will answer prayers, levy curses, and grant blessings.” Emori seemed greatly displeased by the concept. “The only thing we cannot know is how active they will be. If they are overly active in the mortal realm, then the notion of balance indicates that the traditional Fortunes would be as well.” He shook his head. “Honestly we have no idea how this will unfold.”
“I regret to inform you that there is more unpleasant news,” Tsukimi said. “We received a scroll via messenger just this morning. It was…” she trailed off and actually chuckled at the temerity of it. “The author was a member of the Daigotsu family who identified the scroll as a courtesy extended to the Phoenix. It claims that, with the kharmic death of the oni lord Akuma following Daigotsu’s mortal demise, the soul of Isawa Akuma has ascended to the position of Dark Fortune of Power.” She grimaced. “I saved the scroll if any of you wish to see it.”
“I wish to see it destroyed,” Mitsuko said darkly. “Does that have any bearing?”
“It seems that we have at least a marginal understanding of the situation,” Ochiai broke in. “There is little more we can be certain of without further research, and I think we all agree that such a thing would be incredibly dangerous. I believe the proper course of action in this instance would be to petition the Empress for the right of Mitsuko and her inquisitors to gain information through interviewing members of the Spider Clan.”
“Yes,” Mitsuko said vehemently.
“I am sorry, Mitsuko-san,” Emori interrupted, “but I think we must be very clear that our mandate here is interviewing, not interrogating.”
“I think obviously context would be an issue,” the Master of Air insisted.
“We will not risk the wrath of the Empress,” Ochiai said firmly. “I for one trust Mitsuko-san to exercise appropriate restraint, and I think nothing more needs to be said about the matter. Agreed?” Seeing no dissent, the Master of Fire seemed to steel herself. “There is one final matter we must attend to regarding this incident before we can adjourn to our individual investigations.” She looked to Tsukimi. “Champion, have the proper arrangements been made?”
“Of course,” Tsukimi said at once. “Are we prepared?”
“Very well.” Tsukimi rapped sharply on the stone table, and the door to the room opened. She nodded to the guards, who disappeared only to return a few moments later with a third figure, who was ushered into the room and deposited at the table. “You need to understand the severity of what is taking place here,” Tsukimi said. “Your testimony today regarding everything that led up to the incident in the Scorpion lands will be a key part of how your fate is determined. Do you understand that?”
“I do,” Isawa Kyoko said quietly.
“Then let us begin.”
* * * * *
Yoritomo Naizen slipped off of his horse carefully, grimacing at the stiffness in his legs and back. He had never developed a taste for horseback riding, and in fact had never found any form of overland travel that agreed with him. He despised the tedium of it, and longed for the open sea. But his personal desires were rarely a matter of importance any longer; there were much greater matters these days.
Kyuden Ashinagabachi was intact and largely undamaged save for a few minor wounds here and there, clearly inflicted by whatever ranged attacks the Destroyers had managed. The village that surrounded the castle had suffered more significantly, with its entire outermost quarter in complete ruins, and the remainder having been protected by an impromptu wall of earth and stone. And that said nothing of the collateral damage that was inherent in having thousands of additional soldiers stationed within the village for weeks during a siege. No, this area was in need of definite assistance, and as one of the most important mainland holdings the Mantis Clan possessed, it was only just that the Clan Champion be on site to investigate the matter. No matter how much he despised travel. “Tsuruchi Fusako,” he demanded loudly.
“Here, my lord.” A younger woman appeared nearby, clearly exhausted and looking quite disturbed. “I only just heard you were arriving. I apologize.”
“Not required,” Naizen said. “What is the present state of affairs here?”
“The castle is not compromised, and our defense forces are at better than three-quarters strength,” she answered at once. “With the remainder of the defenders having departed, we have been able to abandon rationing, but it will need to be reinstated if we cannot garner additional supplies in the near future.” She hesitated for a few moments. “My brother’s detachment remains missing.”
