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Coyote Walks

[TP] The Second Battle of Tomorrow

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Tomorrow’s Prophets

The Second Battle of Tomorrow

Written by Coyote

Concept by Tetsuhiko

Edited by Raven & Tetsuhiko

 

Please have a look and let us know what you think.  Contributions from fans at tournaments and on this very Board have shaped the story so far.

 

We appreciate any feedback you have.  (And please let me know if you would like a PDF of this story.)

 

 

 

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     Iweko Seiken hit the ground hard as he was knocked off his horse.  The steed was a gift from the Unicorn that had found their way to Yogen-Sha Toshi.  And that horse was now being unmade by one of the translucent monstrosities that infested the body of the horror, Tomorrow.  Even as the Emperor-to-be brought his katana down on the dragon shaped thing, he knew that there was nothing that he could do to stop the animal from being dissolved into grey mist.

 

***********************

 

 

      As I write this journal entry, I wonder if this will be a turning point in our survival or the beginning of an epitaph on how we failed.  The last day has seen more activity than this city has seen in months.  The forces aligned with Iweko Seiken seem to share in his disdain of those who want to build, as they simply want to go out and conquer.  They wish to leave the defense of the city to the Rangers and magistrates, of which there are woefully too few.

 

     These groups are still doing what they can for the offensive, despite the insult.  The Magistrates are in the middle of a ceremony to bless the blades of the Crane that are going out to fight.  Agasha Kokiden was able to get the few Shiba that are to be part of the ‘expedition’ into the closed Crane Blessing.  Doji Ayano allowed it as long as Kokiden-san was absent and the Shiba involved were sworn to secrecy.  Oddly enough, every samurai with one of Kokujin’s tattoos has refused to take part in the Blessing.

 

     The Rangers have compiled their maps as well as can be expected in such a chaotic environment.  They protest at every opportunity that they cannot guarantee that the maps will work with so many travelling through the mist.  They all seem to believe that having so many people outside of the city will act like a beacon for the Tomorrow spawn.  They have wisely kept clear of Kokujin or his tattooed followers.  My sense is that Asako Kaitoko has advised them of her private opinion of what is driving this offensive.

 

    A part of me is glad to see her still being able to run the organization without her chief lieutenant, Kitsune Hayashi.   The other part of me would like us to have as many bodies on hand for the defense of the city.  The one-armed Ranger has been missing for over two weeks, after he left without his ubiquitous Naga companion.  Kaitoko-san will only say that the strange Mantis has the ability to find and use a weapon unique to his family.  She still hasn’t told me why the Naga stayed behind.

 

     And then there is Matsu Tsuko-sama and her Army.  She believes that the loyalty of the Lion in Kokujin’s ‘Army’ is suspect and refuses to recruit from them.  This presented a slight problem, as she needed aids to organize her forces.  She has also refused to ask any Lion that served as Rangers in Rokugan to join her.  I was confused by this at first, but I have come to understand that she has a deep respect for the scouts and feels that the ongoing efforts of the Rangers keeps them sharper than any training at a dojo would.  Fortunately, an Akodo by the name of Kenaro has been recently taken in from the Mist and I was able to assure him that he was worthy to serve under the legendary Matsu Tsuko and alongside Matsu Gohei.  Tsuko-sama only accepted him as a part of her command staff after she made him train with her ashigaru for a week.

 

     As it is, they are hard pressed to keep up with Iweko Seiken’s schedule, even with Akodo Kenaro and Matsu Gohei’s help.  A part of me has come to wonder if Iweko-dono simply wants to wipe away all the troublesome elements he sees as in his way.

I hope that many years from now I can look at this journal and laugh at my foolishness.  And then burn this book in shame.  I hope….

 

          -Ikoma Akiyama

 

***********************

 

 

     “My Lord!” Seiken heard right before he felt someone pass behind him.  It was one of Matsu Tsuko’s war leaders.  A man name Kenaro, if he remembered corrected.  The Imperial Heir turned in time to see the Lion parry the claws of two of the Mist-spawn that were coming right for Seiken.

 

     Only feet away, the Akodo proved his mastery of the blade as he kept the beast away from his lord.  Not one slash of the claws or gnash of the teeth found its way to Rokugani flesh due to his skill.  The Lion bought time for Seiken to decapitate one of the smaller dragons that got too close.  A third was advancing quickly on them, this one the size of an Otaku steed.

 

     The rest of Iweko Seiken’s contingent had yet to catch up to him.  The Mist had a damnable habit of changing the distances between objects if they weren’t in line of sight of each other.  He could hear his yojimbo, Kakita Toshimoko, but he could not see him.  All the leader of the Rokugani forces could see was the Mist Dragon barreling towards him.

