The first of a series of fictions detailing both the events of the Torn Asunder CCG expansion as well as the events of our Winter Court forum game!
Torn Asunder, Part 1
By Seth Mason
Edited by Fred Wan
In the court of the Divine Empress…
“My Empress, to you and those assembled, I have come to submit this report.”
Ikoma Hakige, lord of the Ikoma family of the Lion Clan, knelt and spoke with a voice that seemed to fill the Imperial Court almost effortlessly. The brash patriarch of the Ikoma did not attend a great many formal meetings outside the Lion lands, and he had accumulated a reputation as a boorish man. Those who had met him before were now completely surprised at the practiced tones and perfect composure of the man they were seeing.
“Rise, Lord Ikoma,” the Voice of the Empress spoke. “It is the wish of the Child of Heaven that you are to present this accounting in person, to all here.” The Imperial Court was filled with some of the most powerful men and women in the Empire – the Champions of the Scorpion, Crane, and Phoenix were in attendance, and several family daimyo from all of the clans were assembled.
Near the Imperial Throne, the Emerald Champion stood silently. Utaku Ji-Yun held what she believed was an impartial face, but many of the experienced courtiers saw the telltale signs of concern. The scale of events that had happened in the SecondCity could be said to have come from her actions – all that remained to be seen by the Court was if the Empress found the result satisfactory.
Hakige stood and nodded. “I expected as much, Satsu-sama,” he said, smoothing out his plain but somehow remarkable kimono. “I will address the Court then, if it pleases the Empress.”
“I understand the Ikoma are at their best when they may speak to many,” The Imperial Consort, Iweko Setai warned, “but do not make a mockery of what has been asked of you. This is not a matter of theater nor drama.”
“My lord, I would not even consider such a thing,” he said, bowing his head. “The Empress has asked for an accounting of what has happened in the Colonies, the siege of the SecondCity, and an explanation of the ultimate fate of the traitor, Otomo Suikihime.”
Togashi Satsu frowned slightly, “Hakige-san,” he said in a warning tone.
“My apologies, Lord Satsu,” the Ikoma daimyo said quickly. “The fate of the traitor, Suikihime. To that end, our family – ever trusted as historians and record keepers by the Throne – spent a great deal of time in communication with those who were present and investigating the truth of the matter. It is not customary to second guess the word of a samurai, but given the… nature of what has occurred, we felt it best. I would give my thanks, first, to the Kitsuki family in their assistance in determining such things, and to the Isawa for making communication between the ImperialCity and the Colonies easier.”
Hakige took a low breath and turned to some of the assembly. “But mere words on a page cannot convey the seriousness of what has happened. A general’s report of deaths cannot tell you the tragedy of the lives lost. A surveyor’s report can tell you of the damage done to a city wall, but it does not describe the betrayal felt by those who were on one side or the other. And while the Otomo have stricken the name of Suikihime from their family rolls, this alone cannot tell of the deep folly she perpetrated and the dishonor she brought upon herself and those she led astray.”
The Ikoma turned back to the Imperial Consort, who inclined his head. “It is so, Hakige-san.”
“Then I will tell you,” he said in a quieter voice. “I will tell you of all these things, so that the dark mistakes of the siege of the SecondCity – the tragedy of our age – will not be repeated.”
* * * * *
The Second City
Otomo Suikihime looked out from her balcony in the Imperial District of the SecondCity. The city itself was arranged such that she could see nearly a full quarter of the whole area from where she stood. It had been days since the Imperial Legion had arrived and laid siege to her city, and she saw some of them beyond the well-fortified walls of the Military District. The ring of that district encircled the Imperial District, creating almost a small city of its own that had so far resisted the efforts of the Legion to press their attack.
“It is unfortunate things have come to this,” the Governor mused aloud, watching the smoke drift from the encampments within the outer districts and from the small camps further out from the city. “Power seems to have gone to the Imperial Commander’s head.”
Behind her Shinjo Tselu stood in silence, letting the long shadows of the afternoon cover him. He found it easier to remain stoic when he was obscured so. “The city guard is holding the Military District with relative ease, my lady,” the Ivory Champion reported. “Akodo Tsudoken reports that it is likely we will be able to hold the siege long enough for word to be dispatched to the Empire and back. Assuming no interference, the Imperial Legion may need to retreat to Journey’s EndCity before then.”
