L5R - The Duty of War - A Post Winter Court 5 story

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Mon Jul 09, 2018 8:16 am

The next day, Harun took the time to see those of his men who were in the infirmary. There were several tents for the tending of the wounded throughout the siege camp, staffed by shugenja as well as monks.
Yoritomo Osu was there, sitting up but looking rather pale. He swore to Harun that he soon would be fighting fit and that he could still use his kama despite missing two of his fingers.
As Harun was leaving, he heard someone call out his name. Harun turned and to his astonishment he saw it was Doji Kouta, his classmate from the academy. He had last seen him in Unicorn lands last winter where he had been Kousuda’s yojimbo. But what was he doing here?
“Kouta!” Harun grinned at him as they exchanged bows. “You do turn up in the most unexpected places.”
“I go out of my way to surprise you, Harun, but you weren’t hard to find,” Kouta said with a laugh. “You talked about the Legion so much, and now you’re hear, and a gunso by the looks of it.” He nodded to the insignias on the little tags that hung either side of Harun’s chest plate.
“I’m still getting used to it,” said Harun. “You got time? There’s a lot to tell you.”
They walked around the camp, Harun relating his news of the last few months. Kunta was mostly interesting in the duel Harun had fought. Arahime came up and how Harun had missed out on seeing her, Kunta had actually heard of some trouble in the Zogeki courts but had no details. Harun hoped she wasn’t involved.
“You still haven’t told me why you are here,” Harun said.
“I’m here with Kakita Isamu-sama,” Kouta said. “My father thinks I can learn more at his side.”
“Isamu? The Kenshinzen?” Harun asked. “The one we saw at the academy?”
“The same,” Kouta said. “Though he hasn’t taught me much yet, he usually just sends me on errands. I’m still looking for a chance to prove myself.”
“I hope you can,” said Harun, though he had his own private doubts. Isamu’s arrogance was well known.
Just then they heard the sound of the taiko drums striking. The entire camp was silent as they listened to decipher the pattern.
“Do you know what it says?” Kunta asked.
“It’s a stand and assembly,” said Harun. “I need to get back.”
“Can I....?” Kouta looked at him.
“Come on, hurry,” said Harun, heading towards the sound of the drums.

The Legion assembled in ranks that surrounded the Emerald Champions tent. All armed, weapons held and banners flying in a show of strength. Yet the Emerald Champion was not there, the guards stood in front of the closed flaps of his tent. The only one there who could know anything was the First Legion’s Taisa, Katsura Hisato, but she stood there silently and gave no orders.
Harun stood several ranks back with his platoon, Kouta wedged behind him. He wasn’t sure what was going on. A speech? A duel?
There was a low groaning from the wall of Toshi Ranbo, one of the great gates opened and five tainted samurai emerged. Their armour was blackened, their flesh stank with the decay of the taint. They walked unchallenged past the assembled Imperial troops, but they got plenty of glares. One of the Onyx carried a nobori banner decorated with a blackened crane. And leading them, a man who was the stuff of nightmares to many Crane children. The Fallen Crane, the Black Kabuki, the Demon Blade of the Shadowlands, Daigotsu Shimekiri.
The taint had left its mark on him, but rather than a walking, rotting corpse, Shimekiri resembled an ivory sculpture. His bare arms were muscular and deathly pale, contrasting sharply against his black jinbaori and hakama. His white hair done in an elaborate theatrical style that, when combined with the red-painted kabuki mask he wore, gave him a fearsome, otherworldly look. He moved with the grace of a cat, had the subtleness of a whisper but with the speed a ferocity of a whip crack.
Harun shivered when he saw Shimekiri. He of course knew the stories, but the former Crane had a dark history with his family. Shimekiri had killed Arahime’s grandparents, capturing her mother Kyoumi perhaps intending to hand her—still a child—over to Daigotsu. Kaori, Arahime’s great grandmother and a kenshinzen, had sacrificed herself so Kyoumi could be rescued. And Shimekiri still lived.
Harun knew that Shimekiri would only come for one purpose, for a duel, but his father had not emerged from his tent.
What’s going on? Harun wondered. What is his plan?
When he came to the square made of assembled bushi, Shimekiri stopped, looking this way and that like an actor who had wandered onto the stage at the wrong moment. Then he burst out laughing.
“It seems the Emperor’s Champion has assembled his forces, but not shown himself,” Shimekiri said. He shouted up to the closed tent. “Is your courage as false as your right to hold Kakita’s sword and armour?”
There was a low growl of disapproval from the assembled troops, no words, just genuine displeasure. Harun turned his gaze to his father’s tent, surely that could not be ignored.
The flap to the Emerald Champion’s tent parted, but he himself did not emerge. It was Akodo Ryoichi. He walked towards Shimekiri in careful measured steps. He wore his armour, held his helmet to one side and a white hachimaki was tied around his head.
Harun inhaled sharply, the white hachimaki…did it mean what Harun thought it did? He looked over at Kouta whose face was expressionless.
Shimekiri looked at Ryoichi with a confused expression, but only for a moment. Like an accomplished actor when an amateur on stage flubbed his lines, Shimekiri recovered and took centre stage.
“And who are you?” Shimekiri asked, as if the Lion was no more than an obstacle to be cast aside.
“Akodo Ryoichi,” he said, making a bow, his tone curt and businesslike. “I must inform you that my lord is…not at home.” He paused, giving time for the ritual phrase used to snub someone to sink in. There was a smattering of laughter from the troops. “I speak with his voice and I will deliver his terms.”
“I will agree to no terms that are not won upon the point of a sword,” Shimekiri said, his black eyes narrowing.
“If you have a challenge to make, then by all means do so,” said Ryoichi flatly. “You may have all day, we do not.”
There was another titter of laughter. Shimekiri scowled. When he spoke, his voice was like a clap of thunder. “I challenge you in a duel to the death, according to the traditions set down by Kakita,” he said. “Now, state your terms, Lion.”
Ryoichi smiled, as if Shimekiri’s antics amused him. “The terms are this: in the event of my victory, the entire Onyx Legion will vacate Toshi Ranbo immediately, laying down their arms and submitting themselves to the mercy of our steel.”
“And if I win?” Shimekiri asked, his grin akin to a skull’s.
“You will be permitted safe conduct inside the city and hostilities resume,” said Ryoichi, pausing a long moment then adding. “And Shimekiri will be recorded in the history of the Crane Clan as the finest duellist since Kakita.” As if on cue, a Kakita courtier appeared with a rolled scroll. It had the mon of the Crane clan displayed proudly.
This caused an intake of breath from the assembled troops, including Harun and Kouta.
Shimekiri laughed. “I accept these terms, Lion,” he said. “Let the circle be prepared.”

Karasu paced his tent like a caged animal. In here was the last place he wanted to be, he could hear everything going on outside but could not participate. He had to stay in here, to save face, and send yet another good man to die. And not just any man, a friend.
Ryoichi had been by his side since almost the beginning. He had been with Akodo Tokumei while she had been Lion Champion. While Ryoichi had studied at the Akodo War College, his ideas had not exactly been welcome among the more orthodox members of his clan. Karasu offered him a posting, and their partnership had grown from there.
But Ryoichi was more than that, in time he was considered almost family especially by the children as he did not seem to have one of his own. Memories of Ryoichi with them flashed before his eyes. The twins, Masami and Masaru, chasing him in the garden holding out their cat. Helping Sakimi practice her grip on her bokken to help her gain entry to the Kakita Academy. Carrying a sleeping four year old Harun back to his bed when the boy had gone in search of his father in the Imperial Palace and had fallen asleep behind a shoji screen.
Is Harun out there? Karasu wondered. I hope he isn’t.

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Mon Jul 09, 2018 9:24 am

Harun watched the duelling circle being prepared by a shugenja, a Kakita sensei standing by. His head was spinning, thoughts moving fast. He wanted to believe that Ryoichi would win, that Shimekiri would be killed and that even perhaps the battle would be over today.
But he didn’t think that would happen. Not with what he knew of Shimekiri. And this mean Ryoichi could be about to die. He had seen people die before, and Harun was prepared for death himself as every samurai was. But…Ryoichi was almost family. The quiet, Lion uncle he and his siblings knew growing up.
He looked at Kouta, but his face was expressionless.
Outside the duelling circle, the two combatants made the preparations. Shimekiri removed his jinbaori with the help of his attendants. Beneath he wore black armour that only covered his left arm. The rest of his pale skin was decorated with tattoos and red kabuki paint. The entire effect was rather theatrical.
Ryoichi’s preparations were far more subdued. He spoke quietly to Katsura Hisato, she nodded, not saying much and then taking a small piece of paper that Ryoichi gave to her. She then gave a low bow to him and stepped back. Ryoichi put on his helmet.
The Kakita sensei stepped forward, a fan in his hand. The murmurs of talking stopped among the troops and there was silence. “May the two combatants declare themselves,” he said.
Shimekiri stepped forward. “I am Daigotsu Shimekiri, student of the Kakita Duelling Academy, Rikugunshokan of the Army of Obsidian, Defender of Toshi Ranbo.” He gave an elaborate bow.
Ryoichi stepped forward. “This one is Akodo Ryoichi, son of Akodo Asukai, son of Akodo Hiraga, son of Akodo Miyoshi, son of Akodo Shigeno who fell in battle on the Second Day of Thunder.” He gave a bow, somehow both more formal and more humble than Shimekiri’s.
“The terms of the duel are agreed upon?” asked the Kakita sensei.
Both Shimekiri and Ryoichi nodded.
“This duel is to the death, the result is binding.” The Kakita raided his fan.” Hajime!” He quickly lowered it.
All was silence as the two combatants stared each other down. And to many, Shimekiri seemed not to move at all. So fast was he that his katana seemed to leap into his hands, coming down towards Ryoichi with a brilliant flash like lightning. Ryoichi had drawn, but his blade was nowhere near Shimikiri’s. It couldn’t block the massive cleave into Ryoichi’s side, slicing through his armour as if it were no more thicker than rice paper.
Such form, such perfection, such beauty. And all in the blink of an eye.
The force of the blow knocked Ryoichi back. He gave a weak attempt at Shimekiri before dropping his katana, blood streaming down his side like a river.
Shimekiri didn’t move at all, he just grinned. He had made his one perfect cut, so he just watched the Lion die. Ryoichi crumpled to the ground, Hisato rushing over his side.
The gathered troops were quiet, though some low sympathetic moans coming from a few. Harun tried to get to the front of the line, go over to Ryoichi but every way was blocked. He felt so useless watching.
“Daigotsu Shimekiri is the victor,” said the Kakita sensei, raising his fan. He didn’t sound pleased about this.
Shimekiri raised his katana in triumph, Ryoichi’s blood still streaming down the blade. All he got were boos and jeers, with a few brave enough to shout insults.
“Satisfy the terms!” Shimekiri said. “Read it!”
The courtier opened the scroll and began to read.
“Daigotsu Shimekiri, once Kakita Shimekiri, is the finest duellist since Kakita. He began his training with the sword at Kakita Academy, but his own talent was sadly coupled to a savage's arrogance and cruelty. For this, the Master Sensei Kashiwa did not see fit to admit him to the Kenshinzen School.” A pause at this, the troops started to laugh. The ‘courtier’ gave Shimekiri a mocking grin. He continued reading, his tone slow and exaggerated. “ In an act of vengeance worthy of a petulant child, and unable to stand on his own merits, he turned his soul over to the taint, being gifted in return with unnatural skill with the blade. Not content with such obsequious surrender to the forces of evil, Shimekiri joined the Spider Clan. Thereafter he was gifted more unnatural skill by Jigoku, which he has used primarily for exacting petty and cruel revenge on those who wronged him…”
“That’s enough!” Shimekiri shouted as the soldiers roared with laughter.
Harun laughed, it felt odd but good. But he knew from the start the ‘courtier’ was a Kakita jester.
Hisato got to her feet, her expression set.
“Archers!” she shouted. Every archer within range and without obstructions readied his bow.
“What?” Shimekiri spat. “I was given safe conduct, ronin.”
“You were, yes,” said Hisato. “Not them. Loose arrows!”
Every archer in range fired, filling Shimekiri’s companions with arrows. They tried to fight, but the rain of death was too much. Some arrows git near Shimekiri, but he avoided them with a subtle grace of movement. None touched him.
When the last of the Onyx bushi were on the ground, Hisato signalled for them to stop,
“Go,” she thundered. “Our mercy for you may only extend so far.”
Sulkily, Shimekiri walked off.
As soon as he was gone, Karasu left his tent, his face pale as he saw Riyoichi’s body being loaded onto a cart by eta. In the complete silence, every eye was upon him. Hisato looked at Karasu expecting him to speak.
“Ryoichi’s sacrifice will not be forgotten,” Karasu said, raising his voice for all to hear. “All of us, every soldier, every blade, every one of us will avenge his death.” He raised his voice to a shout. “Toshi Ranbo will fall! Let them hear us inside! Let them know we are not afraid!”
As one, the Legion shouted their defiance, so loud that it rattled their banners. Harun shouted with them, perhaps if he shouted loud enough he wouldn’t have to feel anything. At least, not for a while.

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Mon Jul 09, 2018 10:36 am

Akodo Ryoichi was cremated with the full honours of the Lion Clan. His bones and daisho were taken back to be enshrined in the Hall of Ancestors. And things returned to normal at the siege camp, or tried to.
Karasu did his best to keep moving forward. There was still much to be done before they could begin the siege properly. And this was not helped by the constant rain, which delayed the arrival of the Crab Clan with their siege engines.
One wet evening, Doji Ayumu arrived at his tent. Yet from his tone and demeanour he had not simply come for tea and conversation. But his face was the perfect mask.
“I came this evening to tell you this, because I am responsible,” said Ayumu. “It is your niece, Kakita Arahime-san. She is dead.”
A chill went right through Karasu, he had to carefully put his tea cup down or he would drop it. It seemed as if the entire world around him was frozen and silent.
“How…did this happen?” Karasu asked, his voice deliberately even.
“I received this from the ambassador, Doji Mushari-san,” Ayumu said, pulling out a letter. “He took Arahime away from the Zogeki court, give the warlord a chance to sort out the scandals between her and his grandson.” He paused. “She…was thrown overboard, and with the wild animals…they could not find her body.”
The words felt hollow, meaningless to Karasu. The seemed to flow over his head, but he forced himself to absorb them, accept the facts. Accept this terrible tragedy.
Oh Kyoumi, how will you bear it…
“This…this cannot be coincidence,” Karasu said, his voice rising in anger, his hand forming a fist. “So soon after the scandal.”
Ayumu nodded, giving Karasu the chance to absorb it.
“Harun,” said Karasu. “I need to tell him. Senzo!”
The ronin came into the tent.
“Find my son,” said Karasu. “Bring him here.”
Senzo bowed and departed.
“Ayumu-san, I tell you this now, Arahime’s death is not just an outrage against my family and clan, but shows the utter contempt the Zogeki have for us,” Karasu said, his voice quiet but with the threat of steel. “The Crane will have the full weight of the Emerald Office should you require it.”
Ayumu nodded gravely.
The tent flap opened and Harun entered. He wore the purple and white cloak he had gotten from Unicorn lands, that, with the effects of the wind and rain on his hair and beard, made him look wild and untamed. He bowed to Karasu and Ayumu, though the latter quickly left with a nod to Harun.
Harun looked confused at Ayumu leaving. “Father, is there something wrong?”
Karasu sighed. I cannot be his commanding officer tonight, he thought, tonight, I must be his father.
“Sit down, Harun,” said Karasu, gesturing to the table. He felt tired.
“Is there something wrong?” Harun asked. “Is it…my mother.”
“No,” Karasu said, shaking his head. “It’s…Arahime.”
Harun turned pale.
“She was travelling on board a ship with the Crane ambassador,” Karasu said. “During the night, she fell overboard.”
Harun looked a little confused. “But…Arahime can swim,” he protested. “She couldn’t…”
Karasu shook his head again. “Even if she did manage to make it to shore, there’s no hope,” he said. “She would have been torn to pieces by wild animals. I’m sorry.”
Karasu then watched Harun collapse, he clasped his face with a low moan. Like a young tree, grown a little and able to battle the occasional storm. But not like this.
Karasu gently put a hand his son’s shoulder. It was as if Harun was a child again. He looked up at Karasu, his face begging for it not to be true. But it was staring at them in the face, they had to accept it.
Harun moaned again, he tore at his face, his hair, his clothes. Karasu grabbed his hands, putting his face right up to Harun’s. “Harun, we will find who did this and make them pay. The Crane have sworn.”
“Send me, father,” Harun pleaded through his tears. “Let my blade avenge Arahime’s death. Send me!”
“No,” Karasu said, shaking his head. “I know you want to; I know your heart burns with the rage of vengeance. But that is not your place, my son.”
Harun bowed his head, closing his eyes.
He stayed in Karasu’s tent until he felt he could face his platoon again. When he left, Karasu sat at his desk with his head in his hands.
You threw her away, Ayumu, one of our brightest stars, gone forever…
He put a brush to paper and began composing the hardest letter he had ever written.