 

     Akodo Kenaro didn’t hesitate to place himself in between the raging monster and the future Emperor.  The War Leader’s katana bit into the creature’s flesh at the mouth and he proceeded to cut along the length of its body.  The dragon turned away from Seiken to strike at the human that was causing it such harm.  Only after the Lion’s spine was severed, did the beast fall to the ground and bleed to death.

 

***********************

 

 

     Shinjo Shono looked at the map in his hands and quietly hoped that this would not end the way that Asako Kaitoko had privately confessed to him that she thought it would.  By his count they have already lost at least fifty ashigaru and a handful of samurai.  The Mist won’t allow this many people to travel together and the order of their march kept changing.  He began at the head of the campaign but when he rode ahead to scout, he came upon the rear of the march.  That was three hours ago.

 

     Once Shono made it back to the head of expedition where Iweko Seiken-dono rode, he informed his new lord of what he had seen and the number of troops lost before any fighting had begun.  The Iweko Heir’s response was to keep moving.  As if to spite Seiken, the center detachment appeared before them in the Mist.   Cursing loudly, the would-be Emperor chastised the Keeper of Armies to keep her troops better trained.  Shono watched in amazement as Matsu Tsuko held her tongue and abstained from any violence.

 

     Things only got worse from there.  The supply caravan that carried their food, water, and medicines disappeared with the Rangers assigned to it an hour later.   An hour after that, two of Shono’s best Shinjo Outriders vanished completely.  Somehow, everyone around them looked away at the same moment and when they all looked back a bank of fog stood where the samurai and their horses once were.

And now Shono realized that the map in his hands was completely worthless.  The size of the Rokugani force was warping the layout of the Mist.  None of the markers held anymore and the whole army was about to become lost.  He made a quick glance around to see if anyone else had noticed.  The Qolsa looked concerned and an Ikoma Ranger at the back of his immediate group appeared downright panicked.

 

     The Shijo Daimyo was about to warn Iweko Seiken about their situation, when it went from worse to terrible.  The Mist seemed to contract away from the Army and pull in upon itself.  The forces from Yogen-Sha Toshi found themselves in a wide dusty plain as the Mist coalesced into the semi-solid forms of dragons.  And when Shono saw the eyes of those Dragons, he saw the sunsets of a thousand lost days.  He also saw that the Army he was in was half the size it should have been.

 

     None of the Tattooed, save one Isawa Kido, remained of Kokujin’s Army to fight beside them.  At some point they disappeared or were unmade, the Unicorn lord wasn’t sure.  All he knew was that the oncoming horde of Tomorrow’s children outnumbered the remaining forces two or three to one.

 

***********************

 

 

     Iweko Seiken grabbed the bow as his yojimbo, Kakita Toshimoko, cleanly cut through another of the alien monstrosities that glided too close.   The owner of the bow was a Tsuruchi whose name was already slipping from Seiken’s mind.  All he really knew of the Mantis was that he wore a yellow and black arm band that had remained behind with the yumi as his body dissolved from a mist dragon’s bite.  The arm band was tangled around the string of the bow and the Imperial Heir couldn’t spare a moment to be rid of the ridiculous thing.

 

     He simply nocked an arrow and released it to its fate.  He repeated the motions in the frantic scene he was in until there were no more arrows to fire.  They flew through the air and more often than not, struck the malicious beast confronting him.  A part of his mind registered the fact that fewer of his arrows had fulfilled their destinies of bringing death to the enemy than those let loose by the bow’s former owner.  The Wasp armband shook with its muted, mocking laughter.

 

     A scream helped Seiken shake off the strange thoughts that befuddled his mind and he looked around for the source.  A Phoenix Shugenja, one of Kokujin’s Tattooed, was howling at a Mist Dragon that was easily twice the size of the beast that had killed Akodo Kenaro.  Even thought it was in no way close to his position, he could hear her raving about how it had to stay away from her Lord Iweko.

 

     Seiken had been around enough Shugenja to know that when they invoked the gifts of the kami, chanting and recitation of their entreaty to those spirits was a part of the spellcasting.  The Imperial Heir saw no scrolls nor heard any prayer.  The woman simply held out her hand towards the monsters and a demon of red light in samurai armor issued forth from her palm.  An imposing eight foot tall apparition that would have easily soiled the loincloth of any ji-samurai.  But the Mist Dragons ignored it.