“The momentum of these Imperial soldiers fades as they reach the Imperial District. As if the very blasphemy they have committed by betraying their Empress is enough to keep them from such sanctified ground.” The Governor’s tone was dark, as if she greatly relished the idea.“Foolish,” Suikihime muttered with a smirk. “What did he think, I wonder? Did Kinto believe we would simply throw the gates wide and beg for mercy for whatever perceived slight he has had to endure? Such a poor commander. I almost pity him. The wrath of the Emerald Champion will not be slight – to abuse the authority vested in him so, and then to fail so utterly as a tactical officer besides.” A slight smile came to her face. “I wonder if Utaku Ji-Yun will allow him to take his own life or if she’ll demand his execution.”
“Do you have further orders for the city guard, Governor?” Tselu asked.
The slim frame of the Otomo turned to look fully at the Ivory Champion. “Does it bother you, my Champion? To hear of the man’s impending doom? What is he to you, a cousin? A brother? It occurs to me that I know so little about you, Tselu-san. This whole affair has made me appreciate you much more than I had, and I realize that perhaps I have undervalued your service and you personally.”
“I am not deeply familiar with Kinto, my lady,” Tselu responded dutifully. “I believe we may share a common great-grandfather. I only know of him by his service to the Emerald Champion.”
“Ah, yes,” Suikihime nodded, stepping towards him. “Utaku Ji-Yun. Now that is a Unicorn I know you are familiar with. Tell me, how are you faring without your correspondence with Lady Ji-Yun? You exchanged a great many letters before the siege, I worry that perhaps you grow lonely in solitude.”
Tselu looked away immediately, trying to fight the urge to ask the obvious – how long had the Governor been keeping an eye on his letters? He knew the question was pointless. “I am content to serve, as ever,” he replied quietly. “I will not lie and say I do not miss our exchanges, but I am too busy to even converse with her if she were staying in this very city. I appreciate your concern, my Lady, but my service is fulfilling enough.”
The Governor’s smile now took on the cruel, calculating look Tselu had grown all too familiar with. “Indeed,” she said with a dark tone. “Such an odd thing to muse about, the Emerald Champion in this city. I wonder, Tselu-san, what would you do if she were here? Right here?” Suikihime took a step back and raised her chin some, exposing her pale white throat. “The commander of this Imperial Legion is surely acting without her blessing, but if Ji-Yun had come herself, what then? If the Emerald Champion stood right here, holding a sword as a threat to me… I wonder, my Champion, what would you do?”
It took a moment for Tselu to realize he had become perfectly still and he was not even breathing. Dozens of thoughts raced through his mind as he desperately sought to speak. The man had always wondered what would happen if his Lady turned her malicious will towards him, but he had thankfully been spared such games. Was she so confident of her victory now that he had lost his importance, too? Had he become another plaything in her city of playthings?
The door to the private chamber opened with a slight noise, and the tension in the room seemed to shatter almost audibly. Tselu’s breath returned in a quick, quiet gasp.
Annoyed, the Governor turned her attention to the interruption – a guard escorting a messenger into the room. Both men threw themselves to the floor and waited for a word from their mistress.
“Speak,” Suikihime said through a tight frown.
“My lady,” the messenger said breathlessly – Tselu had the impression the man had been running – “we have lost sight of Kuni Renyu.”
The Ivory Champion turned to face his mistress with surprise on his face. “Were you having the Kuni daimyo followed, my lady? Is he a threat?”
She waved away the question, but her eyes did not share the casual indifference of the gesture. “Find him,” she practically growled. “He has seen his chance to defy me… to defy the Empress, and get away with it. Find him!”
* * * * *
The hulking lord of the Kuni family walked with a slow pace through the street of the Imperial District. There was little movement at this time – both due to the hour and the fact that the district was now almost completely devoid of anyone not defending it. As Renyu moved, several soldiers on their patrols gave him a cursory glance, but did not bother to stop or question him with even their eyes. The man known as the JadeMountain had earned a reputation since he arrived, and it served him well today.
Few people in the SecondCity found the task of getting in Renyu’s way worthwhile. He was, at best, unwilling to play the political games of power so many were involved with during the Governor’s Winter Court. At worst, the man’s methodical and remorseless anger was something no one wished to endure. Many within the city knew he had little regard for anything beyond the most basic rules of civil discourse and behavior, and had little problem discarding even those when pursuing someone who had earned his wrath.