To my cousin, Kyoumi,
I write to tell you the most gravest of news…

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Mon Jul 09, 2018 11:42 pm

Found this awesome picture of Shimekiri. It was done by the guy who made him.


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Sun Jul 15, 2018 8:23 am

The blow of Arahime’s death had left a change with Harun. He carried on his duties as Gunso of Kyoujin Platoon, perhaps even with greater diligence, but he kept himself very much apart from the other soldiers. He was less inclined to join them for drinks and stories around the fire. He did not say while, but given this was not questioned Harun surmised that Utaku Kenji told them what happened.
Devotion to his duty kept Harun busy. Kept his thoughts from wandering as they often did when kept unchecked. How he would never see Arahime again. How he missed seeing her before she left by only a few days. And how he never told her how he truly felt about her, how much she had come to mean to him, and never tell her of the future he had planned for them after the war.
The autumn continued, the first chills arrived. More troops from the Great Clans began arriving at the siege camp. The Crab Clan with their massive siege engines, brought with the assistance of the Mantis Clan’s ships. Forces from the Dragon Clan also arrived. And—to the surprise of many—shugenja from the Phoenix Clan, travelling down with the Dragon from their mountains.
And then, finally, the Shogun Utaku Chikara rode in with the remainder of the Imperial Legions. With her were the forces of the Unicorn Clan led by the Khan, Moto Tengri.
The siege camp, already immense, grew bigger. A floating bridge of boats and rafts was constructed up river from Toshi Ranbo, connecting the two halves of the siege camp. After two days, walls had to be constructed and sentries posted to fend off the pot shots taken at people crossing by the Onyx.
And Toshiwara Row, transplanted where it had been back at Kyuden Kyotei, fairly ballooned in size and had several smaller copies that sprang up from who knew where. Harun didn’t go, he did like the quiet when the others went though.
The pace of the camp picked up as well. If there were not in combat near the wall, they were training and were using their horses less and less. They would begin to siege the city proper soon and would have little use for them in the streets of Toshi Rambo.
But in the evenings, when Harun was trying to sleep, his thoughts were harder to escape. He tried to push them away, but they followed him even into his dreams. He would dream of Arahime, smiling and reaching out to him, then pulled away by the crush of bodies, oni and tainted samurai. Harun usually woke suddenly from those dreams, gasping and sweating. This didn’t really get remarked upon by the soldiers in his platoon. Not that they didn’t notice, but Harun wasn’t the only one with such dreams.

In his tent, Karasu sat at his strategy table, expanded with a few more tables to accommodate all that would arrive. The table had the maps, reports as well as the tea and other refreshments that would be needed to conduct what would no doubt be a very long meeting.
The pieces were in place, the great game could finally begin. But it wasn’t a game, this was with people who would die before it was over. They needed to win for their sacrifice to be worth it.
They began to arrive, Karasu recognised them as they did. Representatives from all the Great Clans and in some cases the Champions themselves. But there were a few unusual ones, like Isawa Koyo.
Karasu had known him slightly from that fateful court at Shiro Mirumoto eighteen years before. Koyo had openly defied the directives given to him by the Elemental Council, exposing the actions of the Isawa in the binding of ryu to shield the Phoenix lands from the forces of the Onyx as well as the killing of the Dragon of Fire. The Emperor had declared the Council to be found to face the consequences for their crimes, leading to open rebellion by the Phoenix who stood by the elemental masters. This, combined with the Onyx forces being able to invade as well as Shiba Michio and his Black Hand exacting retribution, led to utter chaos in Phoenix lands that had only calmed down relatively recently.
And Koyo had come, with what people he had and the blessing of the council of sensei that managed day to day affairs for the Phoenix as well, in his capacity as a Jade Magistrate, as the blessing of Jade Champion, Tamori Hoshina
But there was one missing from their number: Akodo Ryoichi. The strategy they were about to carry out was both of theirs, and was the product of many long meetings over many months. For it all to happen without Ryoichi was almost too cruel. But it was also one more reason why they needed to succeed.
"Shall we begin?” Karasu said when they were all seated. Tea and refreshments were distributed, Karasu brought their attention to the large map of Toshi Ranbo itself. Many details had been added from the various intelligence they received.
“Given what we know of Shimekiri, his methods, his mentalities…we know he will expect certain things from us. Which we will give him, and more.” He nodded to the map. “We begin with the weakest point of Toshi Ranbo’s walls…here.” He pointed to Okura sub-district, in the north west portion of the city. “And here.” He indicated where the pleasure gardens used to be nearby, now all destroyed in the Onyx occupation. “The artificial lake in Okura has only made the walls weaker, Shimekiri will be expecting us to hit there with siege engines.”
Hida Tetsuyori, brother to the Crab Clan Champion, nodded. “We have our trebuchets, stone breakers as well as ballistae, fire breathers and the steel of the Crab to do our part.”
Karasu nodded to him and kept going. “To the south, the Lion with Legion forces will assault the main gates which had the main road that led straight through the city. This will be infantry with ladders to mount the walls and battering rams to break the gates.”
Akodo Ashida, Champion of the Lion Clan, nodded with approval. “The forces of the Lion Clan will serve.”
“The Dragon, the Unicorn will maintain the fight outside the walls,” Karasu continued. “No Onyx soldier or creature will know a moment’s rest when we begin. We have the forces to hit them on all sides, and again this is what they will expect.”
There were murmur and nods of agreement.
“Or course, this is all show, distractions while we attack the real weak point of Toshi Ranbo, which is the river itself.” He traced his hand over the path of the Drowned Merchant River that ran right through the city. “We control the river, we control the city, we split it in two and prevent any reinforcement being made from either side…or orders being given.” He looked up at Koyo. “The Phoenix will make the first move here, you say you can take out the bridges?”
Koyo nodded. “The walls, the bridges, and any Onyx along the river will be in the path of the ritual we cast. Any shugenja that can be spared are welcome to add to our numbers.”
“And once this is done, the path has been cleared,” Karasu continued. “The Mantis will float the Crane and Legion troops up river, right into to the middle of the city itself.” Yoritomo Yamako, Champion of the Mantis Clan, nodded in approval. “Are there any questions?”
Mirumoto Konishi, Champion of the Dragon Clan, spoke. “You spoke of Shimekiri, but are we expecting to face the leader of the Onyx, Yuhmi no Oni?”
“Our intelligence indicates this is unlikely,” Karasu said. “This may mean Yuhmi has fled, but it may be too much to hope for.”
Konishi nodded, satisfied with this.
“The plan is sound, daring,” said Utaku Chikara with approval. She and Karasu had agreed earlier to split their command to each side of Toshi Ranbo.
This was our plan, Ryoichi, thought Karasu, let us hope we were right…

Several days later, Harun stood outside his father’s tent. He wore his armour, as Senzo had indicated when he had found Harun that this was a summons from his commander, not an invitation from his father. Harun had been hoping for the latter for a few days, but with the Legion and the forces of the Great Clans preparing to begin the siege proper, his father simply had less time.
And of course, everything had changed since they had gotten the news of Arahime’s death.
Senzo stood silently outside the Champion’s tent, giving no indication to Harun just why he had brought him here. Then the ronin got a signal from within and opened the tent door to let out several Legion Chui that were inside. Harun gave a bow, as he was expected to, but the Chui gave him no more than a brief acknowledgement of Harun while the continued their conversation as they walked out of sight.
“You may go in now,” said Senzo.
Harun entered, sitting in seiza on the flow and bowing not only to his father but the Taisa of the First Legion, Katsura Hisato.
“Kakita Harun-gunso, you may rise,” said Karasu, his tone formal.
Harun rose, looking for some sort of sign of why he was here from either of them. Karasu, of course, gave no indication, his face blank, his on perfect. But Katsura…was that a smile Harun could see on her face?
“Gunso, I have been advised by Katsura-Taisa of your exceptional and dedicated devotion to your duties, which have not only continued in the light of your…personal tragedy, but have increased.”
“I do my duty,” Harun said simply, inkling his head.
“You have proven yourself capable of holding responsibility,” Karasu continued. “Katsura-Taisa has made a recommendation and, in the light of the Legion moving towards beginning the siege on the city, I am granting it.”
Harun looked up. Katsura Hisato smiled at him.
“Kakita Harun, you are hereby granted the rank of Chui with the privileges and responsibilities attached to it,” Hisato said. “You will take command of the newly created Takano Unit.”
Harun bowed low, a little stunned but mostly numb. He thought he should be feeling more about this, good or bad, but instead he felt strangely hollow.
“I will endeavour to serve and prove the trust that you have placed in me,” said Harun.
“I know you will, my son,” said Karasu, unable to keep the pride he felt out of his voice.
But later, when Karasu was alone, he played over the scene in his mind. Harun’s reaction to his promotion worried him a little. His son appeared distant, yet very conscious of the responsibility that he had been given.
Hisato’s recommendation had sat on Karasu’s desk for a few days before he acted on it. He trusted Hisato’s judgment, and they had made officers of others younger than Harun.
But he’s still so young…
He would do well, Karasu knew that, as Hitomi would say Harun had learned to lead from the best.

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Wed Jul 25, 2018 8:58 pm

Takaro Unit consisted of five squadrons of twenty samurai, ashigaru and shugenja. Kyoujin, of course, now led by Utaku Kenji, Ranshu, with Daidoji Akemi as Gunso as well as Kuroda, Suna and Ishiiki. The reorganisation helped to improve morale a little, some evenings from his tent, Harun could hear the soldiers talking, laughing and telling stories around the campfires as well as singing.
Harun didn’t join them, and he honestly felt like he was an imposter in his role of Chui of Takaro. Particularly when he was briefing them in his tent. Here Kenji, Akemi as well as his second Ikoma Yasutaka helped, their attitude and deference giving Harun the air of authority he felt he was lacking.
They were training and drilling constantly, Harun kept up a fast pace and expected more of himself.
And then, what they were all waiting for finally happened, they received the orders for the attack on Toshi Ranbo. The official briefing was outside Katsua Hisato’s tent, mainly because all of the Chui in the First Legion would not fit in it now. There were an assortment of colours, clans and backgrounds, both male and female, full-samurai and ronin, bushi and ashigaru as well as one Isawa Tensai.
Hisato went over the plan, providing written notes to supplement and answering questions. Harun also made extensive notes of his own.
Karasu was also present, more observer than participant. But when a question came up about Daigotsu Shimekiri, he answered it himself.
“Do not concern yourself with him, concentrate on the goal of taking the city,” he said. “We do have something in mind for him, rest assured.” He met Harun’s eye and smiled.
That afternoon, Harun took it to Takano Unit.
“We will be with the ships going into the Forbidden City itself,” Harun explained, showing them all on the map. “It’s difficult, but it’s doable if we keep our heads.”
“How much resistance are we talking about?” Kenji asked.
“Considerable, but by the time we arrive it will be reduced,” said Harun. “The Phoenix Clan are going to soften up the Onyx for us first.”
“How?” asked Mirumoto Jaiyu, gunso of Suna Squadron.
“I’m not sure,” said Harun. “But given we leave tomorrow to get to the ships down river, I am guessing its big and we need to stay out of the way.” He looked up. “If there’s no more questions, that’s all. Get some rest, we leave at first light.”

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Thu Jul 26, 2018 5:11 am

Harun spent his evening re-strapping his armour, the mundane and repetitive task helped keep his mind and hands busy. There came a call from the door of his tend.
“Kakita-Chui, you have a visitor,” called out someone.
Harun looked up to see Doji Kouta standing there.
“Kouta!” Harun stood up and bowed in greeting.
“Harun…did I interrupt something?” Kouta asked with a mocking grin.
Harun was immediately conscious of how his task might look to the Doji and laughed. “No, no, I am almost done.” He quickly finished and then put his armour on the stand. “Can I get you some tea, or something stronger? Sake?”
“Tea will be fine, I want to keep a clear head,” said Kouta. He looked around for a place to sit and then sat down on the simple reed mat.
Harun felt a pang of embarrassment. His tent was simple, armour and daisho stand, futon, lidded wicker basket for his possessions. But this was how the Legion lived in camp, and it was a far cry from the niceties of the castles of the Crane clan.
“Everything is so very different here,” Kouta noticed. “Many clans and ranks here together. How do you manage it?”
“With a little difficulty, to be honest,” Harun admitted as he made the tea. “But out near the wall, when you’re fighting, all that matters is that the weapon of the one next to you fights with you, not against you. When you fight together, you don’t notice the rank. Just that they’re doing their bit.”
“I’ll have to trust you on that,” Kouta said, sipping the tea. “It’s just so different to what we were taught at the Academy.”
“Yes, but it works, and has for a while,” Harun says.
“And after?” Kouta asks.
Harun shrugs. “I try not to think about that. Not since…”
Kouta nods sadly. “Arahime.”
Harun let out a sigh. “I…haven’t talked to anyone about it, not even my father,” he admits. “I didn’t see it until I knew she was dead, but I sort of planned my whole future on being with her. And now she’s gone…” He placed his tea cup down, shaking his head. “I should have said something, I should have told her before I left for Unicorn lands.”
“That sounds like regret,” Kouta noticed.
“I know,” Harun says. “That’s why I don’t like to talk about it.”
There was a long silence.
“You know…we all noticed, growing up,” Kouta said. “I admit I wasn’t the only one who…liked her, but you were so close and so right for each other, I didn’t want to say anything.”
“Maybe you should have,” Harun said. “I might have said something sooner.”
“Maybe,” Kouta agrees reluctantly.
Another long silence.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to get things so down,” Kouta said. “I wanted to tell you I’m heading out in the morning with you on the boats.”
“You and Isamu-sama?” Harun asked.
Kouta nodded. “Yeah, the Crane are going to try and kill Shimekiri,” he said. “He’s just even more of an embarrassment now.”
“I hope you succeed,” said Harun earnestly. “The man…if he can be called that…is a menace. He needs to be put down.”
“Oh, I know,” Kouta agrees. “But you know how it is, has to be done the right way.”
Harun nodded, he knew very well what that meant. He had heard it often enough from Karasu growing up.
Kouta stopped, listening. “Is that…”
Harun nodded. They both listened to the sound of Takaro Unit singing. It was a soldiers’ song, usually heard in the difficult time before battle when they were waiting for signal to go forward. About Midori the Monk, and his long trek down from the mountains of the Dragon clan where he killed more men with every step he took.
Kouta smiled. “I think I am beginning to get why you are here, Harun.”
Harun just smiled in return.

