Scenes from the Empire III
The Game has Changed
Blood. Death. Corruption.
All upon the ground of this destroyed castle lay broken bone, vast quantities of blood and evidence that the area was now tainted.
Kuni Yori surveyed the grim site, with a hard edge.
Taint. It stained the entire area. Farmable land now destroyed – a thought that sent a chill through his spine in the knowledge that these lands may never recover.
‘Now to be another wasteland so far in our borders… and on the wrong side of the wall.’ He thought to himself as he slowly moved his way to the castles former gate.
The evidence, of course, was clear of course. An Oni had been given his name here and had summoned his own armies in afterward. What was puzzling was the lack of shadowlands corpses and the lack of human remains…
Deeply he searched his mind for an answer, a spark of hope to ease his troubled soul. Instead, a cold tall shadow blocked his path, casting a dark pall over the smaller man.
‘As you can see, Yori-san, we have dealt with the matter firmly, ’ bespoke the deep tone of Ujina Tadaka, his eyes dark beind his trademark mask and hat.
Yori inclined his head slowly even as his eyes darted to the man’s brother slowly approaching, his cowled form small against the ruined castle. ‘Indeed. It seems that you have greater skill in… dealing with the darkness… much more than what I had expected.’
Tadaka also nodded his head, a gesture of respect or something else? Yori couldn’t tell.
The two brothers looked behind him before bowing deeply.
Accompanying him was his champion, Hida Kisada. The Great Bear, as he was known, glanced around at the devastation.
‘You both have done this?’ he bellowed out, his stature taking in the scene before him.
Both nodded before the smaller of the two began speaking.
‘We felt it’s arrival and hastened here having conquered Shiro no Soshi easily. We felt that if we could demonstrate our value…’
Kisada snorted, a smile clearly visible even with his mighty helmet on.
Still Yori pressed ‘This was too simple. The Oni Lord has escaped and is still within our lands. We must give chase, it’s evil destroyed.’
Kisada raised an eyebrow. ‘It can be dealt with at our leisure. Right now we should focus on the repercussions with the Dragon.’
Yori raised his voice, ‘The Dragon, my lord? A new Oni Lord rises within our borders and you are thinking about the Dragon?’
‘Of course!’ chortled the Great Bear ‘The Scorpion have fallen before us and it will only be a small matter of time before we have wiped them all out. But with the Emerald Champion’s son dead on our lands with no answer he will try to bring the Legions against us or maybe the Dragon at least against us. This pitiful Oni Lord is nothing compared to unifying the Empire.’
‘My lord, this is madness! We need to bring our full forces to bear upon them!’ Yori pleaded, his face shocked and earnest even as Kisadas went livid with rage, ‘With the majority of our forces upon the field and my witch hunters and shugenja aiding them, what is left is not enough to stop them!’
‘Perhaps our new family could be of assistance Yori-san.’ Interrupted Ujina Tomo, his quiet voice confident before the urgency of Yori’s passionate plea, ‘With access to the great libraries of the Kuni, we will find it and destroy it for you mighty Kisada-sama!’
The rage dissipated slowly and the Great Bear nodded with approval. Then it is decided then. The Ujina will take all means necessary to remove this threat from our lands and the Kuni will provide them with all the assistance that they require. Meanwhile you will accompany my sons to the Imperial Capital to ensure that the Emerald Champion does not interfere. Yakamo will speak for us and perhaps we will be able to rid us of that whelp Sukune to the Lion.’
Yori, shocked beyond his reckoning, bowed his head in obeisance. He had lost this round. He glanced up at the pair of brothers, his glance gaining their smile and dark eyes upon him. For a moment he swore he could see the darkness within. But perhaps it was a flicker of the light, he thought.
He would need to watch these two. Carefully. He made a careful mental note to make sure that he placed extra wards upon the forbidden sections of the castle. He prayed that it would be enough.
Evil feeds upon itself
Asako Yashin, Jade magistrate and former prisoner, ran through the darkened night.
Not through panic did he travel through the wilderness in Phoenix clan but design and purpose.
The deal he made was perfect, he thought, the air proving as still as the forest around him, and nothing will stop him from rising from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix of legend.
It had been several hours since he had escaped the custody of Asako Chigo, servant of Uona and acolyte of Air. Several hours since he sat by a warm fire and more so since he last ate food.
He may try and betray him, he mused, I can’t stop, regardless of how hungry I am.
He stopped for a moment, only to cast a short prayer to the kami of earth to hide his tracks, when he smelt it.
The smell sent shivers to his core, wetting his mouth in sheer instinct though his mind shouted at him to keep on moving till morning.
Against his better judgement he walked carefully towards the smell, asking the air kami to allow him to pass unseen.