Due to all of this, most decided to not think twice about Renyu’s presence near the gate of the Military district.
As he approached the gate, several of the city guardsmen turned to look at him and did not shrink away. They were, after all, guarding one of the gates through which the Imperial Legion might gain entry to the otherwise impenetrable defense surrounding the Military District. The closer he came, the more guards turned and kept an eye on him. Renyu looked back at them impassively, and raised a hand.
“I would speak with your unit commander. I carry word from the Governor,” he said loud enough for several of them to hear, and then folded his hands into his kimono patiently.
One of the soldiers stepped away from the platforms that helped them look over the wall and leapt down, landing nimbly on his feet. The lithe man wore plain dark clothes under the regalia of a city guard, his shoulder clearly marked with his rank. “I am Sawaki, Renyu-sama,” the man said quietly as he bowed slightly. “I command the Governor’s faithful here.”
Renyu eyed the man up and down, a look of disgust plain on his face. “I have met you, I think,” he said. “Are you not the same man assigned to guard the lands held by the Order of the Spider in the southwest Empire?”
Sawaki shrugged a little and tilted his head. “Perhaps,” he said lightly. “What word do you bring from the Governor?”
“I misspoke, Sawaki-san. I mean I bring word from the Empress. She commands the loyal soldiers of the Empire to stand down and relent to the will of the Emerald Champion’s Legion.” With that, Renyu made a sweeping gesture with his right hand, reaching out from his kimono.
The stone beneath Sawaki rumbled for a moment, then shot up in a thin edge in the blink of an eye. However, the man whom Renyu intended to harm was simply no longer there. Renyu could not actually recall seeing him move, but for some reason had the impression he had simply done an impressive backflip out of the way.
From atop the wall, Sawaki called out, “Kuni Renyu, you betray the Imperial steward of the Colonies, chosen by the Empress herself! Who are you to do such a thing?”
The Kuni daimyo ignored the man and looked down to address the soldiers, no small number of which were Crab who had been assigned to this very gate within the past two days. “I am a man who does not take orders from a Spider to turn aside soldiers of the Empress herself,” he said, looking each man and woman in the eye, in turn.
When no argument was forthcoming, the JadeMountain smiled fiercely and motioned that the soldiers should move away from the gates. With a whisper, he placed his hands together and began to beseech the spirits. The ground began to tremble, and the gates of the wall strained against the barriers too heavy for the few soldiers to move once they had been placed.
* * * * *
Daigotsu Subudi smiled warmly as he held up his hand to silence the two samurai. “My lords and ladies, I believe this talk is beginning to sound more like a shouting match. Perhaps we should take a moment to relax and speak of other matters?”
Doji Iza mirrored the man’s smile – though she appeared somewhat more tired. “Of course, Daigotsu-san,” she agreed, looking at the woman to her left who had arrived only hours before. “Rengetsu-sama,” Iza asked her clanmate, “perhaps I should see to some refreshments?”
“Nonsense,” the silken voice of Yoritomo Sachina, herself only having recently arrived. “We are in the home of the Mantis, are we not? I would be a remiss host if I did not see to these arrangements myself.” Without looking, Sachina motioned slightly to Yoritomo Hameko, who had remained oddly quiet since her superior had entered the room hours before.
Hameko nodded slightly and stood, turning to leave the chamber and fetch a servant.
“Perhaps I will join you, Hameko-san,” Doji Iza said pleasantly, also rising. “As a student of Rengetsu-sama, I would be able to suggest certain refreshments she would prefer.”
Subudi, Rengetsu, and Sachina said nothing but held their serene faces as the junior courtiers left the room. As the door slid shut, Rengetsu turned to eye the Mantis who remained. “A curious coincidence,” she said with a smile. “I had only arrived at Kalani’s Landing to oversee my student’s progress in these important negotiations. It is fortunate I was here, or it is possible that those more inclined towards opportunism would have seen your arrival here as an unfair tactic in the mediation efforts.”
Sachina looked slightly surprised, shifting her gaze from Rengetsu to Subudi. “I would have never thought of such a thing, Rengetsu-san,” she said with a surprised tone. “Indeed, I had only come to settle some matters of trade relations with the Yasuki. I find it fortunate I arrived just as you did, or perhaps the Mantis might see your entrance into these negotiations as an attempt to exploit the good faith our clan showed by sending only one representative.”
“Such a misunderstanding would have been most unfortunate,” the Crane agreed, her smile never wavering.