Karasu walked through the siege camp, letting himself be seen by the soldiers was a boost to their morale. Particularly now, on the eve of battle. Again, he felt the pang of Ryoichi’s absence, but looking up at the walls of Toshi Ranbo was enough to strengthen his resolve. Soon, it would be theirs once more.
He stopped in his walking when he came to the banners of Takaro Unit, wondering if he should see Harun. But Karasu didn’t see Harun with the men and the tent flap was closed. Karasu continued on.
Things had been different between them since Harun’s promotion—no, since Arahime’s death. Since then, Harun had withdrawn more within himself, while at the same time pursing his duties as Chui of Takaro with increased vigour.
He’s just like Yamada, Karasu realised, giving everything while having nothing.
And not for the first time, Karasu wondered where Yamada was that night. If things had occurred differently, would she be here among the Unicorn? Would Harun? Possibly.
I’ll talk to Ayumu, Karasu thought as he walked, acknowledging the bows of those who noticed him almost absently, surely something can be found for him that will serve well until he can test as a kenshinzen.
He came to Shrine of Hikahime, one had been established shortly after the siege camp had been made around Toshi Ranbo. The nobori flag painted with her name was rough, made from the cloth of rice sacks, the characters done quickly. The prayer tablets hung on a wooden frame that was made from broken polearms. And the shrine itself? A repurposed crate tied to another broken polearm.
Somehow it was fitting for Hikahime that her shrine would be made up of things that once been someone else. In life, she had never been one to put on airs or rise beyond the station of peasant that she had born to.
Tonight, there were no shortage of devotees and offerings. Karasu apart them, not wanting to attract attention away from their devotion.
They were all gone now, the founders of the Legion. Moto Taigo and Mirumoto Tsuda, both retired as monks. Akodo Dairuko and Moto Chinua, both dead along with Hikahime. Even the others he had gathered to take their place had gone, Akodo Kibo the only one he still had contact with but he was also retired.
They had all talked about this day, when they would stand before the walls of Toshi Ranbo about to take it. To reclaim from the dishonour and deceit of its loss of thirty years ago. The last Onyx stronghold left to fall.
He looked up at the Nobori banner fluttering in the breeze, spreading the characters of Hikahime’s name. Was she here? Would she favour them the next day?
If she was here, she would probably tell me to stop brooding, Karasu thought with a grin. He kept walking.

It was only a tent in the middle of a vast siege camp, but Isawa Akiko had tied to recreate some semblance of their home in the mountains. But it was difficult, they had been able to bring very little with them in the way of personal items their journey from the lands of the Dragon Clan. But the servants had been able to acquire a few things since they arrived. Like the hanging scroll, fresh incense…these did help a little.
Fortunately, acquiring food was easy. All of the Isawa were tasked with filling a certain number of bags of rice per day with Inari’s Blessing. This not only fed them without requesting rations, but they were able to give the surplus to others in the siege camp as well.
This evening, Koyo was out in the camp, making sure everyone there was ready for tomorrow. Akiko was going over her own scrolls while she waited for him, the evening meal prepared and waiting. She looked up when he came in.
“Husband,” she said, smiling. “Please, will you sit and eat?”
“I still have much to go through before morning,” Koyo said stiffly. “And I’m still fasting.”
Akiko frowned gently. “No,” she said firmly. “Sit, you will need the strength.” She then added. “Besides, we have hardly talked at all since we have been here.”
Koyo considered this a moment and then sat down across from her. He had learned years ago it was best not to argue with Akiko when she was determined. His friendly Kami, Natsu, provided warmth and light as it wandered around the tent.
“I got a letter from Keiheki,” Akiko says as one of the servants filled their bowls with rice. The other poured the tea. “Things are going well, the children seem to be listening to her…but she has had to go speak to Nishi in the temple more than once.”
“She is strong, she will stand on her own in time,” said Koyo as the servant filled their tea cups.
“She is young, Koyo,” said Akiko. “And hardly ready for the responsibility.”
“Sometimes the Fortunes need us to be ready before we actually are,” said Koyo. “It is the way of the world we live in.” He looked up from his rice bowl at her. “They are safe, they all are in the mountains,” he said gently. “The war will never touch them.”
Akiko nodded. “I was with the wounded earlier,” she said. “Some of them were so young, barely more than children. And they fight in this war, and die.”
Koyo reached over and touched her hand reassuringly. “We are ending this, remember? That is why we are here, so no one else has to fight anymore.”
Akiko gave a weak smile. In her mind she was back at their home, the fresh cold mountain air filling the rooms where their children had grown and played. The stream below the house where she had shown them their first water kami. Peaceful, quiet, something to preserve.
Her reverie was broken by one of the servants speaking. “Master, there is someone to see you, a monk.”
A monk? The Isawas frowned. Koyo went to the tent door and sure enough a monk was there, bald and in the austere robes of the Brotherhood of Shinsei.
“Isawa Koyo-sama?” Asked the monk.
“Yes?” Koyo asked curtly. “What is your business?”
“I have an urgent message from the Phoenix sensei council,” said the monk. He showed Koyo the large cloth bundle he carried.
“Hmph,” said Koyo. He didn’t approve of Shinseist monks at the best of times. “I suppose you better come in,” he said reluctantly, going back inside the tent and letting the monk make his own way in.
“Please sit, will you have some tea?” Akiko asked warmly. “May we know your name?”
The servants got another cup and poured the tea.
“Thank you Isawa-sama, Isawa-sama,” said the monk, bowing low. “This one is called Tani, but I will not be staying long.”
“You have had a long journey, it will do you well to rest,” said Akiko.
“I have, thank you again,” said Tani.
The tea was poured and Koyo dismissed the servants.
“So tell us what brings you here,” said Koyo.
“I have brought a message from the council of sensei,” Tani repeated.
“Has a decision been made in regard to the leadership?” Akiko asked.
“No, the decision still stands that until the Soul of Shiba is found, no new Phoenix Champion will be chosen, and no Elemental Council,” said Tani.
Neither Akiko or Koyo said nothing about this, but it was hardly surprising.
“But I have been authorised to give you this,” said Tani. He offered Koyo the cloth bundle with a bow. “This is not a gift, this is an entrustment.”
Koyo accepts the bundle. “What is it?”
Tani put down his teacup. “This is where I must leave you,” he said. The message is for to interpret as you will.”
Koyo gave a nod, the monk bowed and left them. He examined the bundle closer. It was a little heavy, and rather bulky. He started unwrapping it, untying the cloth strips and unwinding the fabric.
It was armour, heavy armour of a burnished gold in colour in an old style common at the Dawn of the Empire but very well-maintained.
“It’s beautiful,” Akiko said admiringly. “He came all this way to give it to you.”
“Yes,” said Koyo, a little absently. He held up the do, the breastplate. On it was the mon for the element of Earth. “Oh,” he said flatly. “I think I know what this is. It is Ouno’s Heart.”
Akiko gasped.
Koyo examined the pieces. He had read about Isawa Ouno as a child. Ouno was Isawa’s own brother, a powerful earth shugenja and armour smith. He had created this armour, to pass down to those who followed him. And since then it had been worn by either the Elemental Council’s Master of Earth, or the Commander of the Avalanche Guard.
“This was last worn by Asako Kinane,” Koyo said aloud, mostly to himself. “She would have worn it when she fell at Gisei Toshi.” He put the breastplate down carefully.
Akiko picks it up again. “The monk said this was a message, and I think it is very clear,” she held the breastplate out to him, the earth mon facing up. “This is for you, Koyo, to wear into battle, tomorrow.”
“I don’t have the right to wear it,” Koyo said flatly.
“You have more right than anyone else,” said Akiko. “Think about what you have done. Without your leadership, the Clan of Shiba, the Clan of Isawa would never have had a chance. We would not have had the years we have had to rebuild and grow, and never have had a future.” She smiled at him. “You need to wear this, tomorrow, so everyone can see you and know that.”
Koyo smiles at her, it was like a statue moving. “There is nobody alive anymore I would entrust it to. So I may as well wear it to protect it.” He took the breastplate from her. “But I think I will still need some help with putting it on.”
Akiko laughed.

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Sun Jul 29, 2018 9:22 am

Takano Unit was up before dawn, roused by the sound of the gong. Harun was awake after not much sleep but his head perfectly clear. He donned his armour with Ikoma Yasutaka’s assistance and then Harun helped Yasutaka into his.
Alone in his tent for a few moment, Harun kneeled before his daisho, praying to the fortunes, his ancestors…impressing upon himself the seriousness of the task. Then equipping his swords and leaving the tent. Takano Unit were standing on parade, armed and ready.
Yasutaka was waiting for him and bowed. “Kakita-Chui, Takano Unit awaits your word.”
Harun looked at him and then at the assembled soldiers.
I suppose they want me to say something, thought Harun, yet the words seemed to evade him. How does father manage to do it?
He found a box to stand on, hoping the extra height could add something. The soldiers let out a shout when they saw him up there. Harun grinned, holding out his hands and they quieted down.
“Well, I’m not one for speeches, so I’ll make it brief,” said Harun. There were a few laughs at this. “We are Takano Unit, we have come through a lot together in a short time. Trained, fought in battle before the wall…and now we join the fight on the city itself.” Harun grinned, getting caught up in the spirit of it all, spurred on by them all watching him. “I am proud of all of you, and there’s nowhere else I would rather be than fighting beside you!” They shouted in response. Harun raised his voice to be heard above them. “And we will show them! All of us! We will take back what is ours! We are Takano!”
There was a great shout from the soldiers that Harun joined in. Proud, defiant, ready for anything. Ready to fight. Ready to die.

The air was chilly and there was a slight drizzle as Takano Unit marched out of the camp. They kept up the pace, the gunsos beginning marching songs to keep everyone’s spirits up. And they were not the only soldiers leaving for the boats, quite a few were leaving and more lined the paths either side to watch them go.
At last, they came to the edge of the encampment, ahead was the way back to the Kitani River. Yet the sound of hooves made Harun look back. It was his father, Kakita Karasu the Emerald Champion, in full armour on a white horse with banner flying.
Just Karasu being there caused a joyful shout among the soldiers. He had come to see them off, inspire those who would be leading the attack in the middle of Toshi Ranbo, but that wasn’t all why he came. He signalled for Harun to come over.
Harun told Yasutaka to go on and went over to his father. He made a formal bow.
Karasu removed his mempo so his face could be seen. He looked down at Harun, so young an already fulfilling a duty and responsibility beyond his years.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Karasu thought, the war was supposed to end before he grew up, and now he fights for a peace that he has never known.
“Champion, Takano Unit and myself are ready and capable,” said Harun. His voice was formal and emotionless; a soldier addressing his commander. “Is there anything more you wish of us?”
“I merely wished to speak with you,” said Karasu. Wishing there was a way they could be alone.
“I do my duty, Champion,” said Harun.
There were words Karasu had wanted to say to him, ones that needed to be said now or at least before Harun left. Every time Harun had left for battle, Karasu thought that this could be his last, but this time…it might be true.
“I would expect nothing less from you,” said Karasu.
“You honour me,” Harun said, bowing again.
Harun’s unit were getting further away, Karasu knew he had to say something. “Harun…when you get back, when all of this is over, we’ll talk about your future, something better for you than this.”
Harun nodded. “Of course, father,” he said.
Karasu watches him leave. This was the boy he had taught himself how to hold a sword, that same boy a young men who led the men under him into battle.
The die are cast, Karasu thought, let them fall where they may.

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Wed Aug 01, 2018 7:15 am

The Phoenix camp usually had a communal atmosphere, centred around the clearing between the tents. This made sense of course as many of the Isawa had come from the Shinyoake Mura, but when other Isawa had joined them they had been welcomed to the fold.
But this morning was different, the atmosphere was frantic and worried. Meals were being eaten frantically, spell scrolls pored over, letters quickly written just in case the worst happened.
Yet all of them fell silent when Isawa Koyo emerged from his tent wearing the armour. Ouno’s Heart glistened like gold in the morning sun, and with the helmet and mempo on he was completely covered. The effect was uncanny, it was like he wasn’t there any more. He wasn’t a man, but more than that. A symbol, a beacon, and ready to lead them.
The Isawa bowed low and solemn as if in the presence of an Elemental Master.
Akiko appeared behind Koyo. Her face solemn, her expression set. She gave a nod. It was time.
Koyo led the Isawa out.

On the north side of the Firefly River, Hida Tetsuyori watched as the Kaiu siege engines were secured into position. They had been brought up from the south by road and by sea and had been assembled on the plains by night at considerable risk.
The Crab soldiers roared and shouted, shaking their weapons and banners with an eagerness for battle. Many of them had been forged in the darkest time of the Onyx Wall when Kyuden Hida had fallen and they lived on the Kaiu Wall itself fighting for their very survival. Tetsuyori and his brother Katashi had been among them. Fighting back the Onyx, taking back Kyuden Hida and rebuilding the wall.
Katashi was in the south, his duties as Champion of the Crab keeping him there. Tetsuyori had come north with the pick of the Crab legions. They had rebuilt the wall, they were now about to tear down another.
He gave the signal to fire the trebuchets.

South of the city at the main gates, columns of Lion bushi surrounded the battering rams that slammed against the gate, hoping to shatter it. Arrows flew through the air from the wall above, the soldiers beside the ram tried to protect the ones holding it, some of them falling to the wounds from the arrows but there were always more to replace them.
The gates then buckled and broke under the blows of the battering ram. The Lion let out a shout, moving the ram around to make the hole bigger and then pouring inside like a running stream.
Inside the city were more Onyx, they cut through these and still more came. Yet this didn’t stop the Lion either.

South-east of the city, Takano Unit stood waiting for their turn to get onto the boats. Somewhere else, Harun could see the sky-blue banners marking where the Crane were waiting. Here and there he could see flashes of the brilliant armour, the most splendid being the Kenshinzen.
Is Kouta over there? Harun wondered Is Isama-sama? The Kakita Daimyo? It was hard to tell at this distance.
He thought back to the talk he and Kouta had had the night before. The Crane’s plans to kill Shimekiri. The “proper way”, which meant following the rules. Answering the dishonour and shame Shimekiri had caused with honour and steel. Iaijutsu.
But could they actually kill him? Harun felt bad for even doubting them.
Perhaps, Harun thought, we can wear him down and then he’ll be easier to kill.
But somehow that seemed a vain hope.
The Mantis signalled them. Takano Unit boarded their boat.