“Ah,” Naizen said. “Yes. About that. I rendezvoused with an Imperial recovery detachment on my way here. They had discovered a group of Mantis that had been overrun by a flanking force of Destroyers during an attempt to reach the castle. There was no indication of survivors.” He hesitated. “I am sorry, but I do not think there is much chance that your brother survived.”
Fusako looked down. “I feared as much.”
“It is a tremendous loss for the clan. Your brother was a noble warrior.” Naizen was slightly uncomfortable discussing such things, but hopefully she would not notice. “Regardless, you will assume his position, naturally.”
Fusako looked up, surprised. “My lord?”
“Your leadership during the defense of the castle clearly indicates you are worthy. Awako spoke quite highly of your performance.”
“Lady Awako is too kind,” Fusako protested. “She was instrumental in the holding action.”
“Of course,” Naizen replied. “She is an exceptional vassal. I would expect no less.” He paused and looked around. “Were there any Spider involved in the defense?”
“I believe some were present among the defenders, yes,” Fusako said.
“Are any here now?”
“No, my lord.”
Naizen thought absently for a moment. “What is your opinion of the matter regarding the Spider?”
“I do not really have one,” Fusako admitted. “I have been preoccupied with my brother’s absence. In the grand scheme of things… I suppose it matters very little to the Tsuruchi. If they are no longer criminals, we have no need to hunt them any longer.”
“The matter is significantly more complex than that, which I believe you know,” Naizen said. “We allied with the Spider once upon a time, and they ultimately betrayed us. The possibility that they will do something similar, but to the Empire at large, is unacceptable.”
“Of course, my lord. How can the Tsuruchi help?”
Naizen smiled. “You will do well as daimyo, I think. If the people here were at least partially defended by the Spider during this siege, then it stands to reason that there are many among them who might be positively predisposed toward them. I wish to offer the uncorrupted Spider the opportunity to build a monastery or other small holding in the Tsuruchi holdings, in the shadow of the castle. This will affirm the loyalty of the Mantis and set an example for embracing the Empress’ decree.”
“And it will allow us to monitor the Spider for any sign of treachery,” Fusako said. “It is a very reasonable decision, my lord. We are at your disposal.”
“Outstanding,” Naizen said. “Now, get someone to take this damnable horse away from me and let us get to work ensuring all here is in readiness. I can only hope the Phoenix sent the message that I requested.” He frowned. “In the very near future, Fusako, we should meet with Awako and our Kitsune brothers and see what can be done about coercing the Phoenix to share the secrets of that ritual with us.”
* * * * *
Moshi Kalani reviewed the scroll again, slower, to ensure that its contents were as he had originally read it. He looked up at Komori. “Is this correct? Are we certain?”
The older shugenja shrugged. “That is the content of the message that was received from the Phoenix, yes. I would assume that they would only send news of true significance, given the identified costs of this manner of communication.”
Kalani nodded. The ritual that allowed communication between his burgeoning colony and the mainland Empire was extraordinarily taxing on those who participated in it. In particular, it seemed to age them months or even years for every minute that passed while the ritual was conducted. He had been forced to vary the priests used for such communication whenever messages needed to be sent, else he was sure he would have lost at least one member of his expedition to attrition. “If the Destroyer is dead, then surely those among her cult will be aware of it.”
“If our theories regarding the ongoing sacrifices as a means of offering some manner of support to the mainland invasion force are correct, then yes, there must certainly be some manner of link between them. Perhaps one similar to our own link to the Empire.” Komori held his hands out, palm up. “I think it is very likely.”
“The death of a goddess will very likely throw the cultists into disarray,” Kalani said, tapping the table absently. “This might be an opportune time to strike.”
“This Yuna will doubtless unify the cult with him at the head soon enough,” Komori observed. “The period of disarray will not last very long.”
Kalani nodded. “Summon my officers,” he said. “It’s time for a hunt.”
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