Autumn, The foot of the Dragon’s Mountain, 1121 IC
The simple statement resounded in the silence of the Togashi mountains, followed only by the wheezing and spluttering of the man addressed, scrolls and parchment dropping on the ground in surprise.
Agasha Tamori, Agasha family daimyo of the Dragon, stood stunned.
Two weeks earlier
Sitting amidst scrolls and parchment, Agasha Tamori was in his element and at his happiest.
He was so content there amidst the libraries that were almost the unequal of any in the empire. Pale Oak Castle, the renowned library of the Phoenix, had been supplied with so much content, much of it unsorted. He loved to just sit and read in the garden by the white Pale Oak that gave the castle its name.
The Phoenix courtiers, shugenja and librarians ignored him for the most part, more than content to allow him to sit on his own and read rather than try to converse with the introverted daimyo. Of almost all the daimyo in the Empire, Tamori knew that he was the most undervalued and unappreciated. Not that he had minded as such, he had no care for the world of Rokugani courts or duels of etiquette and the farce of veiled sincerity. No, his world was one of books, potions, kami and lore. He spent much of his time travelling from one library to another, when he wasn’t at the Agasha stronghold experimenting with some concoction or another
He was surprised and startled, aged scrolls tumbling to the ground, as a Phoenix servant politely requested his presence in a private audience chamber. A little confused and startled, he travelled quickly, his curiosity more than a little peaked by the summons; to be summoned to an audience chamber was a rarity indeed.
Inside the chamber stood a young man in Dragon colours, slowly pacing from one end of the chamber to the other. The runner was out of breath, fear and determination etched on his face, and in silence he handed his scroll to the surprised daimyo.
Tamori cracked the seal and unfurled the scroll, quickly scanning over the words. He stopped as he got half way through it.
‘This… this is some mistake!’ Tamori stuttered his eyes going wide and eyelids blinking a quick staccato, ‘Surely this is an allegory, some slight exaggeration?’
The messenger looked at him with no small amount of amusement.
‘Things change, Tamori-sama. This is a bright step in a glorious future.’
‘Yes but… drag me by my hakama if I refuse?!?’ the Agasha daimyo exclaimed.
The only answer the messenger gave in response was a smile followed by a simple statement.
‘It is a long way to the High house of Light. I would hate to see you arrive late.’
Tamori ran for the libraries to gather all that he could before beginning this maddening journey.
Seated within the large tent, at a table more suited at a commander’s tent before a battle than a daimyo attempting to scale an unscaleable mountain, were the highest echelon of Dragon leadership.
On either side of the table sat Kitsuki Yasu, Daimyo of the Kitsuki and Mirumoto Daiini, brother to the Mirumoto Daimyo. Each looked relaxed, almost cheerful as their eyes looked him over.
The last figure was standing; both hands on the table, her eyes bore down on him in something akin to displeasure. Mirumoto Hitomi, daimyo of the Mirumoto looked almost regal as she peered down at the mess of arms and scrolls.
‘Do not just stand there letting the cold of the mountain in? Close the tent flap and sit down.’
Tamori moved to be seated, his scrolls and parchment forgotten at the woman’s command.
‘To make up for the late Agasha Daimyo, I will reiterate why we are here. We are a clan without direction. We have lost the Champion that we have needed in this time of crisis and so I have travelled here to seek him out.’
She gestured behind her toward the apex of the mountain.
‘That has failed. Togashi Yokuni sees no one. I have been here for over two months. I have tried every day for this time to scale the mountain, every day to reach the summit, to reach the High House of Light. I failed this task.’
The Agasha daimyo still looked confused. He started to speak, his hand rising in a gesture to question but was quelled in a heartbeat from a look from the lady’s face.
‘However, I have been given a sign that my path is the right one,’ gesturing behind her to a corner of the tent.
To Tamori’s surprise a strange man walked out of the corner of the tent where he had been sure that no one was there before. The man, clearly one of the famed ise zumi, a Dragon tattoo firmly emblazoned on his shaved head. He moved out of the shadow like a sinister shadow, his movements fluid, his eyes analysing the him as if they could peer into his very soul.
In all his life, Tamori had forgotten what it was like to be in there presence.
‘This is Togashi Mitsu, emissary of Yokuni-sama. He and I have been in conversation for a few weeks now. I have learned much but know little. Yokuni-sama’s isolation is his own and nothing short of a divine mandate is going to have any sway on his wishes.’
‘Therefore following decrees are in now in effect. Until Togashi Yokuni-sama returns to his post as champion, I, Mirumoto Hitomi, declare myself as Champion of the Dragon Clan.’
He watched as Yasu nodded his head in ascent, as did her brother. Tamori nodded his head almost as much in bemusement as acceptance.
‘Secondly, my brother will be attending the courts with the full authority of the Dragon champion. Any decisions that he makes will be as if I made them. Again this will last until Yokuni-sama says otherwise.’
Mirumoto Daini nodded his head, his hands out in a gesture of respect to his sister’s decision.
Tamori took a moment to look at the two siblings, for the first time understanding that something fundamental had changed within them both.
Hitomi no longer looked petulant, no longer seemed concerned by revenge and power. In fact if anything she seemed much more like her father than ever before.
And Daini looked strong. No longer afraid, no longer kow towing to his sister or being his sister’s keeper. No, he was a man, a man who has undergone something that has tempered him like steel forged to become the katana’s blade.
Hitomi looked thoughtful for a moment.
‘I have set aside my vengeance. It was unworthy and unacceptable. I have offended you, all of you. My childishness has cost us much and I will work hard to make the Dragon everything that our forefathers require us to be.’
She straightened up, her face returning to the champion’s visage before beginning again.
‘For too long the Dragon have sat upon out mountains and watched as the Empire falls in upon itself. This will no longer be allowed to stand. We cannot allow an Empire that we live in to destroy itself while we can take action.’
‘In the last season, I have asked many of our subjects to gather information about the goings on in the empire and once I have the information that I need I will make the decision on how we will proceed.’
‘To that end,’ she eyed the Agasha Daimyo with an almost sinister smile, ‘I have sent word that you, Agasha Tamori, and a dozen of your finest shugenja, will be attending and participating in the Jade Championship.’
Agasha Tamori blinked.
‘Errrr… I’m sorry… What?’
Hitomi smiled like a predator watching her prey.
‘I said, Tamori-san, that you will be participating in the Jade Championship. You are going to make the finals of the tournament and will display to the Empire that you have skills that the Empire should consider as a threat. I want them to remember that the Dragon clan still have the strength to make their enemies consider twice before discounting us. I want you to send the clans a message with your actions.’
Shaking Tamori managed to get out, ‘Message? What message?’
‘That we are the Dragon. We are not to be forgotten. We are not to be discounted. We are not to be trifled with.’
Tomori slumped in the chair with his hands in his face.
‘Oh, you had better get ready to travel, Tamori-san. The journey to Kyuden Seppun is a long one.’
Tamori looked back and forth for a sign of help from the others before becoming resigned to his fate.
The last words that he heard as he slowly picked up his scrolls and parchments from behind him and left the tent made him stop in his tracks. He looked back to see the Togashi monk’s serious face bowed in respect.
‘The avalanche has begun to fall, and it is too late for the pebbles to vote.’