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Wed Aug 01, 2018 7:11 pm

On both sides of the banks of the Firefly River, Legion and Unicorn archers firing up at the Onyx on the wall with bushi and ashigaru guarding them. They were not just there to throw the Onyx off the walls, but to also draw their fire.
Behind them, further upriver, a low fog began to form, covering the pontoon bridge that spanned across the river. Inside the fog and were the Isawa, standing in a single line across the bridge with Isawa Koyo in the centre.
A horn sounded and the bushi near the wall scattered, getting out of the way. There was a long moment, as if everyone held their breath, was waiting to see what the Isawa were going to do. They then began to chant an incantation, moving their hands in unison in smooth fluid motions. And to those who could see them, water kami began to gather, cluster together in wobbly blobs. More and more coming together, getting bigger and bigger.
All was still and quiet, all the Isawa made a pushing motion with their hands. Then the fog lifted.
“Suitengu’s Fury,” murmured Koyo.
The river then rose in front of them, forming a wave rocking the pontoon bridge. The wave increased in speed and height as it moved towards Toshi Ranbo, foam and spray leaping off it as it went. Then, with a roar light a mighty dragon, the wave broke upon the walls of the city, hitting the sides with a sickening crack, taking out the Onyx there and much of the stonework.
The rush of water continued through the city, taking out Onyx soldiers on the shore, taking out buildings, taking out the bridges that spanned the river, wooden and stone. And on it went, through the city and then out the other side towards the sea.
But the Isawa weren’t done yet, as they pulled people out from where they had fallen into the water, Koyo was already preparing the second spell, reciting the incantations. This one stirred the water again, but it was a shaking that came from the earth itself as the earth kami vibrated. Then Koyo slammed downward with his fist.
“Murmur of the earth,” he said.
The earth exploded all around them, the vibrations going up to the walls itself. The pontoon bridge buckled and snapped with a shower of splinters, throwing the Isawa into the river. As Koyo disappeared beneath the water, he saw the walls of Toshi Ranbo tumbling down.

On their boat, Takono Unit stood close together, shoulder to shoulder, as it proceeded up the Kitani River at a steady pace. The captain, Yotitomo Mitsuko, gave orders to her crew to keep pace with the rest of the fleet and making sure that any soldiers stayed out of her way. In the bow of the ship, A Moshi shugenja sat in quiet meditation despite the activity.
The motion of the river didn’t agree with some of the soldiers, some of them making their way to the sides losing what little breakfast they had managed to have. Harun was fine, but did wonder why they couldn’t go any faster. Then, over the sounds of retching he heard a low rumble, like the thunder of hooves a great distance away.
Well, that doesn’t make any sense, he thought, looking around.
Utaku Kenji looked up from where he was at the railing. “Chui! Look! The city!” He pointed towards Toshi Ranbo.
Harun ran over to the side, just in time to see the enormous wall of water heading towards the city, heading through before being sucked out the other side. Beautiful and terrible, primordial and destructive.
“I hope that was ours,” Utaku Kenji said.
“I think it was,” said Harun. “The Phoenix were preparing something special.”
The captain Mitsuko looked at it through her spy glass. “That’s our signal,” she said. “Spread the sheets, it’s our time.”
The water, sedate before, started to get very rough and choppy. The water from the Isawa’s wave was bursting forward from upriver. Harun grabbed the railing tight, they were in for a wild ride.

To the north, the Kaiu trebuchets had large pieces of masonry loaded into them as they prepared another volley. Before the wall itself, the Crab bushi maintained the shouts of defiance, despite the arrows and spells that fell from the walls. Some managed to get through their armour, but this didn’t deaden the noise, it even increased it.
The huge stone pieced flew above their heads, impacting the walls of Toshi Ranbo with a mighty crack. A great cheer went up through the Crab as they all rushed at the wall, a surging tide of blue and steel

Outside his tent, Karasu watched the progress of the battle on the war table. Many coloured markers signified the various units of the Legion and the Great Clans, updated constantly from the reports of scouts.
A scout approached him, soaked to the bone. “Champion, I report the success of the Isawas’ spells,” he said, panting. “From the wave and the earthquake, the walls had significant damage.”
“Good, good,” Karasu said, making this apparent on his nap. “Where are they now?”
“They’re with the wounded, I just left them,” said the scout.
Karasu ground his teeth. “How many casualties?” He asked.
“Quite a few, I didn’t stay,” admitted the scout. “Some are well enough to assist with the wounded though.”
“Champion!” Another scout ran up. “From the north east, the Crab have breached the wall.”
“Excellent,” said Karasu. “How goes our ships?”
“Still approaching, Champion,” said Senzo who had Karasu’s spyglass. “Should not be long at all.”
Karasu made a quick, silent prayer. Harun, fortunes guide you…

As they approached the city through the wash of the Isawas’ wave, the boat wavered to and fro by the impact. Soon the amount of sick outnumbered the well, even Harun was starting to feel a bit queasy.
The city was in sight, and to their relief the waters started to calm. But then they started to hear a strange thunk of something coming into contact with the hull of the boat. It happened again. Thunk. Thunk.
“What is that?” Harun asked Mitsuko.
“The bodies,” she said. “Onyx and ours.”
Harun grimaced.
The walls of the Toshi Ranbo were just ahead, like a giant mouth about to swallow them up. The bodies of the Onyx and Rokugan soldiers floating side by side in the water, many even touching.
There was a whizzing sound like an angry hornet as an arrow struck the deck. Then more, raining on the boat as they neared the city, taking out Takano soldiers and some of the Mantis.
“Arrows, take cover!” Harun shouted, ducking below the side of the ship and angling his sode against them.
Mitsuko shouted to the Mantis marines to fire back.

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Thu Aug 02, 2018 11:38 pm

As the boats entered Toshi Ranbo, the arrows and missiles actually lessened. This was due to the debris piled up either side on the banks of the river and floating in the water. Debris...and bodies. It became more and more difficult for the boats to proceed through the city without hitting anything.
Thunk. Thunk. Bodies hitting the hull of the ship. Along with wood, stone, parts of houses and bridges.
Harun kept his men’s’ spirits up in a defiant chant as they went, trying to ignore the other sounds, getting them all ready.
The boat then came to a stop next to a shattered bridge neat the centre of Toshi Ranbo. The Mantis marines were the first off, attacking with their kamas and bows, and Takano Unit were right behind them. All of them cascading down the shattered bridge, fighting the Onyx gathering on the shore in a fury of shouts and steel.

In a north west corner of the city, Onyx attempted to tunnel through the wall. Most of them tainted samurai, but there was one huge oni lord making some progress. Behind a row of shattered houses, they didn’t attract much attention, but then when everyone was focused so much on getting into the city, they didn’t see those attempting to get out.
The oni lord made a huge crack at the wall with a fist, shattering the stones and making a hole big enough to climb through. But once they were through, there was the thunder of hooves near by.
Utaku Chikara, Shogun of the Empire, with a full complement of battlemaidens, was approaching. They saw the Onyx coming through the wall and charged.

“Form up Takano,” Harun shouted, signalling with his fan. The Onyx were starting to scatter, and if they gave chase then his men would be too far apart to be effective. Once regrouped, they ran along the shoreline, climbing over the debris towards where the Imperial palace was. Climbing through the remains of an old castle, the former seat of the Emerald and Jade Champions. There was resistance, and even some wounds suffered by his men, but right here in the centre of Toshi Ranbo, he expected more.
What is going on? Harun wondered. Where is everyone? This is all too easy.
Through the gaps in the old masonry, Harun could see a vast courtyard that he knew led up to the Imperial Palace. And there wasn’t any enemies in sight.
This isn’t right, Harun thought.
“Chui, what’s wrong?” Utaku Kenji asked him.
“I don’t know,” said Harun. “Lets just stay here in cover for now. See what happens.”
They waited for a while, taking a breath. Eventually across the courtyard he could see deep green banners and soldiers approaching.
“Dragon, good,” Harun said. “Let’s go out to meet them.” He signalled with his fan.
They came out of the ruined castle and started to cross the courtyard. It was bare, devoid of any structures though Harun could see quite a few smashed statues and monuments. Just ahead was the Imperial Palace itself, looking almost untouched. The Dragon neared, Harun could see they were mostly Mirumoto bushi.
Then a lone robed figure in a white mask came out of the palace, dragging something along the ground.
“Stop! Now!” Harun shouted, holding up his fan.
“What?!” Shouted Daidoji Akemi. “Chui we could take him, he’s only one.”
“Form up ranks, keep your sights on the maho-tsukai,” Harun said, he felt cold inside.
We have no idea what this one is going to do… he thought.
But the Dragon didn’t have as much caution, perhaps they were even urged on when they saw Takano Unit was holding back. The Dragon swarmed around the maho-tsukai, hiding him from view.
From where he stood, Harun couldn’t see what happened next. But he saw the effects. There was something…different, different about how they fought.
Then with a gasp he realised.
They’re fighting…each other…
“Stand firm, now!” Harun shouted. “Archers, pepper, fire at will.”
“At the Mirumoto, Chui?” Akemi asked.
“You heard me, Gunso!” shouted back Harun. “They’re not on our side, not now.”
Harun didn’t know what it was. A spell, madness, the taint…but he didn’t care. They owed it at least to the souls of those Dragon to do something.
The Dragon moved uncannily fast, shrieking and screaming with insanity. And they were vicious, cutting through Takano unit ferociously. They fought back, best as they could, and Harun saw more of his men fall. Wounded, dead, and some even begin to fall to the same madness themselves.
A blade grazed his cheek and he knocked down a Mirumoto bushi, the man was spiting up blood from the wound Harun had given him, but the Dragon kept fighting. And Harun kept fighting, signalling to his men to pull back, pull back. But the bank of the river was behind them and he knew they would eventually run out of room.
A battle horn sounded, then the flurry of footsteps. Harun quickly looked, thinking they would be more Onyx…but the banners were sky blue. The Crane had arrived, and in the nick of time.

A thunder of blood and steel, the Crab Clan rushed though the city, running around through the streets where once mansions of the rich and noble stood, now all ruined and decrepit. Coming at last to the wall that surrounded the Imperial Palace from the north side. If they didn’t find a breach in the wall, they would make one themselves.
Hida Tetsuyori was in the thick of them, fighting beside his men. His armour dripping with blood and gore, but he fought on.

The Dragon dead, Harun at first saw to his men. At least half of them were gone now. Wounded or dead. Suna Platoon was all but wiped out, all was left was one ashigaru with an arm missing.
Once done, Harun went in search of the Crane commander. Harun could see him, getting the Crane to take up defensive positions around the palace. He wore the brilliant blue and gold armour of a Kenshinzen. Then he turned and Harun saw who it was, Kakita Isamu.
Isamu was one of the very few that had attained the rank of Kenshinzen during the war. In another time, Isamu might have been celebrated at the best court of the Empire. Bu things were a little different when you had not just one but two generations growing up in the shadow of a devastating war.
Harun approached Isamu and bowed. “Kakita-sama,” he said, sounding more confident than he felt. “I must thank your for coming to our aid, without you, my unit would sure have all been killed to a man…or worse.” He then added, “I am Kakita Harun, Chui of Takano Unit. You may not remember me, but I did see you years ago while I was at the Kakita Academy, you duelled Kenshin-sensei. It was an inspiration to all of us.”
“You’re right, I don’t remember,” Isamu said coldly.
Behind Isamu, Harun could see Doji Kouta approach, but the Doji stopped when he saw them talking.
“Remember, the Crane have point here, Chui,” said Isamu. “Stay with us, but stay out of the way of our objective.”
Harun thought about challenging him on this, but decided against it. “Of course, Kakita-sama,” said Harun, bowing. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just see to my men who are wounded.”
He walked off.

Back at his war table, Karasu could see that things were going well, very well for them. There were multiple breaches in the wall and incursions into the city. That combined with the mopping up of the retreating Onyx that Utaku Chikara was handling, it was looking to be a success.
They were going to have Toshi Rando, at long last.
But that didn’t mean it was over. Reports were coming in about the dead and wounded. No news yet from inside the city, which Karasu was aching to hear. And no sign of the oni Yuhmi, it was beginning to look as if it had either fled or had not been in the city at all.
A scout approached at a run. “Champion, two boats have come out of the city, from near the Imperial Palace,” he said, breathing hard.
“Do they have it secured, yet?” Karasu asked.
“No, but they should shortly,” said the scout.
“Many casualties?” Karasu asked.
“Numerous, many on the boats coming out,” said the scout.
Karasu turned to his second. “Gather the men, we are going in ourselves on the next boat,” he said.
And lets hope Harun isn’t on those boats coming out…

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Tue Aug 07, 2018 12:28 am

Okay, this is a very special chapter that my writer and I have discussed and worked on for basically years. It is why this story was written. This is such a seminal moment in Harun's life and his destiny takes a complete turn from this point onwards.
Special shout out to Troy Graham, who's Shimekiri's player. He has been reading these.
Hope you like it!

They then took the attack inside the Imperial Palace itself. A maze of dark and twisting, confusing corridors as well as traps and hazards—some deliberate, some just a result of decay and neglect. And, of course, enemies around every corner.[/div]Takano Unit had joined forces with some of the Mantis Marines, their numbers making up the wounded and dead that had left on one of the boats. With them was Moshi Hotaru, the shugenja who had come with them on their boat. Her fire kami provided much needed light, and her fire spells were particularly goof for clearing rooms.
And then, through accident or design, they found themselves in the very centre of the palace. Outside the throne room. The great doors were open but too dark to see clearly, even with the help of Hotaru’s fire kami. But from the sounds and smells inside, Harun knew the room was filled with enemies. He could also hear people coming up behind them.
I, thought Harun with a little satisfaction.
“Let’s do it,” he said, shoving the door open with Utaku Kenji’s help and they went in.
The influx of light caused the Onyx to turn in attack. Stinking, grasping, screaming withered limbs and desiccated flesh, falling beneath their blades. But they kept coming, and coming, a mass of blackened decaying bones and taint.
Next to him was Moshi Hotaru, a blazing whip of fire extending from her hands, snaking around and coiling as she moved it. Clearing a path for them, setting them all a blaze.
They held the line, Takano Unit and the Mantis, standing firm, taking out the Onyx as they threw themselves at them in a maddened frenzy. And they kept coming, and coming.
“Stand firm!” Harun shouted, hoping he could be heard above the noise. He parried the weapon of a tainted samurai with a distended jaw, it sliced him across the chin before he could kill it.
Then Harun heard the running footsteps around them. The reinforcements, arrived. Crane, Crab and more from the Imperial Legion. More and more filling the room, cutting down the Onyx and pushing them back and back, back to the throne itself. And as they neared, they could see a figure sitting in the throne. White with red paint amongst the blackness that covered the throne.

The next boat arrived, the wounded and the dead were being carried off. Karasu saw the mon on their sashimonos, these were from Takano Unit. But Karasu was quickly reassured when he was told by a wounded ashigaru that the Harun was not among them.
“When we left, Champion, Kakita-Chui was leading the rest into the Imperial Palace,” he told Karasu.
Not long later, Karasu was on the boat, heading for the centre of Toshi Ranbo.