 

     Suddenly, a light burned through the back of the shugenja’s kimono.  A flaming Phoenix Mon danced on the fair skin of the northern maiden and caught her black hair on fire along with her clothes.  The fire soon consumed her entire form as it also consume two of the lesser Tomorrow-spawn that came too close to the Phoenix.  The blaze leapt from blacken bones to the spectre, forcing the thing in samurai garb to become tangible.  The greater Mist Dragon roared a challenge to this new threat as it established its reality.  The apparition made flesh that would later be called Mononoke-no-Kido by the survivors, drew a katana of fire from the nothing of Tomorrow and charged.

 

***********************

 

 

     The mad monk, called Kokujin for the many tattoos that darkened every inch of his flesh, marched soundlessly through the Grey Mist.  His tattooed forces, referred to by the fools of Yogen-Sha Toshi as Kokujin’s Army, marched behind him in silence.  They did not march wordlessly out of any sense of the importance for the mission or out of a humbling respect for their visionary leader.   Nor did they trek through the unknown quietly out of an awareness of their own mortality.  They said nothing for the simple reason that he had nothing for them to say.  The tattoos these samurai bore restricted all free thinking and enslaved them to the will of the monk that carved the blood ink into their flesh.  The only escapes were madness and death.

 

     Of the seventy some troops that remained, only three of them retained a sense of self apart from the failed Togashi.  Akodo Raikitsu had found liberation in madness and would not be bound by anything other than his own crazed sense of duty.  He was one of the few tattooed out of the first batch that still served Kokujin faithfully and didn’t allow himself to fall to the children of Tomorrow.  After they broke away from that fool’s crusade, scores of the monk’s troops were unmade in the first encounter with the Mist dragons.

 

     The ogre, Masajiro, had joined them after the army separated away from Seiken’s Folly.  The ogre was more interested in making sure that they avoided another ambush than in conversation.  This opinion was shared by Kokujin’s only captive, a Himura Ranger that had not been given a tattoo.  There were two Rangers with them before the surprise attack by the Mist creatures, but in the confusion the Heichi Ranger slipped away.

 

     The Monk briefly regretted the loss of the Boar as a possible pawn, until he remember the troops that disappeared trying to find her.  She was a friend or acquaintance of some sort to that silly, Naga loving Mantis.  Kokujin reasoned that he would just have to find another way to purge the Snake-people and the humans that collaborated with them.  He would add it to the list of the many corrections that needed to be made to his new world.

 

     The Himura did his best to guide them deep into the Mist and did an even better job controlling his fear.  Kokujin observed the Crab with amusement as they traveled.  He couldn’t tell if the Ranger more afraid of the Mist, the monk, or his tattooed pawns that were quickly losing what little sanity they had left.

 

     As they got closer to his goal, the thralls under Kokujin’s control began to dwindle.  Some of them stopped dead in their tracks and drooled as they stared off into the Mist.  Others became enraged and began attacking everyone around them.  The only ones that the monk didn’t have put down immediately were the runners.  Some would just bolt from their formation without saying a word, while others started screaming as loud as they could when their sanity broke and they fled from the monsters only they could see.

 

     “Why let them live, Master?” Raikitsu asked.  I was the first time all day Kokujin had heard him speak.  “Couldn’t they give away our position?”

Kokujin resisted the urge to laugh manically.  He contented himself with subdued chuckle.  “You could say the same of the trail of broken toys I’ve left behind.  At least these toys can act as decoys while they are breaking.”

 

     So the farther his group traveled, the smaller it became. If any of the samurai following Kokujin still had their reason, many of them would have realized that those close to the monk weren’t being affected by the Mist and would have pushed to be closer to him.  The lunacy of the tattooed man acted as a buffer of sorts to the incomprehensible effect of the thickening Mist.  A weak mind could be torn to sherds by the tidal forces of these insanities.  It was just a well that these unwilling followers were stopped from thinking and remembering.  They did not know, nor did they care when their Master had finally come to his destination.

 

     What was left of their army entered a clearing in the Mist and Kokujin allowed himself a smile as he gazed upon the manifestation of Tomorrow, what he had hoped to be the sleeping heart of the Time-Eater.  The monk’s smug mood was interrupted by his Ranger prisoner dropping everything and falling to his knees.  The man began to mumble as tears of blood ran down his cheeks.

 

     “It cannot be!” the Himura declared in confusion.  “How is the Wall empty?  And why would the Nezumi need to protect us from it?  It cannot be.”

