The continuing saga of the Great Clans’ perspectives on how the Empire has changed in the wake of the Destroyer War.
Aftermath, Part 3
By Rusty Priske
Edited by Fred Wan
Akasha watched her husband pace for nearly thirty minutes before she spoke. “While it is your right as regent, you should take care not to walk a hole in the floor. The future Khans may have need of it.”
Chen looked over at her, with an expression of slight indecision on his face. He looked as if he were trying to decide whether to be angry at her levity.
He decided against it.
“If only I could share your light heart. The revelations returned to us from the Scorpion lands are most unsettling. Those future Khans could have a much diminished role in Rokugan if we do not rectify what we have done.”
Akasha shifted her shoulders in that way she had that Chen found so distracting. That she managed to do it so casually, as if she was unaware of what it did to him, made it all the more effective. “What we have done?” She could see from the look on his face that her attempts to deflect his mood were not to bear fruit.
“The Spider serve Daigotsu, and Jigoku. And we presented them to the Empire, as if they were nothing more than new allies for us to embrace.”
Akasha’s eyes narrowed. “The reports also say that they were allies of the Empire that day, and even the Empress has awarded them for their service. Why would the Unicorn suffer for doing what the Empress has done?”
Chen recommenced his pacing. “It isn’t our association with the Spider that will cause us problems – the clans that would judge us in such a manner did so already – but the implication that we were unable to see their true natures. I expect both the Crane and the Scorpion will do what they can to undermine us at every opportunity. After all, if we cannot be trusted to sniff out followers of Jigoku right under our noses, how can we be trusted to any important posting in the Empire? You must notice that the Empress did not give us the responsibility of watching over the new clan, even though we are well situated to such a task. She did not say the words, but she has concerns about our suitability.”
Any attempts by Akasha to lighten Chen’s heavy mood had vanished. “What will we do?”
“If we are not to watch over the enemies we hold within, then we shall watch those we keep at arm’s reach. Empress Iweko has ordered certain members of the Spider to the Ivory Kingdoms. She is using the tools at her disposal to solve her problems.”
Akasha spoke low, “She has done so before.”
Chen stopped pacing for a moment and Akasha realized that she may have overstepped her bounds. The moment passed and Chen continued as if she had not spoken.
“I am certain the Mantis do not relish carrying such cargo to the Ivory Kingdoms. Well, we know of other ways to reach that destination. The Unicorn will ensure these Spider follow the orders of the Empress and do not lose their way before they reach those lands. If they stray they will learn the difference between unwitting allies and those who serve the Empress.”
* * * * *
Moto Jin-Sahn rubbed his shoulder, aching from days of hard fighting, interspersed with equally hard riding. It had been hours since they last saw their quarry and as the Jade and Obsidian Dragons switched mastery over the sky, the Shogun had ordered that his troops break camp, and the allied Unicorn and Lion forces had readily concurred.
“Shogun-sama, would you share a meal with me?” Utaku Yu-Pan maintained a respectful distance, not wanting to interrupt him if he were lost in thought.
“It would be my honor, Yu-Pan-san. I would always accept such an offer from the Utaku daimyo, even if we were not sharing a battlefield. We can discuss the battles before us and behind us.”
Yu-Pan motioned across the growing encampment. “I have already ordered food be brought to us, but if we are to discuss tactics, should I invite Shigetoshi-sama to join us?”
Jin-Sahn shook his head. “We will discuss plans for tomorrow after we eat. Let him eat with his men. It is all too rare an opportunity for me to sit in conversation with a fellow Unicorn, without having to concern myself with etiquette and politics.”
Yu-Pan nodded and sat on a rock outcropping, stretching her back. Even one as accustomed to the back of a horse as a battle maiden felt the effects of their exertions of the day. “The army of the destroyer continues to flee.”
Jin-Sahn nodded. “We do not have the horses and the blades to stop their escape, but we will ensure that their path takes them back past the Wall of the Crab.” He paused for a moment, then said “And we will make sure that they maintain their urgency. Where they slow, they die.”
“It is almost hard to believe that these are the same beasts we fought before. Their ferocity and strength seems to have left them.”
The Shogun listened then said, “They are dangerous still.”