The throne room was a mess of dead and burned bodies, though the floor did get clearer the further one went in. It was here that the Imperial Court had convened before the Steel Throne, serving the Emperors of Rokugan since the Toturi Dynasty. It was also here, after Toshi Ranbo had been abandoned, where Daigotsu Kanpeki had convened his court over the Onyx Empire, everything about it a bitter, twisted mockery of what had once been here. Right down to giving the Steel Throne a coating of cursed obsidian.
And this is where Shimekiri sat, grinning at all of them mockingly as if they were invited guests rather than an invading army.
Harun didn’t think at first, he turned to the archers. “Fire at will!” He said to them.
But fire as they may, none of the arrows seemed to hit Shimekiri and he barely moved at all.
Shimekiri laughed at him. “It will take more than that to touch me, little Crane,” said Shimekiri. He looked at Harun with a distracted interest. “Or are you?” He looked Harun up and down. “With a face like a gaijin, I’d question the purity of your blood.”
Harun flushed with anger, and may have said something had Doji Kouta not appeared at his side. The armour he wore gave him a more serious air, looking older. “Don’t answer,” Kouta urged. “Let Isamu-sama handle him, its why he is here.”
Harun nodded, they would be mere spectators here after all. Witnesses to the final act. The audience for the play that was about to be performed. The villain, Shimekiri, defiant and proud as he sat on the throne. Beautiful and deadly in the red and white kabuki paint. In armour that left his right shoulder and some of his chest uncovered—stark tainted white against the black.
And the hero, Isamu, his winged blue and gold Kenshinzen armour so splendid and inspiring. Proud, confident as he approached Shimekiri on the dais.
“And so, who has come to challenge the finest duellist since Kakita?” Shimekiri asked from the throne.
“Kakita Isamu, son of Kakita Kisano, Kenshinzen,” Isamu answered.
“Oh yes, I remember your mother,” said Shimekiri with a slasher smile. “Such poise! Such grace! Pity it didn’t save her though when I took her head.”
Isamu didn’t respond to this, in either expression or words.
“So, you have come here to see my untimely end, have you?” Shimekiri. “I do hate to disappoint you, but I have no intention of losing today.”
“You’re wrong!” Isamu said defiantly. “Every Crane blade here is dedicated to seeing your final death, tainted scum. Even if it takes all of us, every drop of blood. You will answer for your dishonour and disgrace which has gone on for far too long. This is your end, Shimekiri. Now. Today.”
Shimekiri grinned. “Well, who could refuse an invitation like that?” He stood up from the throne. “Prepare the circle, and lets see how many of you it takes before you admit the truth.”

The boat Karasu was on slowly made its way towards the Forbidden City. Slowly, as it had to contend with the debris and bodies in the water. He stood in the prow, despite the protests that he could be a target for snipers. But Karasu wanted to see for himself what was going on, and he knew how important it was for those still fighting to see him.

Moshi Hotaru prepared the duelling circle in the only clear space big enough, on the dais. Either side of the circle, both combatants prepared. Harun could see Kakita Rikuto, the Kakita Daimyo, speaking with Isamu. A Kakita sensei stepped forward with a fan, calling the two combatants forward to declare themselves.
Shimekiri stepped forward, his bow as flamboyant and theatrical as ever, his entire manner farcical. “Daigotsu Shimekiri, Student of the Kakita Duelling Academy, Rikugunshokan of the Army of Obsidian, Defender of Toshi Ranbo.” He paused to flash a grin at Isamu. “Demon Blade of the Shadowlands.”
Kakita Isamu stepped forward, his demeanour proud but also cool. “This one is Kakita Isamu, son of Kakita Kisano, Student of the Kakita Duelling Academy…” He stared across at Shimekiri as he spoke. “And the Kakita Kenshinzen school.”
Shimekiri ignored this. “Mother and son, both dead by the same blade,” he said. “How perfectly tragic.”
“My blade will avenge her,” declared Isamu angrily. “And all the others that have died by it.
Shimekiri laughed.
The Kakita sensei raised his fan. He looked at both combatants, they bowed. then he dropped it. “Hajime!”
A long moment passed while they each sized each other up. Neither of them moving or speaking, eyes everywhere.
“For the honour of the Crane,” said Isamu.
Then both drew and struck, a flurry and flash of steel, both blades coming almost identically around the right side to make the cut. But one hit, and one didn’t.
With a groan, Isamu dropped to the ground, blood pouring out if his mouth, his helmet falling off. Before anyone could move, Shimekiri lunged forward and savagely grabbed Isamu’s topknot, pulling it back to slice off the Kakita’s head.
He held up Isamu’s head to the gathered Crane triumphantly, the blood pouring down his arm. “Is this what passes now for a Kenshinzen?” He shouted. “Pathetic!” He threw the head into the crowd of Crane who scattered like frightened pigeons, tripping over themselves to avoid Isamu’s head as it bounced and rolled across the floor of the throne room.
“Who is next?” Shimekiri shouted. “Which of you is not to craven to join him?”
“I will!” shouted Kouta, running forward before Harun knew what was happening.
“Kouta, no!” Harun shouted. But there was nothing he could do.
Kouta stepped on to the dais. Shimekiri took one look at him and collapsed into raucous laughter.
“A mere chick!” Shimekiri said. “You’re barely out of your egg! Or are they making Kenshinzen even younger these days?”
Kouta didn’t answer, he stared at Shimekiri with cold fury.
But Shimekiri was colder. “Are you ready to die today, boy?”
“It is you who will die today!” Kouta declared defiantly.
“Well, you have a Kenshinzen’s arrogance,” said Shimekiri with a laugh. “I accept your challenge.”
Harun stood stunned, frozen to the spot.
There’s no hope for him! Harun thought, why doesn’t someone stop it?
But no one did, the Crane stood together as a group, watching as they prepared. Watching as the duel began. Watching as Shimekiri drew his sword with inhuman fury and utterly no mercy. Gutting Kouta from bottom to top like a fish.
Harun’s head pounded as he watched Kouta’s body crumple to the floor. Splattered with Kouta’s blood, Shimekiri kicked his corpse off the dais, making the Crane jump back. Harun could hardly watch. That was his friend, right there, who only a short time ago had been alive.
He looked at where the Crane were gathered, almost angrily.
If they won’t stop him, then I will, Harun thought. He looked over at Shimekiri, sizing him up as he would any opponent on the battlefield. Shimekiri’s strength was in his first strike, devastating, deadly…but if one could get past that…
Harun quickly looked at Daidoji Akemi and nodded towards Shimekiri. She seemed to hesitate, questioning it for a moment. Then she nodded and started loading her tanegashima.
Harun strode up to the dais, his heart cold with anger from his dead friend. “Shimekiri!”
The former Kakita turned, his face lighting up with amusement when he saw Harun. “Ah yes, the gaijin Crane,” he said. “Tell me, was it your mother who was the ditch-digger or your father?”
“I am more Crane than you have claim to be,” Harun said. “I stand here because I choose to. I honour the lessons and traditions I have been taught…things that you turned your back on. Along with your honour.”
“Ha!” Declared Shimekiri. “My ancestors were developing the art of the sword while yours were still learning to speak. What’s your name, boy?”
“Kakita Harun, Chui of Takano Unit of the First Imperial Legion,” Harun said, looking Shimekiri directly in the eyes as he spoke. “Son of Kakita Karasu.”
Shimekiri laughed. “So…this is who the Emerald Champion sends? A mere boy? Is he still too much of a coward to face me himself?”
“The only coward was your master, the oni Yuhmi,” Harun said. “Leaving you here, in this city, while he fled to safety.”
Harun kept his gaze firmly on Shimekiri, defiant with cold fury. Yet the taunts and mocks were simply to buy time for Akemi, buy time for her to get into position. And he couldn’t look around lest Shimekiri was made aware of his plan. He had to trust that Akemi would do the right thing.
“Fine!” Shimekiri spat. “Have your duel, boy, and when your father comes, I’ll send him after you.”

Karasu’s boat came to a stop outside the Imperial Palace, quickly he walked off the plank and into the courtyard. He took a quick look around, there were a number of troops surrounding the palace, but he knew there should be more.
“Where is everyone?” Karasu asked a soldier.
“Inside, Champion,” he answered.
Karasu thanked him, entering the palace at a brisk pace.

On one side of the duelling circle, Harun prepared. He checked his sword and his armour. Utaku Kenji was with him.
“Chui, are you sure about this?” Kenji asked.
“I am certain,” said Harun quietly.
“He’s going to kill you,” said Kenji.
“Quite possibly,” said Harun, sheathing his sword. “But if he does, I want you to take over command of Takano unit.” He smiled at Kenji. “You’ve been a good gunso, a good soldier, and a good friend.”
Kenji nodded, he bowed. But instead of returning it, Harun held out his hand. They shook, one Unicorn greeting another.
The Kakita sensei called them forward. It was time.

Karasu picked up the pace as he walked through the Imperial Palace. Urgently checking rooms, trying to see where everyone was. If Shimekiri was in here, he needed to be dealt with even if Karasu had to do it himself.
I hope I am not too late…

Harun didn’t realise how many people were in the throne room until he got up there. There were not just troops from the Legion and the Crane there, but he could also see some Crab bushi including one massive one who had to be their commander.
All here to watch what was about to happen.
Shimekiri stepped forward to declare himself, identical to the last two times. Then it was Harun’s turn.
“Kakita Harun, son of Kakita Karasu,” he said. “Former Topaz Champion, Chui of Takano Unit of the First Imperial Legion.”
The Kakita-sensei motioned for them to begin.
“This day will be your last, Shimekiri,” said Harun as he sized him up.
“Bah!” Shimekiri scoffed. Examining Harun like a predator. “What do I have to fear from the likes of you?”
“This!” declared Harun.
A gunshot was fired behind Harun, launching a jade-augmented iron ball that hit Shimekiri’s naked right shoulder just as he drew his katana. It shattered flesh and bone as it penetrated, burying itself there, smoking and burning his flesh. His arm weakened, his strength broken along with his shoulder. And in the first strike that should have killed Harun, Shimekiri dropped his katana.
A great gasp came up from the audience.
Then it was Harun’s turn, he attacked Shimekiri from the right shoulder down, his sword burying the ball further as it slashed across Shimekiri’s chest. The finest duellist since Kakita fell to his knees, defeated. Harun pressed the point of his sword against Shimekiri’s throat, grinning at him triumphantly.
“I told you I would do it,” Harun said.
Shimekiri laughed manically. The blood, the paint…it was like something out of a nightmare. “Enjoy your victory,” he said. Laughing raucously.
Harun cut of his head, ending the laughter. Silencing him, forever. He collapsed to his knees and couldn’t stop grinning. He had done it, he had killed Shimekiri…avenged all of those the braggart had killed.
He looked around, silence at first. Then Takano Unit shouted with glee at the victory of their Chui. The Crab Clan raucously joined in, giving the now dead Shimekiri a few choice insults. But from the Crane…nothing, not a sound or movement.
What’s going on? Harun wounded. I killed him, why aren’t they saying anything?
Utaku Kenji ran up, grinning from ear to ear. “You did it! The baka is gone!” He looked over at the silent Crane, still trying to take in what happened. “What’s going on? They wanted him dead, and now he is?”
“I…I don’t know,” stammered Harun. He felt something wet at his side, he put his hand down. Blood, from where Shimekiri had cut him.
Daidoji Akemi came up from where she had been in the crowd, carrying her tanegashima. “It was a good plan, Chui,” she said approvingly.
Harun nodded, numb. There was something wrong, there was something very wrong…
There was some sort of commotion below, then the crowd parted to reveal Karasu.
“Father.” Harun tried to get up, but it was too painful. “I killed him, I did it…” He couldn’t hide the pride in his voice as he told him.
It’s what you would have done…right?
Karasu didn’t say anything. He looked from Harun, to Shimekiri dead on the floor, to Akemi with her tanegashima. His face was blank, unreadable.
Why isn’t he saying anything? Harun wondered. Why isn’t he pleased?
The Kakita Damiyo, approached Karasu and bowed. “Champion, we must speak. In private.” She didn’t even look at Harun.
Then it started to dawn on Harun. They didn’t like it, they didn’t approve…they acted as if he had done something terrible.
But I killed him…they all wanted him dead. Right?
“Father?” Harun’s voice was very small, like a child’s. “I…I can explain. I had to…no one else would.” He started to feel light-headed.
Karasu looked at Harun, his face ashen, his eyes on the verge of tears. But he said nothing to him. Instead he turned to Kenji. “Utaku-Gunso, your Chui is wounded,” he said coldly. “Get him on the boat and see that he gets tended. Take him to my tent.”
“Champion?” Kenji asked, as if he couldn’t believe what he heard.
“I am not repeating myself,” said Karasu, turning away.
Harun was helped to his feet, painfully, and Kenji helped him out of the room. “Father, wait! Just let me explain!” He shouted at Karasu’s back. “Father, I did what I had to do! What no one else would!”
But Karasu didn’t look back.

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Wed Aug 08, 2018 11:10 pm

They were quiet on the way back, Harun’s presence on the boat did cause a few curious stares among the Mantis but no questions. Kenji helped Harun walk, supporting the Kakita’s weight right up until they got to the Emerald Champion’s tent. Senzo quickly let them in, finding the healing supplies and then running off to fetch a shugenja.
Carefully, Kenji helped Harun remove his armour. This seemed to open the wound further so the Utaku worked quickly to stop the bleeding. It was painful, but Harun didn’t make a sound.
“I don’t understand,” Kenji said as he secured the bandages. “Why would the Crane do that? Why would treat you like that when you killed Shimekiri, their biggest problem?”
“I don’t know,” Harun said. Then he remembered something. “Shimekiri said that they would do something like that, before I killed him.”
“He knew?” Kenji said, satisfied with the bandages.
Harun nodded. “He was a Crane first.”
Senzo came back with the shugenja who checked Harun over. While the shugenja was checking him, Senzo found a spare yukata for Harun to wear and made tea. When the shugenja was done, Harun told them all to leave. Sitting by himself in the silence he started to clean his armour, thinking.