In a small clearing in the woods, sat a woman slowly carving a small figurine. Across the campfire roasted a succulent boar, tender and plump from many a plentiful season in the light of Amaterasu. The woman was dressed in non-distinct clothes of a ronin, brown and grey, no adornments save for a wrapped daisho, seated next to her and a large bundle of her travelling gear.
Moving as quietly as he may, he slowly moved her daisho out of her reach and into his obi before moving opposite her and back into the tree line before calling out.
‘Hello there traveller! Do not be alarmed! I am a Jade Magistrate and seek hospitality.’
Immediately the woman reached for the daisho only to find it had moved. Interestingly she remained calm, gesturing to the campfire opposite before resuming her carving.
Yashin smiled inwardly – What a careless girl, losing her daisho only to try and remain calm! I clearly have the advantage here. Dismissing the Air Kami, he strode into the clearing taking his seat opposite her.
‘I am Asako Yashin, Jade Magistrate. In the name of the Emperor, require some of your food and any money you have on you. For the good of the Empire you understand…’
The woman ignored him, continuing to focus on the carving.
‘Did you not hear what I sad woman? I said to give me your money and I am taking some of this boar as my own!’ His hand rested upon the covered hilt of her daisho.
The woman stopped carving, slowly putting down the finished figurine. Carefully and meticulously she wiped her blade, cleaning any wood chip, any shaving that might have attached itself to it.
Then with a simple snap of the wrist, the knife embedded itself deep in the boars flesh.
The move caught Yashin off guard, a startled look quickly engulfing his face before he regained his composure and used the knife to cut himself some food.
The woman looked at him, and threw him a both a sturdy bottle and a small bag that made a nice thump and a jingle of coins when it hit the ground.
Biting deep into the flesh, Yashin savoured every bite. Uncovering the bottle, he gulped down the sake, drinking deeply of the potent drink, enjoying his freedom greatly.
Is this how easy it is? Just to take what you want? Such an easy life I’ll be doing more of the same!
It was some time before he was sated, relishing every bite, every drink, relaxing by the warmth of the fire, feeling the comfort invade his every bone.
He looked back over the fire at the woman. Maybe it was the sake, but her intense glare made her look familiar to him.
‘Woman, do I know you? Have we met before?’
The woman, her eyes never leaving his, slowly nodded.
‘Did I save your village from some Maho-Tsukai?’
A shake of the head.
‘Did I pass through, telling you tales of adventure that inspired your own?’
Again a shake of the head.
‘Then out with it girl! Why do you look so familiar? What are you doing out here anyway?’
A smile graced her lips and she threw something over the fire, a piece of crystal the size of your hand.
‘Did you think that we were not watching you?’
At hearing her voice, and seeing the object for what it really was, his eyes widened.
‘II- I-IIkkomma-sama! I I I was just on my way to make a report! I have told them as I was instructed and…’
‘You have done more than you were asked to Yashin. You have risked everything by telling them too much.’
Quickly he unhooked the daisho’s wrappings, seeing the insignia of the Imperial Legions upon them.
‘I have been sent to meet with you to deliver you to your judgement.’
Staggering to his feet, the effects of the strong sake taking away his natural mobility, he drew the katana awkwardly from its sheath, steadying it between himself the fire and her.
‘That… that cannot be! You couldn’t be here to meet me! I came here by mere chance! It is too much! Too many possibilities?!? I could be anywhere! It’s impossible!’
Her pearl of laughter was melodical as it was cutting.
‘I am only here to make sure you stopped! I am merely travelling through and there are others around here for the same purpose. Merely to stop you till it was too late.’
He shook the katana unsteadily between them.
‘I am warning you to stay back! I’ll be leaving now…’ he said but his footing was off and he staggered into a tree.
Still laughing, the Ikoma stood still watching him.
‘You truly are a fool. I am one of the Masters on my way to meet the others. No the Hidden Master is the one who issued your death, not I.’
The Ikoma withdrew the knife from the boar, sat back down slowly picking up the carving and going to work before an afterthought occurred to her.
‘Oh and in your next life, try to remember that while the spirits of Air may conceal you, nothing can conceal your smell. A point to consider.’
Enraged by her audacity, he charged her, daisho raised in an overhead strike.
Then everything changed for him and he seemed to be falling into the campfire.
It wasn’t until he was tumbling into the fire that he realised that he had been hit by air kami rushing into him.
It wasn’t until he was in the fire that he saw the second figure standing off to the side, in a kimono as resplendent as the clear spring sky.
It wasn’t until he smelt the acrid smell of burning cloth that he realised that he was burning upon the fire.
It wasn’t until he felt the dull thud of a knife in his chest that he realised who his killer was.
And by the time he realised all these things, he realised one last thing
The only sound that he could hear were the screams coming out of his mouth.