 

     The Crab’s eyes rolled into his head and he fell forward as he was overcome by the vision.  His body hit the ground with a poof instead of a thud.   The Ranger was unmade into mist just as his head hit the ground.  All that remained of the Himura scout was his Daisho that the ogre, Masajiro, carried.

 

     Akodo Raikitsu was the next to speak.  “I’ve been to the Wall.  This encampment is nothing like the Wall.  These beast that walk like men, bearing our weapons, have no place pretending they are anything like us.  I see the Ratlings surrounding the camp.  It’s lucky for them that most of these monsters sleep.  They’ll be slaughtered when the beasts wake.”

 

     Kokujin looked to the ogre and nodded to him after the Lion spat out his disgust.  Masajiro understood, without the use of words.

 

     “A mountain.  A great, defiant mountain covered in claws and horns of obsidian.  All pointing up.  When the mountain wakes, it will pierce the Heart of the Heavens,” the orge said.  “I also see the Scavenger People.  They are not enough to stop the mountain.”

 

     The insane Ise Zumi waited to see if either Masajiro or the Lion would disappear and feed the Time-Eater.  When they did not, he turned his attention back to the enemy’s heart.  He did not see the Carpenter Wall, a monstrous encampment, or a demonic mountain.  Kokujin saw what he has always seen, an arrogant Dragon that was fool enough to let him get this close.

 

     He also saw a ring of floating, glowing sewer rats circling the sleeping, sinuous sliver Dragon.  The vermin stood upright chittering in time as they orbited around Tomorrow.  Imitating their betters, Kokujin was sure, with their pale imitation of chanting.  They even had their front paws held flat together.  Without breaking their chant, one of the vile creatures spoke to the assembled humans.

 

     “You must leave.  We cannot keep Tomorrow asleep like this forever.  We fade,” the Nezumi said.  “We learned too late that only the Place of Fixed Shape can harm the Time-Eater.  Leave, before it wakes, and all of time is eaten.”

 

     Kokujin sneered at the rodent.  He wouldn’t take orders from such a vile creature, and he refused to honor the rat pretending to be a man by acknowledging it.  Instead, the mad monk stretched out his hand, palm up, to Masajiro.

 

     “The Crab’s weapon,” Kokujin ordered.

 

     The ogre handed him the Himura’s wakizashi, along with a clay drinking jug.  The painted man walked forward with the blade in hand and jug tied to his waist, passing into the ring created by the Nezumi.  Once inside, all of the drawings on the tattooed man’s flesh crawled and wandered about his body.  A few changed shaped and became other tattoos, while others simply changed color as they moved.

 

     After Kokujin stumbled close enough to the shimmering Dragon, he stabbed the horror and twisted the blade.  The monster roared and knocked everyone back.  Even the Ranger’s sword was expelled from the great beast’s body.  The Nezumi wailed as their ritual was interrupted and they screamed at the former Dragon monk for his foolishness.

 

     Kokujin ignored them and ignored the sound of fighting from the direction of his pawns.  He concentrated on getting up and finding the jug.  The unremarkable clay vessel was whole and the enchantments he baked and bled into it held.  He moved as quickly as he could to the gushing wound in the terrible wyrm’s side.  Sliver blood spilled like water from the closing wound.  It healed so quickly that the tattooed madman wasn’t able to completely fill the container.

 

     The Nezumi resumed their chanting within moments of the Time-Eater’s scream and Kokujin passed underneath them without a word.  He found the crazed Lion standing with Masajiro with their weapons out.  The tattoos on Raikitsu’s face and the ogre’s arm seemed to glow black as they stood surrounded by the lifeless bodies of Kokujin’s pawns.  More time seemed to have passed for them than monk.

 

     “We leave,” he told the pair.  “When this thing breaks free, I at least will be ready.”

 

***********************

 

 

     To say that the battle was going poorly would have been a great understatement.  Iweko Seiken’s forces were being pushed back and either killed or unmade.  Two thirds of his army was gone, not including Kokujin’s so-called army.  Even the Phoenix made juggernaut, Mononoke-no-Kido, died when enough of the Mist Dragons banded together to try to unmake her.  She may have fallen, but the smoldering ruin of her body still burned, defying the will of Tomorrow’s children.

 

     And then the roar came, knocking over all that heard it.  Agony washed over them as the pain of the Time-Eater was inflicted upon them.  Many of the ashigaru began bleeding from the mouth or ears.  Susumu Takuan swore in a most ignoble way and the Qolsa said something in the Naga tongue that sounded very unpleasant, even though Seiken couldn’t understand it. 