It was evening when Kakita Karasu made it back to the siege camp. By then it was full of people celebrating the victory. Karasu knew he had to at least show himself among them. But not now, now he had a far more serious duty that awaited in his tent.
Harun. His son. Who had done this terrible thing to disgrace the entire Crane Clan.
Harun, what have you done?
Senzo bowed as Karasu entered his tent where Harun was sitting silently, bandages around his middle, wiping the blood off his armour. He put down his cleaning cloth when Karasu entered, trying to get up.
“Father…I need you to listen…”
Karasu ignored Harun. He started to remove the Emerald Armour, cleaning each piece as he did and putting it on the stand where it lived. He did not turn, he did not look at Harun.
Karasu put the Emerald Blade on the daisho stand, placing his own wakizashi next to it. His hands shook, with anger that seemed to be spilling out.
“Father…please…listen to me…”
Karasu disappeared behind the painted shoji screen that hid his sleeping area. Changing into a simple blue juban and black hakama. Like he would wear back home at Rokugan Yogasha Shiro. Then, taking a deep breath in, he stepped out.
Harun sat there at the table, holding his side where it clearly still pained him, but facing Karasu. Looking straight at him, no sign of humility or repentance in him at all. Defiant.
“Father,” Harun said. “I know what I did today looked bad, but…”
“No!” thundered Karasu, with a fury that made Harun startle. “You don’t get to say that. Not today, not ever, not after you’ve just disgraced the Crane and all our traditions.” He made a dismissive gesture. “Twelve hundred years of the tradition of Iaijutsu, and you threw it all away in one moment. Like it didn’t matter at all. My own son! Have I taught you nothing?!”
“I saved all those people, father!” Harun shouted back. “All of them! Including Kakita Rakuto-ue! I stopped that, so they all didn’t have to die to kill Shimekiri. I did what you would have done!”
Karasu whirled on him, knocking the tea set and everything else off the table with a crash and breaking of china. “You don’t think I had a plan? That I was going to handle it? You didn’t, did you? You had to go in and be the hero, didn’t you?”
“Like you!” Harun challenged. “Shimekiri would have killed you just as well as he killed me. He told me! I did this so that no one else needed to die! Why…why can’t you see that I was right about this?”
“Because you cheated, Harun!” Karasu shouted. “You betrayed the traditions of Kakita! Right then, right there! How many others do you think will try and do what you did? Did you think of that?”
Harun winced. He looked past Karasu, behind him where the Emerald Champion’s armour and sword were. Kakita’s own, forged for him at the dawn of the empire. Almost like Kakita himself was standing there, judging him silently for his crimes. For his betrayal. For his disgrace.
When Harun spoke, his voice was quiet but with an edge to it. “I did my duty, father. I saw enemy I could kill and how to kill him. That is what I did.”
“And by doing this, you have thrown away everything I have hoped for you,” Karasu said. “Did you know Kenshin-sensei saw it in you to become a Kenshinzen? He noticed that the first day I took you to the Kakita Academy! That was what was next for you, it’s all gone now.” He signed. “Now, I am going to get half the Crane Clan as well a few others from the Lion and Dragon beat a path to my door demanding either your seppuku or that I take your daisho and send you out as a ronin or monk.”
“Will you?” Harun asked, quietly.
“I don’t know,” said Karasu. “I am still trying to comprehend it myself.” He sat down, putting his head in his hands.
“I did this as I saw it the only path forward,” Harun said.
“And you stand by it?” Karasu asked, looking up.
“I do,” said Harun.
“Fine,” Karasu said, with the finality of pronouncing judgement. “Kakita-Chui, you are being placed on indefinite leave until I can find a fitting punishment for your actions. You will leave first thing in the morning. Gather your things, your going home.”
“As you wish, Champion,” Harun said. He bowed and went to get his armour.
“Leave it,” Karasu said. “You have lost the right to wear it.”
Harun left the tent, saying nothing further.

Karasu sat there a long time after Harun was gone.
Harun, what have you done? I can’t protect you from something like this!
And it wasn’t just that he had done this disgraceful thing, Harun also stood by it. Defending his actions, defiantly arguing that they had been right. Harun had first learned his lessons of honour, tradition and bushido at Karasu’s knee…but now, his son was a stranger.
Where did I go so wrong with him? Karasu wondered, Yamada, I’m sorry, I failed you…

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Thu Aug 09, 2018 7:47 am

[div align="left"]Harun walked back to the Takano camp, anger rising from like a wave. His father, he didn’t understand. By doing what he did, Harun had saved all of those people but he got no gratitude or recognition from the Crane. This was a war after all, Shimekiri an enemy commander he had dealt with accordingly.
[/div]The fact his wound still smarted as he walked did not help matters at all.
He was still feeling like this when he arrived at the Takano camp, but then seeing what they did next that made all that anger melt away. They all stopped in what they were doing, sank down into seiza position and bowed. Harun was stunned, standing among them amid the utter silence. He was touched, and didn’t know what to say.
Utaku Kenji approached him and bowed. “Chui, every one of us here, man and woman, samurai and ashigaru stands by you and what you did this day.”
“Thank you,” Harun said, turning to the rest of Takano Unit. “Thank you, all of you.” He cleared his throat. “But we must not forget the ones who have fallen today. We must honour their sacrifice. It could have easily been any of us.”
They all straightened and nodded, listening. Harun stood there awkwardly for a few moments.
“But I must tell you all…that this is the last time I will see many of you,” Harun said, a few murmurs of confusion as he spoke. “I…have been given new orders and will be leaving in the morning. Utaku Kenji will be serving as acting Chui until a new one is appointed.” He paused, feeling the well of emotion swell up inside you. “It was an honour and pleasure to lead you, I will not forget this time. Thank you.”
He left abruptly. Kenji stared after him for a moment. “Chui?” He waved at the men to disperse then followed Harun into his tent. “You’re leaving us? Why?”
Harun started packing up his things together, putting them inside the wicker backpack. “Like I said, new orders.”
“Your father?” Kenji asked.
Harun didn’t answer.
“Where the Champion sending you?” Kenji asked.
“Home,” answered Harun. “And after that, I don’t know.” He picked up the pouch that contained his soldier’s pay. He had hardly spent any. He took out a few koku coins, enough to get him home, then handed the pouch to Kenji. “Take them to Toshiwara Row,” he said. “Get their spirits up.”
“You’re not coming?” Kenji asked.
Harun shook his head. “Let them rest, they’ve earned it,” he said. “I should be gone before you wake up.”
Kenji nodded solemnly. “I…I guess this is goodbye then. I thought it was before, but I guess now it is.” He smiled. “We have gone a long way.”
“We have,” agreed Harun.
They shook hands. Kenji left.
Securing the last of his possessions in the pack, Harun picked up his most treasured ones save his daisho: the letters from his mother and Arahime. One lost to him, one dead. What would they think of what he did? He secured them carefully away.
He knew he should rest, he would have a few days hard riding ahead of him. But there was something he had to do before he left.

The shrine of Hikahime was quiet, yet it had a few petitioners that night. Harun knelt and did the necessary bows and claps, but his words were less a prayer and more an argument.
Is this what you meant? He asked the Minor Fortune in thought. Is this what you meant when you said I was going to take Toshi Ranbo? He bowed his head. Did you know? Did you know this would happen?
Hikahime had been a peasant up until her death, steadfastly refusing to rise above that even though she had been offered the chance. If Hikahime was still alive, would she understand what Harun had done? Why he had done it? Could she have convinced Karasu?
But on that night, Harun had no answers. He looked up, watching the flags of the Imperial Legion fly above the walls of Toshi Ranbo.

The Isawa stayed at the healers’ tents long into the night, doing their utmost that those who came their had a chance. Yet there was one corner they all seemed to avoid, and when it had to be passed it was done quietly with hushed whispers.
It was here that Isawa Koyo sat. Silent, beside the futon where his wife Isawa Akiko lay dying. Several of the shards of wood from when the bridge exploded had mortally wounded her in several places. She was not expected to last until dawn.
Akiko had come with him from Dragon lands, willingly to stand by him. To help him in his work to recover the fortunes of the Phoenix Clan. But Koyo knew her heart was truly in the home they had built together, the family they had made, the children they had left behind.
And now, Koyo would have to tell the children that their mother was not returning. It did not seem fair. He himself had been prepared to die here, to sacrifice himself. But not to lose her.
As the sun rose over Toshi Ranbo, Koyo prayed. He knew the road ahead would be lonely without her, but he still would take it.

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Mon Aug 20, 2018 8:34 am

Harun rode east in the pouring rain. This and the fact his wound wasn’t completely healed slowed his progress considerably. He stayed in villages, hopefully avoiding any samurai that would ask too many questions.
Finally, on a dreary wet night, he came to the gates of Rokugan Yogasha Shiro. A guard opened the gate, and Saigou came out of the castle carrying a lantern.
“Harun! How did you come to be here?” Saigou looked around. “Are you alone? Where is your father?”
“Father is back at Toshi Ranbo, I came ahead,” Harun said.
Saigou quickly ushered Harun inside, getting the servants to take Harun’s horse to the stable. He had a million questions he wished to ask, but he took one look at Harun and said. “Let’s just get you warm and dry.”
Harun nodded mutely. It had been a long journey and he was tired. For now, he allowed himself to be led like a child.

Later, after a bath and a change, Harun went to the dining room where a meal was waiting for him. Saigou was there, presiding over the table as he had always done in Karasu’s absence.
Harun sat down, the castle seemed large and silent without the presence and sounds of children. It was strange. The younger ones asleep, the older were all away, at school or like Harun had grown and were serving elsewhere.
How long will it be until father comes home? Harun wondered. And what will I face when he does?
Karasu’s words came back to him…Seppuku…sent out as a ronin or monk.
Yet, there had been also the cheers of the Crab and Imperial Legionnaires when he had killed Shimekiri, the welcome had had gotten from Takono Unit. Not everyone thought at the Crane did. Not everyone thought as his father did.
He’s…not right…about everything…
“Harun? You’re very quiet,” said Saigou. “Is there something wrong?”
Harun looked up. “No, well…” He cleared his throat. “Ooji-san, how long have you served father?”
Saigou raised his eyebrows slightly, but didn’t ask questions. “I came here to be the steward of the Emerald Champion’s household two winters after you were born.”
“And before that?” Harun asked.
“I served in the Legion,” said Saigou. “In the ranks, and then as your father’s quartermaster.”
“What about before that?” Harun asked. “Before the Legion.”
Saigou’s face closed a bit. He motioned to one of the servants to bring tea. “That was a different time, Harun,” he said. “What has brought on these questions? Something happened in Toshi Ranbo, didn’t it? You can tell me. Why are you here?”
“Father sent me away,” Harun said shortly. “He suspended me from my command, I left the day after the city fell.”
“You did something, didn’t you?” The tea arrived and Saigou poured for both of them.
Harun nodded. “I…I killed Daigotsu Shimekiri,” said Harun.
“Shimekiri? The Black Kakita?” Saigou looked a little impressed.
Harun nodded again. “The Crane, they were trying to kill him in iaijutsu duels. They were getting killed, and keep getting killed. But I stopped that, I killed him.”
Saigou looked at Harun over his teacup for a long moment. “That would have taken phenomenal skill, Harun.”
Harun nodded. “Father thinks I cheated.”
“And did you?”
Harun shrugged. “That’s not important, I saved all those people. Including the Kakita daimyo, and father.”
“Well, that may be true,” said Saigou. “But killing Shimekiri, that is phenomenal, you should have you lauded as a hero. Why are you here?”
“I am here because father sent me away,” Harun said, staring sulkily into his tea. “He says I shamed him and the entire Crane clan.”
“And did you?” Saigou asked. “What did you do exactly?”
Harun drank down his tea, ignoring its heat scaling his throat. He put his tea cup down. “I got a sniper to shoot him with a gaijin pepper weapon,” said Harun. “The sniper was right behind me while I was in the duelling circle, shot a jade-augmented round into his shoulder. That round put off his first strike, made him drop his katana. He didn’t kill me, so I killed him.”
“And now tell me…why did you do this?” Saigou asked.
Harun looked up angrily at him. Wasn’t it obvious. “Because no one else would do it.”
“I did it to save all those people,” Harun said. “And he had just killed my friend.”
“Nothing more?” Saigou asked, Harun didn’t answer so he went on. “I know you, Harun, you were always one to make stands, fight when you thought you had been done wrong. This is no different. You wanted to kill him, didn’t you?”
Harun frowned. “But…I had no choice.”
“Yes, you did have a choice,” said Saigou. “You could have stayed your hand, not stepped into the duelling circle, stood there while he stopped every Crane in that room one by one. But you didn’t, you had to step up, you saw your chance and you took it.”
Harun looked down, Saigou was right but Harun wouldn’t admit it. “Why are you doing this?”
“I am doing this, Harun, because I know what it is like to carry burdens like this,” said Saigou. “To live with your actions, and their consequences.”
“This…this is from before?” Harun said.
Saigou nodded, memories flashed before his eyes. A ronin, at whim to the winds of fate after leaving the Spider Clan, fighting for his very survival. And the things he had done to assure that. But it wouldn’t do for Harun to hear about that. “I had a different life before the Legion,” he said at last. “I did things I was not proud of, but I also know that we are not judged for our actions as we think we should be. I thought I had been treated unfairly.”
“What did you do?” Harun asked.
“Well, I did what I had to in order to survive,” said Saigou. “And then I joined the Legion. First in the ranks, and then I met your father.” He gave a smile. “The Legion in your father did give me a cause, a reason to keep going. A way to make those burdens lighter.” He poured more tea for them both. “Harun, it is unfortunate that you have been burdened like I was at your age. I was older, able to bear it better.”
Harun drank his tea in silence for a moment. “Ooji-san, what would you say father has in mind for my punishment?”
“I am not sure,” said Saigou. “But try not to worry about it too much. A better question you are going to need to answer is how you are going to live every day after what you have done.”
“But…I’m fine with this,” said Harun. “It’s everyone else that has the problem.”
“And are you so sure about that?” Saigou asked.
Harun wasn’t certain.

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Tue Aug 21, 2018 7:52 am

In the days that followed, Harun tried to occupied himself. Practicing in the dojo, riding and spending some time in the castle library when the weather was too bad. He sat with Saigou in the evenings and they talked of other things. Happier things. Saigou shared a few stories, including some about the Legion and Harun shared some of his own. Whatever would happen, would happen. And there was nothing Harun could do to change it now.
But there was something else, a slow stripping away of Harun’s image of his father. Nurtured since his childhood as a shining hero, a bright example for Harun to aspire to. This was slowly crumbling away by the possibility his father could be wrong. That he would never see eye to eye with Harun on what had happened. That he would never respect what Harun had done.
And that hurt, hurt more than any wound he had had inflicted on him.

Eventually, Harun sighted the laurel banner of the Emerald Champion. Karasu rode in in the late afternoon in the autumn sunshine, flanked by Emerald Magistrate and Legionnaires. Harun stood on an upper balcony of the castle and watched them all ride in. And he knew then that he couldn’t stay.
That evening, Harun came down to the family dinner that was always the tradition when his father came home. He managed to acquit himself fairly given his young siblings were also there, then afterwards he spoke to Karasu in his study and told him.
Karasu’s manner was cold and emotionless. “Can you tell me why?”
Harun shook his head.
“Where will you go?” Karasu asked.
“I thought I might go to Otosan Uchi to visit Aunt Kyoumi and Uncle Kousuda,” said Harun. “It has been a while since I have seen them…and I have wanted to since we knew about Arahime.”
Karasu nodded. “They will be leaving for Kyuden Hida soon.”
“Then, I won’t stay long,” said Harun. “I’ll come back here.” And then I’ll be here while you are gone, he silently added.
“Very well,” said Karasu. “There will be a decision made, you understand?”
“I await your judgment,” said Harun, bowing.

Harun left early the next morning. Karasu watched him, from the balcony in his quarters at the top floor of the castle. What would happen, would happen. And soon.