“Well, we are all so very lucky, then,” Subudi said, leaning back and smiling as well. “I find myself fortunate that I am here to witness such an auspicious occassion. Rengetsu-sama, your rhetorical skills are said to be without peer among your clanmates here in the Colonies. And you, Sachina-sama, your exploits are quite well known in your long and glorious career in service to the Mantis.” The Spider regarded both women with a respectful bow of his head. “I am hopeful to not only mediate between your clans, but perhaps gain valuable insight into your methods as I witness them!”
Sachina nodded, giving her counterpart a nod as well. “You are too right, Subudi-san,” she said. “I am personally looking forward to witnessing Rengetsu’s legendary skills of diplomacy. I believe it is said she once even convinced the Shosuro daimyo to overlook the time she had worn the same kimono three times to a winter court. A remarkable feat.”
“That is nothing compared to Sachina-san’s exploits,” Rengetsu said, her voice never losing its friendly warmth. “I understand that she was able to make that silly rumor about her tryst with the Ide daimyo vanish overnight. Despite how you dress, I find such rumors absurd, of course. But I applaud your ability to stay ahead of such talk.” The Crane’s jovial, quiet laughter filled the room.
Outside the chamber, Doji Iza and Yoritomo Hameko waited for the servant to return.
“They have no interest in peace,” Iza finally said, breaking the silence.
Hameko looked at the Crane for a moment, and then looked away. “No, I am afraid they do not. Rengetsu-sama and Sachina-sama have their own designs. It is unfortunate, too. I believe we could be well acquainted under different circumstances, Iza-san.”
Doji Iza smiled slightly, but shook her head. “I mean the Spider, too,” she said sadly. “Subudi is more than willing to encourage these talks into a state of uselessness.”
“Or to make matters worse,” Hameko said. “Both our superiors clearly know that, though. They are glad to play along.”
The two courtiers were snapped out of their whispering when the servant rounded the corner, looking upset and carrying none of the tea or food requested. Hameko frowned and opened her mouth to speak, but the fear in the man’s eyes gave her pause.
“What is it?” Doji Iza asked, clearly concerned for the man.
“The SecondCity, my lady,” the servant practically stammered. “We have received news by carrier bird. You must inform them that we have received word from the city and the Imperial Legion has broken the siege. The Governor calls for aid.”
Doji Iza and Yoritomo Hameko looked at each other for a moment, following the instincts of their training. An opportunity had been placed in front of both of them. Several, to be sure. The shared instant of friendship slipped away as both courtiers turned to open the door and seize the moment.
* * * * *
“Betrayal,” Akodo Tsudoken said, barely containing his fury. Around him, members of the city guard moved quickly to arm themselves and prepare for a counterattack. “The gate between the Peasant District and the Military District has been controlled by the Unicorn for some time. Many Crab soldiers were stationed there recently under the suggestion of…” he trailed off to remember exactly, and then the answer came to him immediately. “Renyu,” the Captain of the City Guard said finally. “I should have known his sudden decision to take an interest in the defense against the siege was not as it seemed.”
“You are not to be faulted, my lord,” Asako Karachu said. “Renyu, despite his many social faults, is a daimyo of a noble family, and a direct emissary of the Crab Champion. Indeed, it would have been the mark of a less worthy soul to be suspicious of such a man.” The warrior monk folded his arms and sighed, looking over the Ivory Legions he had assembled. “This is why betrayal is so reviled, Tsudoken-san. It takes faith and trust and abuses it, corrupting a man’s ability to trust and give faith again.”
“Perhaps,” the Captain grunted, “but regardless, it is my failure to address. I will see no mistakes in the effort to push these pretenders back.” Tsudoken looked at the soldiers in the area just outside the barracks, giving them an approving nod. “It is why I have assembled my chosen soldiers, nearly all Lion. This will be done quickly and it will be done correctly.”
“I have done what I can to aid you, Captain,” the Phoenix responded, motioning to his troops. “Shinjo Tselu has given authority of his Ivory Legions over to me in the city’s defense, and I will see his will done. Should it come to such things, I will find this Shinjo Tselu and see him punished for his crimes. The Imperial Legion has made no formal declaration, and all of our attempts to parley have been turned aside. The Empress would weep that a man like that has managed to turn one of her Legions against her own people.”