Yu-Pan was quick to add, “Certainly. Only now they are dangerous in the fashion of the Shadowlands. They are as dangerous as ogres, trolls or some lesser Oni… after discovering they are defeated. They are no longer the army that drove those same denizens of the Shadowlands before them in a crazed terror. They are not the army that laid waste to the lands of the Crab and pulled down the walls of Kyuden Hida.”
“They have lost their lead rider. Think if we were to follow Shinjo herself into battle and we were to watch her fall and die. How would that affect the morale of our armies?”
Yu-Pan’s eyebrow arched. “I believe it would drive us into a greater frenzy. We would not stop until she was avenged.”
Jin-Sahn laughed. “I suppose you are right. Yes, and that is why we are samurai and why Rokugan will not fall unless…”
Yu-Pan finished his thought, “Every last samurai has fallen.”
* * * * *
Mirumoto Kei sat at a large, plain table. There were many papers, fairly orderly, atop it and as she finished each she would pass them to Mirumoto Mareshi, who sat across the table’s corner. The only indication that they were not perfect equals was that Kei was reading each report first.
Mareshi would occasionally grunt or make some equally wordless noise in reaction to what he read. Kei was completely silent until they had both finished. “So,” she said, “what do you think?”
Mareshi sighed. “There is much to absorb. The Empire is saved but at such a cost! To elevate an enemy in such a way…”
“But is Daigotsu as lord of Jigoku any worse than Fu Leng as lord of Jigoku? In fact, it may be better.”
“You mean the change with the taint.”
“Of course. The Empress has done a great thing.”
Mareshi nodded. “I have often felt regret at the need to kill those who bore the mark of the taint. Knowing that those were often unfortunate victims did not change our duty, but I welcome the assuredness we will now have. When one bears the marks, we will know that they are definitely enemies of the Empire.”
“And who better to tell than us?” Kei smiled slightly. “The Empress seems to feel that way. Our new duty is a great honor.”
Mareshi returned her smile. “We were the obvious choice. Who else could the Empress be assured would not fall under the sway of the Spider? They have proven to be quite resourceful.”
Kei nodded. “It is more that that. What the Empress knows is that not only will the Dragon not be corrupted by the Spider, but the Spider will likely be corrupted by the Dragon. I will give the primary responsibility of watching over the newest Great Clan to the Togashi. Their mandate will not just be to ensure the Spider work in the best interest of Rokugan, but also to teach them, as they have taught so many others. I am certain that over time, under the tutelage of the Togashi, the Spider will learn a better way and will one day be able to stand with their heads high, shoulder to shoulder with their brothers and sisters across the land. We will not only ensure that they change their ways, but we will make them want to do so.”
“You are wise, my wife.”
“Send a messenger to Togashi Maya. We will need to have a long conversation. Have them call Togashi Ieshige as well. I have a feeling the Jade Mirror will become quite important over the next months.
* * * * *
Togashi Iroshi was finding even the simplest task difficult. He had used the depths of his chi to overcome the weakness of his body, but he could feel that he had reached his limits. The mind could do many things but he was not Togashi. He could not live forever.
His time had come. His purpose had been served.
Iroshi opened the small cabinet he used as a private shrine, away from the prying eyes of the temple’s supplicants and worshippers. He reached to the back of the shelves to find a piece of parchment, yellowed with age. He carefully unfolded it, but it was nearly completely decayed. It would not last another month. It had remained untouched by age for decades, ever since it was handed to Iroshi’s master’s master by the great kami himself.
It had started to decay once Mirumoto Taiko had left the temple some years back.
Iroshi looked at the pattern that he had carefully placed on Taiko’s flesh. He had never known why it was asked of him or how Togashi even knew of the threat before the Empire so long before it occurred. This did not bother Iroshi. His faith had never lessened, even after Taiko died to save her companions.
Was this the end of the path? Had Iroshi seen the end of it?
That is a discussion for the kami, not a simple monk.
Had Iroshi seen the end?
He had seen an end, certainly, and now it was time for him to sleep and bring his new gift of enlightenment to the next stage.
Togashi Miyoko showed no surprise when she discovered Iroshi. She showed him the honor of arranging for the proper rituals in his passing.
She waited until she was alone again before she cried. She allowed herself one hour, as there was too much that needed to be done at the temple and it was now up to her to ensure it was taken care of.
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Parts 1 and 2 of the Aftermath series can be found on our Story Page!