Two days later, Harun arrived at Shiro sano Kakita. He was received at the gate with a cold frostiness. Word of his actions at Toshi Ranbo had clearly travelled ahead. As he was the Emerald Champion’s son, a Chui of the Imperial Legions and a former Topaz Champion, Harun was known the appropriate amount of hospitality. And nothing more.
A small but comfortable room in an out of the way part of the castle where he was unlikely to run into anyone. Access to the bath house, a perfectly adequate meal on a tray in his room.
These indignities didn’t bother Harun, he had more or less expected him. Anyway, it was hardly fair for him to take out his frustrations on the servants when they were only following orders.
But Harun was not just come here for a rest from the road. After a bath, he changed into practice clothes, made sure his hair and beard were tidy, and set out for the Kakita Duelling Academy.
When he arrived, he could see sensei Kakita Hatsuko leading the younger children in basic katas in the main courtyard. The steady rhythm as they moved from one to the other, jarred a little when Hatsuko saw Harun. But no more than a beat.
“Come children,”Hatsuko said. “Inside.” She looked over the children’s heads at Harun, her gaze icy.
Harun retreated as the children lined up. But before he had time to leave, one of the children turned around to where Hatsuko was looking. It was his little sister Sakimi.
“Harun!” She ran towards him, arms outstretched. Her questions came thick and fast. “When did you get here? Is father with you? What was Toshi Ranbo like?
“Hello Sakimi-chan,” said Harun with a laugh. “I just arrived, father is not with me and Toshi Ranbo…” He looked up ass Hatsuko approached. “…is a story that can wait for another time.” He made a bow to Hatsuko. “Sensei.”
Hatsuko acknowledged Harun with a silent nod as she ushered Sakimi back in line.
“Will I see you later?” Sakimi asked.
“Hopefully,” Harun said, watching her go.
He sat down on a bench in the now empty courtyard. The glare Hatsuko gave him had chilled him.
Perhaps…It was a mistake to come here, Harun thought, No, surely Master Kenshin will at least speak to me…
He went to the sensei’s quarters, ignoring the stares of the people he passed, not stopping. A young student approached Harun and bowed low.
“I need to speak with Master Kenshin-sensei,” said Harun.
The boy took off. He took his time coming back, and when he returned he walked slowly with his eyes downcast. “Ma…Master Kenshin is not at home, he will…be back tomorrow. May…may I offer you some tea?”
“Not at home?” Harun asked. “But he has hardly left the Academy in years…oh.”
The classic snub that wasn’t a snub. And by not saying a word, Kenshin had shown Harun exactly what his views were on his former student’s actions.
As subtle as a slammed door.
Harun bristled with anger. Him too? But what should have I expected?
But before him as a boy watching him with worried eyes.
“Give Master Kenshin my regards when he returns from his travels,” said Harun.
The boy turned and ran off.
Harun strode off towards his room. With purpose, with anger in each step. The gates had closed for the night, but he would not stay a moment longer here than he had to.

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Wed Aug 22, 2018 1:41 am

Otosan Uchi, the first Imperial City that had been lost to the taint of Jigoku, then cleansed and then restored once more to be the capital. Harun had visited many times growing up, visiting Kyoumi and Kousuda’s house. And sometimes, rarely, even staying in his father’s quarters in the Imperial Palace. There of course was that time Akodo Ryoichi had found a very young Harun asleep behind a shoji screen while his father was in the same room having a meeting with the Emperor.
Harun had ridden hard from Shiro sano Kakita, leaving at first light and riding through the night to arrive at the capital just as the gates were opening.
The house where Kousuda and Kyoumi lived had not changed since Harun had last been there. There were still the white birds with the blue ribbon on the gate, painted with a smattering of wildflowers. Arahime had painted those herself, the summer before she had gone to the academy. Seeing them was bittersweet for Harun, he knocked on the gate. A servant opened it. Izumi, who had served the family before Harun was born as her parents had done.
“Kakita-sama?” she bowed low. “Are you expected?”
“No, I am not, don’t trouble yourself,” said Harun. He walked to the front door himself while Izumi saw about his horse.
The front door open and out came Kousuda.
“Harun!” He greeted him warmly. “It is good to see you! Why didn’t you write and tell us?”
“It is good to see you too, Oji-san,” said Harun. “This wasn’t really planned, I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all, not at all,” said Kousuda, ushering Harun inside.
There was something different about Kousuda. More than just the additional lines on his face and grey in his hair and beard. He seemed more gregarious than usual, more effort put in to making sure Harun felt welcome in a house Harun still thought as his second home.
Is this from Arahime’s death? Or from what I did? Kousuda’s association with gaijin pepper was known even if never talked about.
They had light conversation over tea, talking about what had happened in the year since Harun had seen Kousuda at Shiro Moto. Toshi Ranbo even came up, Kousuda asking discreet questions that Harun felt more comfortable answering than direct ones.
“So, tell me, Harun,” said Kousuda as he poured the last of the tea. “Are you just visiting, or is there is some purpose you are here for?”
“Just a visit, it has been a while since I have seen you, longer since I have seen Kyoumi,” said Harun. “Is she around.”
“She is resting, I am sure she will be happy to see you later,” said Kousuda. “We are in the process of preparing for the court in Kyuden Hida and will be leaving in a few days. You are, of course, welcome to stay as long as you like.”
Harun shook his head. “I won’t stay long,” he said. Though he did wonder about them going to court so soon after Arahime’s death, surely they would allow them time to mourn.
Harun’s question was in thought but Kousuda answered it. “It’s fairly important we attend, it will be Kyoumi’s first as the Voice of the Emperor.”
Harun stared at him in shock. “She is replacing Hida Kosan-sama? Now?”
Kousuda nodded. “It was time.”

The house, the garden were filled with memories for Harun. Both happy and painful. Flashes of the summer as and winters he had spent there flashing before his eyes. The Imperial Winter Court had been held a number of times in Otosan Uchi when Harun was growing up, it was far easier in the lean years of war and famine to have the Great Clans gather at the capital than to impose on meagre hospitality. So the Emerald Champion and sizable brood of children had descended on the place periodically, filling the house with the laughter of children.
It was quiet now. Arahime was dead, her brothers Masarugi and Hideyaki away at school. An autumn frost covered the garden. The rock garden still, the flower beds bare of the purple saffron blooms that hid beneath the soil, waiting for spring.
Harun saw Kyoumi a few times in his days there. She seemed very distant when they spoke, perhaps focusing on her new responsibilities as one of the Emperor’s Chosen. She was kept occupied in the preparations for court. The kimono fittings, the many documents she had to read.
Kousuda was around more, polite and again asking no questions. Harun didn’t mind this at all, he had had far worse reception from the Crane clan.
On the day before they were all due to depart, Karasu arrived at the house. Harun was outside on the porched, he wore his purple and white cloak from Unicorn lands against the cold. He heard his father talk with Kyoumi and Kousuda inside but didn’t move or speak. Then he heard the door open.
Harun stood up and bowed, saying nothing.
Karasu radiated cold anger. At first he didn’t look at Harun, but instead looked past him at the garden. Remembering. Remembering that he had once stood there with Harun’s mother Yamada. She had given him words of encouragement when he had needed them, and both of them hoping the war would end before Harun grew up. A vain hope.
Finally he acknowledged Harun, as if reluctant to do so. Harun knew he had to speak.
“Father, I await your judgment,” she said, his head still bowed. “Whatever your will is, I will follow it.”
Karasu was silent for another long moment. “That is not why I have come,” he said. “I have come to tell you will be accompanying us to Kyuden Hida.”
“To the Imperial Court?” Harun asked. “But…why?”
Karasu held out a scroll for Harun to take. “This arrived after you left,” he said.
Harun unrolled the scroll. It bore the mon of Hida Katashi, Champion of the Crab. On were a list of names from the Imperial Legions “to be honoured by the Clan of Hida”. Amongst them Harun could see Koharu, Katsura Hisato…and his own.
“Me?” Harun looked up at Karasu. “They want to honour me?”
Karasu frowned. “The day after you left, the brother of the Crab Champion came to me, he wanted to see you. Apparently he watched you…duel Shimekiri.”
“You don’t like this,” Harun said.
“I don’t, but I don’t have a choice,” said Karasu.
He turned to leave, Harun watched him go. His heart in his mouth, wishing there were words he could say to make it all better, words to help move past the rift between him and his father. But there weren’t any. He went to tell Kyoumi and Kousuda the news then went to his room.
After he had gone, Kyoumi and Kousuda talked.
“I didn’t realise that it was this bad between them,” Kyoumi said sadly.
“Neither did I,” said Kousuda. “Harun is so much like Yamada.” He sighed. “Do you there is hope for them?”
“I think so,’ said Kyoumi. “We will have all winter to find out.”

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Wed Aug 29, 2018 8:58 am

The road to Kyuden Hida was crowded. Not just courtiers, making their way south on horseback or palanquin, but traders also taking advantage of such an influx of people on the road.
Harun travelled alone, he could have gone with one of the official parties but preferred not to. In his purple and white cloak he had a certain air of anonymity that he rather liked.
Harun travelled south through Crane lands, staying in the villages and inns on the way. He was more or less lost in the crowd that were heading the same way, it was sort of refreshing. But still, he preferred to keep out of crowds while actually travelling. Too many reminders of the Legion.
Finally, he entered the lands of the Crab Clan. Travelling first through the lands of the Yasuki family--the lands of his father Yasuki Nakura—and then crossing Earthquake Fish Bay to where Kyuden Hida stood proudly on the cliffs above.
Massive, impressive and impregnable, the castle was decked out with flags in the colours of the Great Clans with the Imperial banner displayed most prominently. And further south still was the wall that separated Rokugan from the Shadowlands, the Kaiu Kabe. Harun had heard about it all his life, but seeing it for himself was almost unreal. Beyond imagination, beyond belief, extending west as far as the eye could see. It seemed impossible that these could be made by mere men. And not only that, but it had fallen during Harun’s lifetime.
As people neared the castle, their credentials were checked before they entered. When it came time for Harun to present his chop, it couldn’t be found on the official list. “You are with the Crane Clan? What did you say your name was?”
“Kakita Harun, and I might be with the Imperial Legion guests,” he said.
The man did a double take and bowed low. “My apologies, Kakita-sama,” he said. “The Imperial Legion are being quartered separately.” He gave a signal for someone to take Harun’s horse and another to lead him into the castle. “Forgive me, Kakita-sama, but can I ask…is it true you killed Daigotsu Shimekiri with a gaijin powder weapon.”
These words had the effect of a rock being thrown into a calm pond. Everyone fell silent around him, and Harun noticed there were a few Crane.
“That was…not how it happened,” said Harun. “But yes, yes that was me.”
Harun felt a swell of pride as he went up to the castle.

Carved from a mountain by Osano-Wo with lightning, Kyuden Hida was cold and severe. No paintings or tapestries adorned its walls, no gardens of flowers or trees were in its grounds. The overall effect was rather suffocating, as if one could be absorbed within the stone itself. But it was honest.
Much of the castles barracks and storage rooms had been given over to the guests. Each clan had its own section with another for the Imperials, the Unicorn escaping the castle altogether and preferring to pitch their yurts in a courtyard.
Harun’s room was so small it was almost cell like, one of several in a row where the other Imperial Legions were to be. He was the first to arrive, and when he went in he noticed that some of his possessions from home were there. Including the chest his mother Yamada had left him.
Did father bring this? Harun wondered. Where is he? Does he mean anything by this?
Harun put it out of his mind, as Saigou had said it would happen when it did.
He set out to explore the rest of the castle, but not before opening the chest and getting a slight whiff of the vanilla and sandalwood scene within.

The castle was a slurry of people trying to find rooms. Servants and attendants running around with possessions. Trying to locate the bathhouse, the stores, the laundry.
Kakita Kyoumi and Kousuda were shown to quarters where the Imperial Court were being house, specious befitting her status as the Voice of the Emperor. Kyoumi went about seeing to their possessions while Kousuda looked up at the blank walls.
“Leave it to the Crab to not pretend,” he said dryly.
Kyoumi had foreseen this, she found the hanging scrolls and silk flowers she had brought from home. “This will be a new start for us all,” she said. “And perhaps it is better we start on a blank page.”

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Wed Sep 05, 2018 6:49 am

That evening after a meal, Harun went over the castle trying to find where things were. He found the dojo easily enough, simple to the point of austerity with the smell of sweat that seemed to cling to the tatami mats.
He went outside, out onto the walls that made Kyuden Hida impregnable. Below him was the sea at the bottom of the cliffs, and to the south he could see the wall stretching far into the distance.
There was a fresh wind blowing up here too, and it felt good to be out in it. Harun looked along the walls and saw a familiar figure. Dressed in the drab brown of a ronin, somehow looking both out of place yet in perfect command of herself.
She walked towards him. “Harun, so this is where you are!” She looked him up and down with some satisfaction.
“Koharu-chui,” Harun said, bowing appropriate to her rank. “It feels a much longer since I have seen you last.”
“It has,” she agreed. “I tried to find you after, hear all about that baka Shimekiri…but you had already left.” She sounded a little disappointed.
“Yes, I left the next day,” said Harun.
“What?” Koharu looked at him in shock.
Harun shrugged. “My father, he reassigned me,” he said. “Not everyone was…appreciative of what I did, of how I killed Shimekiri.”
Koharu gave a sound of disgust. “The baka was dead, what more could they want? If they want it different, they could have done it themselves.” She looked at him. “But they didn’t, did they? You killed him.”
Harun smiled a little. “It is so good to hear you talk like that,” he said. “I’ve missed the honesty of the Legion camp, my clan is not known for such things.”
“There are, perhaps, advantages to have no clan to lay claim to,” said Koharu.
“Well, perhaps for not much longer,” said Harun.
“What?” Koharu looked at him suspiciously.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of the Great Clans approach you during court to have you swear your sword,” said Harun. “You made a name for yourself, Koharu, its how these things work.”
Koharu looked sceptical. “I have hardly the illustrious ancestors to qualify.”
“I doubt that will matter,” said Harun, he held out his hands. “Look at where we are, Koharu. From what I know about the Crab Clan, everything about them is proving yourself. What you can do and what you have done, and you have done that.”
“And you,” Koharu added.
Harun frowned. “I am not so sure about myself.”
“Perhaps here you can have what your clan and family have denied you,” Koharu said.
“I hope not,” said Harun. “I don’t want to be a pawn in someone else’s game. And you should be careful too, Koharu. Court is in many ways more dangerous than the battlefield.”
“Ah, so the young prince is giving me advice,” Koharu said with a laugh. “And do what to plan to do with yourself?”
“Keep my head down as much as I can,” said Harun.