“Captain Tsudoken!” a voice carried out over the noise of the soldiers. Tsudoken and Karachu turned to see two samurai dressed in the colors of the Dragon Clan approaching them swiftly. The Captain recognized one of them as Kitsuki Fujimura, a ranking memeber of the Kitsuki family within the SecondCity. The warrior with her, though, he had never seen before.
“Tsudoken-sama,” Fujimura repeated, coming closer. “I require a moment of your time.”
Tsudoken looked at his companion, his features darkening as his patience thinned. “Kitsuki-san,” he said in strained tones, “the outer defenses of the Military District have been breached and I must repel the attackers. Unless you have come to commit bushi to our cause, I have little time for this.”
The Kitsuki shook her head, “I am afraid you are wrong on both counts, Akodo-sama,” she replied. “I require your assistance with the matter of the Spider. The Lion’s testimony in the matter of this conflict may yet be related to-”
“ENOUGH!” Tsudoken bellowed, gripping his sword. “I will not be burdened by these pathetic concerns that are left for the courts! I am the Captain of this city’s guard, and I have a duty to perform!” He turned to one of his subordinates and motioned to the two Dragons. “Remove these from my sight!”
As the Lion soldier stepped towards Fujimura, the bushi next to her drew his sword. In a smooth, swift upward and outward swing, the Dragon’s katana tip caught the edge of the Lion’s exposed tsuba. Completing the arc, the katana was knocked clean of the saya, clattering to the ground. The Mirumoto drew his second sword, his face never losing its unconcerned, indifferent stare.
Tsudoken responded immediately, just as Kitsuki Fujimura gripped her own sword. The Captain stepped inside the Kitsuki’s reach, placed his left hand on her sword arm, and delivered a savage backhand to her jaw with his right hand.
The Mirumoto spun to meet Tsudoken, who had now drawn his own sword.
The sound of a dozen Lion drawing their blades was sent a ringing noise over the now otherwise silent area.
“I recognize you now, Dragon,” Tsudoken said with a growl. “You are the disgraced Mirumoto, Ichizo. I heard you were sent to keep an eye on the Spider, a fitting punishment for your many failures.”
Mirumoto Ichizo said nothing, merely looking around at the soldiers now encircling him.
“He does not deserve this death,” Karachu said, “he is protecting his mistress in this time of high tension. And it is his fate to live with his dishonor.”
“Indeed,” Tsudoken said, nodding and taking a step back. He motioned for the soldiers to move away from the Dragon as well. “Take your pitiful mistress away from here,” he said, pointing to the dazed form of Kitsuki Fujimura on the ground and adjusting the kote that had come loose after his strike. “Take her and go. Live with your dishonor and tell her that she would do well to understand when the trifling concerns of the court must be set aside.”
Ichizo said nothing, but sheathed his swords and helped Fujimura to his feet. He backed away slowly, never taking his eyes from the Captain until he could turn away beyond the reach of the Lion soldiers.
“Now,” Tsudoken said loudly, turning to address his soldiers. “We face an enemy who believes their treachery will win the day! The Military District has been breached at the gate commanded by the Unicorn and Crab! A coincidence? I say it is not!” He sheathed his sword and stalked to the middle of the open area, pointing towards the peasant district. “Kuni Renyu has betrayed the Governor! The Unicorn have betrayed the Governor! A Unicorn leads this attack, a pitiful man named Shinjo Kinto, who has let his power and authority override his devotion to the Imperial authority! It is no coincidence that these are the same sort of men and women who, just a generation ago, sought to take the ImperialCity for themselves!”
A murmur of agreement moved through the Lion soldiers. Beside them, the Ivory Legion seemed less moved, but no less resolved.
Karachu flexed his fingers, loosening his joints. “I am no Akodo,” the monk said, looking at the soldiers. “But they have defied the true order. They have defied the Empress while purporting to serve her. They have killed loyal samurai in this act. There is only one fitting punishment.”
Tsudoken drew his sword and pointed towards the breach in the Military District. “We may have lost our opportunity to truly punish the Unicorn for their deeds then, but now they have given us a chance to finish what should have ended twenty five years ago! We will cut down every soldier under that traitorous Shinjo’s command, and our ancestors will know they have been avenged!”
An instant later, The battle cry of the city guard flared up near the gate to the Imperial District, but was soon carried over the entire SecondCity like a spreading inferno as other detachments cheered in response…
… and the Imperial Legion cried back their defiance.
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