The Imperial court started the next day. Harun had to attend at least today for the gift presentations, even if as a guest of the Crab he was a lot freer than the ones officially sent by the clans.
There was something else as well, he knew Kakita Kyoumi was being presented to the court as the new Voice of the Emperor and did not want to miss that.
That morning, he tried to make his kinky hair behave hoping not to resort to lacquer. It was long and getting quite unmanageable, but he managed to at least make it into a presentable topknot. After tidying his beard, he slipped into his formal kataginu. Such a pale blue it was almost white, with the Kakita mons on each side. It was long and stiff with boning, almost like trying to wear a kite.
Then, after securing his daisho to his obi, he went down to court.
Harun had to run the gauntlet of stares and whispers as he went though the castle. He had drawn such attention and curiosity almost all his life. Not just for being one of the Emerald Champion’s children but for his dark features. This had only increased after Harun had killed Shimekiri.
Not for the first time, Harun simply wanted to disappear. He would rather people speak to him than stare.
Once he got inside, Harun went to where the other Legion guests were gathered, but to do that he had to walk right past the Crane delegation who were pointedly polite to him. Doji Teruhime, daughter of Crane Champion Doji Ayumu and serving as Crane ambassador for the court, practically stared through him.
Harun turned his attention to those around him instead. All were from the Imperial Legions, but he knew only Koharu and Katsura Hisato, Taisa of the First Legion. And as Harun had predicted, the two ronin were getting not a small amount of attention from some Crab bushi.
There were a lot of people in the room, pressing close together for space. Harun tried not to let this bother him too much, but it felt quite closed and suffocating.
The Chosen were gathered on the dais, waiting for proceedings to begin. The Imperial Advisor, Kitsuki Sakome, sitting silently in a meditation posture. Imperial Treasurer, Doji Arami, deep in conversation with the Jade Champion Kuni Tsuya. And closest to the front was Chancellor Ide Meiryo, reading a document with Kakita Kyoumi next to him. Meiyo’s rather gaijin looking attire of purple hat and embroidered deel stood out next to the traditional garb of the others on the dais, but given he had been Chancellor a number of years it was tactfully ignored.
Kyoumi looked as silent as a doll, and with the elaborate hair, make up and the jade ornaments she wore, just as untouchable. It hard for Harun to reconcile what he saw too what he knew of Kyoumi. This was the same woman who had made kites for them as children? That had run into the ocean with them to swim at those summers on the shore?
But behind them all was another presence, hidden by the golden screen and with a light behind him so that he was shown as a silhouette: the Emperor himself, Iweko II. It had been a number of years since the Emperor had permitted others to see him in the full court, which was not very surprising as Harun knew from the conversations he overheard that the Emperor was of a rather advanced age now. To the extent where the subject of a regency with the underage heir, Prince Kiseki, had been raised more than once, but never taken further.
Harun didn’t know the details, but given the heir to the throne was to officially make his gempukku in the spring, perhaps the entire idea had been abandoned.
At a signal from behind the screen, Chancellor Ide Meiryo began to speak and the room fell silent.
“The Imperial Court is called into session, in the reign of the Son of Heaven, Iweko II in the thirty-fifth year of his reign.” He paused, taking a general glance around the room. “We give thanks to the Crab Clan for hosting as well as wish for the fortunes to guide the words and the choices made by those present towards wisdom.” A few bowed their heads at this. Meiryo continued. "The court has gathered at a particular critical juncture for the Emerald Empire. The Seals to Jigoku have been closed, and the Imperial Legions and the Great Clans have claimed back the city of Toshi Ranbo. The forces of the Onyx have been routed. It is a new age."
The Chancellor turned and gave a bow to large man wearing the robes of a monk. He was powerfully built but covered with the fine wrinkles of advanced age, his head shaved. Still there was a timelessness about his features. The man stood inconspicuously to one side, but when the court saw the Chancellor bow to him, they gasped. For Harun, recognition dawned slowly. The Man was Hida Kozan, Voice of the Emperor, now without makeup or finery. Kozan returned the bow in silence.
The Chancellor straightened and continued. "A new age requires new voices to guide us all towards the future. The Son of Heaven appoints Kakita Kyoumi, daughter of Kakita Yoshirou of the line of Kakita Masarugi, as the new Voice of the Emperor. May the Fortunes and traditions of her ancestors guide her and grant her wisdom.”
Everyone in the room bowed low and formally. Kyoumi herself seemed apart from all this, almost immune. Yet she gave one movement, glancing sideways to just behind the screen where the Emperor was.
“It is a new age; Chancellor Ide Meiryo-sama speaks wisdom.” Kyoumi said, her voice clear and her eyes fixed ahead. "A new age grown from toil and suffering and loss. Grown from an age that must never be forgotten. This new age must focus on vigilance and diligence, that the evils of the past may never reoccur." With that she looked towards the Crab Clan Champion. "But this is an age of rebuilding. Of recreating ourselves and our world into an Empire that can know peace, can know beauty, can know prosperity for all the citizens of the Empire. And for rebuilding, we must turn to our our artists, artisans and poets to create such a new age. This winter, the Imperial Court will host the Turquoise Championship. We not only hope that the Turquoise Champion foster a return towards beauty and the art, but may the contest itself inspire the Emerald Empire to do likewise for years to come.”
With a slight bow, Kyoumi then takes her place on the dais. The Chancellor began calling forward the clan delegates by name to present their gifts to the Emperor.
This went on for sometime, and Harun wasn’t the only one to lose interest. He looked around at the other guests. He could see all of the Great Clan Champions, present but slightly apart from the actual proceedings. The only one Harun didn’t see was the Scorpion Clan Champion, Bayushi Kayano, but with that many people it was easy to miss people.
People up in turn to present their gifts, eventually the Phoenix Clan had their turn. The ambassador, Isawa Koyo, coming to present his gift: a small tree seedling from his home village. Harun hadn’t met him, but he knew that Koyo had been at Toshi Ranbo. Had in fact led a contingent of shugenja and they had summoned a massive wave and earthquake down one of the walls at Toshi Ranbo which had been critical to securing city. Apparently, Koyo was tipped to be the next Master of Earth. But with the Elemental Council formally disbanded and the Phoenix Champion not being seen in many years, it was anyone’s guess what would happen.
After the Unicorn Clan had presented their gifts, it was the turn of the Imperial Legion guests. When Harun’s name was called, the court fell to total silence. Harun went forward holding his gift in his hands. His own sashimono, the small rectangular banner he wore attacked to his armour in battle. Emerald green in colour, with the mons of the First Imperial Legion and Takano Unit
“Tenno, this one is Kakita Harun, son of Kakita Karasu of the line of Kakita Masarugi. This one served in the Imperial Legions at Toshi Ranbo; fighting in your name, slaying your enemies and leading men who had sworn to do the same. Many died fighting in your name at Toshi Ranbo, it was the will of the Fortunes that this one was not among them. It is to honour those who have fallen that this one gives to you the banner carried into battle.” He bowed low, offering the gift. When it was taken, he retreated back to the crowd.
The other Legion guests looked pleased at Harun’s gift, but it wasn’t just for them Harun had done this. He knew that this would be seen in a different light by others, especially those among the Crane Clan. And his father.
I don’t want to get involved with these games, he thought, but I can at least send them a message.

Once the court was over for the day, it was a relief for Harun to be out in the open air. He had intended to find somewhere quiet where he could think clearly, but he wasn’t to have that luxury. A woman approached him, in her forties perhaps, and by the elaborate attire she wore in the colours of the Crab Clan, a Yasuki.
My father Nakura’s family, Harun thought with a smile.
“Forgive me,” she said, bowing. “But are you Kakita Harun-Chui, son of Kakita Karasu?”
“Yes, I am,” Harun said, returning her bow. “Is there anything I may assist you with, Yasuki-san?”
“My apologies, Kakita-chui, but…I believe I am your aunt,” said the woman. “I am Yasuki Momoibura, your birth father, Yasuki Nakura-no-shryo, was my brother.”
Harun’s voice caught in his throat for a moment. “I…I am most pleased to meet you, Yasuki-san,” said Harun, giving her a genuine smile. “Or should I say…aunt?”
“You may,” Momoibura said with a smile.
“My mother Yamada, she left me a letter she wrote before I was adopted,” said Harun. “It mentioned you and…a brother of my father’s?”
“Soyokaze-no-shryo,” said Momoibura. “He…has passed to Yomi these ten years, but I am sure his children…your cousins will want to meet once I have told them I have claimed kin with you, Kakita-chui.”
“More family?” Harun asked, a little stunned.
“Yes, may I ask you to tea? Tomorrow perhaps?” Momoibura asked. Your mother Yamada wrote to me as well and it was her wish for you to know of your Yasuki heritage.”
“Of course, after the Crab petition to the court,” said Harun. “And if we are family, perhaps you best call me Harun.”
“It is agreed then,” said Momoibura with a nod. “Perhaps…you could attend the petition as well and stand with us? Your actions at Toshi Ranbo have made a name for yourself among the Crab, Harun, even if it is not recognised by all.”
“I will,” Harun promised. Wondering what she meant by this.

The next day, Harun was with the Crab when their petition was put forward to the Imperial Court, and he was made welcome among them. The Yasuki Daimyo, Yasuki Kagami welcomed him, but it was not he who put forward the Crab petition, but the Champion of the Crab Clan himself, Hida Testuyori.
Hida Tetsuyori was tall and broad-shouldered, by both Rokugani and by Crab standards. When he started to speak, his voice was low and clear. He at first thanked the Emperor the Chosen and the Great Clans for gracing the halls of his ancestors, especially in light of the recent past which had been the “greatest trial the Clan of Hida had ever faced.”
“The Crab wish to inform the court that those who similarly have stood strong against the forces of darkness will be honoured as the Crab honour their own for the same. We wish to offer those of the Imperial Legions to make an oath of fealty to swear their swords to the Crab Clan.” He looked at the small piece of paper in his hand and read out a list of names, this included Katsura Hisato and Koharu. And this caused a small reaction not just from the Legion guests, but from the other clans. When this died down, Tetsuyori continued. “The Crab also wish to offer the highest honour for the ones we see stood strongest of all, who did not hesitate to do what was necessary to take down the enemies of Rokugan.” There was another reaction to this, quickly falling to silence as he read out more names. Most of them were from the Crab Clan, Harun drifted off a little but his attention returned when Tetsuyori read some names that were clearly from other Great Clans. “…Mirumoto Tsushino of the Dragon Clan, Yoritomo Sano of the Mantis Clan, Isawa Koyo of the Phoenix Clan and Kakita Harun of the Crane Clan.”
There was an audible gasp at this, especially from the Crane delegation for whom some could not contain their disdain. The Crab among Harun were pleased and congratulated him, but Harun himself felt a little numb. This was the highest honour the Crab could give a samurai, rarely given to those who still lived let alone those who were not Crab themselves. It felt right, it felt good to be finally recognised. And…it wasn’t as if he was not part Crab himself.
Harun looked over to the other clan delegations where there was similar scenes, except for the Phoenix where any reaction had died down quickly due to Isawa Koyo himself not reacting at all.

Kakita Karasu was also in the main court when Harun’s name and the honour he was being given was read out. He noticed Harun among the clans, standing still, silent as the Crab congratulated him. Harun showed no emotion, but Karasu knew better. He knew that this was what Harun had wanted all along. From the Kakita, from the Crane Clan and most of all from Karasu himself.
Well, he’s not going to get that, Karasu thought with a frown. And he still doesn’t know what he has done wrong.
Karasu wanted to go over to him, impress again on Harun of the grievous mistake he had made in killing Shimekiri how he had. But he also knew, the more he pressed Harun, the further Harun would be from him.
Hopefully, hopefully, Harun will see it for himself…before it is too late…

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Thu Sep 06, 2018 9:28 pm

After the court was done for the day, Harun quickly went back to his quarters. He opened the chest his mother Yamada gave him and took out a silk bag. He held in his hands for a few moments, unsure whether to give it away. It felt right, but if he gave this away he had only had one…
He took it with him, heading down where to where the Crab who had travelled to Kyuden Hida were lodged. Harun’s arrival caused more than a little attention from the Crab bushi. He had after all been one of the ones to be honoured at Koten later that winter, word had gotten around. So quite a few approached Harun, commending him and of course asking questions. These came thick and fast until Harun was unable them all. He asked where he might find Yasuki Momoibura and then excused himself.
He gently tapped at a door which was opened by a young girl with…familiar eyes.
“You are…Kakita Harun-chui?” she asked.
Harun nodded.
The girl made a bow. “My name is Yasuki Mimiko, would you please come in?”
Harun made a slight bow and followed her inside. She led him down a dark stone corridor to a room where half the small space was taken up by a shoji screen that seemed to be covering…what looked to be a large pile of clothes wrapped up in bundles. In front of the screen, were cushions, a tea set and a brazier where Momoibura was instructing another girl in the way making tea. She gave a bow.
“Harun, welcome, please sit,” she says. “You have met Mimiko-chan, this is my eldest Ayame.”
Ayame bowed. “A pleasure to meet you, Kakita-chui.” Her sister Mimiko sat next to her.
“The pleasure is mine,” said Harun, bowing. And taking a seat “To know that I have family and to feel welcome among them is truly a blessing. But first…” He reaches beside him for the silk bag. “I wish to give you this…small token. It means a lot to me that it has returned to these lands.”
Harun knew he could claim both Crab and Unicorn blood as his own, but growing up with the Crane he of course knew how to properly present a gift. He held it in both hands towards it.
“After I made my gempukku, I received some items from my mother Yamada that she had given to my adoptive father,” he said. “This was among them.” With one hand he removed the silk bag to reveal…his father’s shamisen. The girls stared at it, Momoibura gave a soft gasp.
“Is that?” Momoibura asked.
Harun gave a slight nod. “I give this to you, so it may again make music in the lands from which it came.”
“I cannot accept this,” Momoibura said tightly, blinking. “It yours, well and truly. It is your hands that should play it, Harun.”
“My hands, I must confess, are not able for this,” admitted Harun. “Though this was not for the lack of trying at the Kakita Academy. It would be far more of a joy to hear it played by someone capable.”
“But…you have so little to remember your father,” objected Momoibura. “Us who knew Nakura-no-shryo do have memories, giving away his shamisen is giving away one of the few pieces you have.”
“Your memories are far more precious gift that I hope I can share in,” said Harun. “And if you accept, I will consider this…how do the Yasuki put it?...a fair trade.”
Momoibura smiled. “I accept,” she said. “And I think there is more Yasuki in you than you realise.”
Ayame served the tea.
“So, tell me, Harun,” said Momoibura. “What do you know of your father?”
Can I tell them about the ritual? How will they take it?
Harun decided to start small. “Very little, I am afraid,” he said. “My mother Yamada, she wrote me a little about him in the letter she left for me…she told me about you and your brother as well. It said that he was a merchant, travelled extensively and knew the secrets of Friendly Traveller Sake.”
“Yes, those and other secrets,” said Momoibura with a nod.
“You mean…Yoritomo Aramasu’s ashes?” Harun asked. “I understand this was why he was challenged to the duel.”
“Yes, that is true,” said Momoibura, her face tightening a little. “I heard from your mother directly about…what happened that day. He showed courage that I did not know he possessed.”
“I have heard the same,” said Harun, he drank from his teacup and put it down. He had to tell them. “I…I am not sure if this will seem strange to you…but I was fortunate enough to know my father better than…I ever thought possible.”
“What do you mean?” Momoibura asked.
“A year ago, I was at Shiro Moto, the Jade Magistrate and Sodan Senzo Akodo Zetsubou-no-shryo was there to cleanse the lands of the taint,” said Harun. “The Blessed Ancestors from Yomi were called to assist and…” Harun hesitated. “…my father’s spirit was the first to come.”
“You…saw his shryo?” Momoibura asked, her voice hushed.
Harun nodded. “He practically ran out to see me, and we spoke.”
“You are most fortunate, Harun, to have that happen,” said Momoibura, blinking again. “May I ask…what he said?”
“We only spoke briefly, but each word we shared was a treasure I never knew I would possess,” said Harun. “He….my father…he told me he was proud of me, and that I had more honour in me than I had in his life.”
“Then I would not doubt his word,” said Momoibura loyally.
They spoke of other things for a time. Momoibura asked Harun about his childhood and the Legion, she in turn told him about Nakura as well as Harun’s other cousins from her brother Soyokaze who had died defending the wall about five years ago. Eventually, Ayame picked up the shamisen and started to tune it.
“Ayame-chan,” Momoibura gently chastised.
“No, I would like to hear it,” said Harun. “It must be years since anyone has played it.”
After she tuned it, Ayame played a soft, gentle tune. Pleasant, peaceful, joyful. And while Harun knew that the last fingers that had played those strings were his father’s, he could not help let his mind wander. Back to the Kakita Academy, the gardens in spring where a young girl with white hair played beneath the sakura tree.

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