 

     The Mist Dragons writhed in pain as their forms became even more unstable than they already were.  The beast twitched and coiled in upon themselves while the forces of Rokugan regained their footing.  In this chaos, the leader of the warriors from Yogen-Sha Toshi saw an opportunity.

 

     “Attack!” Seiken commanded.  “Don’t allow them to regroup!”

 

     The samurai and ashigaru charged forward into the throng of convulsing monsters to cut them down. The first two lines of the beast fell before they started to fight back.   With swords and spears and tetsubos. The children of Tomorrow changed into the form of humans.  At first, they lacked any real color save for the sunset in their eyes, but they bore weapons and armor like their enemies did.

 

     And that was when Seiken realized his error.  The Mist spawn were just as deadly in humanoid form as they were in their draconic forms.  And once again, the men and women under his command began to die or disappear.  Many brave samurai made the mistake of thinking that the creatures would fight in some recognizable manner now that they used weapons.  It was a miscalculation many of them would never have the chance to correct.

 

     A group of fifteen Mist people broke through the line and charged at Iweko Seiken as he tried to understand the new situation he faced.  They cut down twice as many ashigaru and samurai to get to him.  Five fell in the fighting, but that still left ten monsters walking like men towards him.  Now all that stood between the Imperial Heir and being one with Nothing was his yojimbo, Kakita Toshimoko.  The Susumu and that Naga were behind him, and it sounded like they were quiet occupied.  Seiken watched as the Grey Crane drew his sword and cut down the first five like they were made of paper.

 

     The remaining five circled around the veteran swordsman as they further defined their shape.  The eyes of sunset and the almost metallic grey hair remained the same, but all of their other features changed.   Each one developed a full face that looked much like the others.  The clothes and armors were different, but they were all the same light blue and bearing the mon of the Crane.  And each one held his sword the same way the Kakita in front of them did.

 

     Seiken shuddered in revulsion at the realization of who these abominations were pretending to be.  These five had taken the form of the same person over a ten year span.  A face the son of Iweko had seen countless times over the years in the Temple of the Seven Thunders.  It wasn’t until his yojimbo and friend spoke that Seiken comprehended the cruelty of the Mist Spawn.

 

      “Hoturi,” Toshimoko whispered.  That one word, the name of his student, was so thick with emotion he could have cut with it.  Those three syllables carried so much meaning that the Kakita Dueling Master let his sword say the rest.

 

     One step and the first cut took the heart of the enemy in front of him.  A spin to the right relieved the two older copies of their heads.  But the younger versions were just as fast as he was.  While his jade blessed blade had bit deeply into the body of the fourth pretender and destroyed it, the unmaking katana of the Student had bested the Sensei.

 

     Iweko Seiken watched in horror as the Grey Crane faded away.

 

***********************

 

 

     As Ikoma Akiyama strode into the temple, his footsteps echoed with purpose and urgency.  The Keeper or Records was not a regular visitor to the temples of the city.  In fact, by the reckoning of the man he was about to disturb, the renowned librarian had never been to this temple.

 

     “Isawa Shunryu-sama,” the almost elderly Lion called out.  His voice echoed throughout the hall even though the building was mostly wood and rice paper.

 

     The Phoenix Master of the Void rose from the lotus position when he heard his name called.  It was just as well that he be the one that the Keeper sought out.  His meditation was already interrupted and Shunryu thought it would be more constructive to understand why Akiyama came here than to be annoyed at the interruption.  The Ranger sitting next to him also rose.

 

     The Shugenja bowed respectfully to the samurai who was at least three times his age before he greeted him.  He decided to forgo any normal pleasantries when he saw the look on the older man’s face.  “Ikoma Akiyama-sama.  How may I be of assistance?”

 

     “We are under attack, Master Shunryu.  But these,” Akiyama searched for a word, “things, they aren’t able to enter the city.  At least, not yet.”

Shunryu shared a look of concern with the green garbed shugenja standing next to him. He looked back at the Lorekeeper.  “Show us.”

 

     The Lion nodded and guided them to a small hill a short walk away.  As they walked, the Ranger asked the Ikoma if Agasha Kokiden had been notified.  The old librarian laughed bitterly and told the two men that it was she that informed him.  When they stopped at the top of the grassy mound, the Phoenix understood why Akiyama was so concerned.

 

     The hill was tall enough for the three of them to see over the modest houses in the area.  It was also close enough to the wall surrounding the city to see the guards patrolling the top of that wall.  A nearby gate lead to the Shrine of Remembrance and the mountain it was carved into.  But it wasn’t the guards standing petrified in place or the other guards fleeing their post that drew the eye.  It was the calamity the waited beyond the wall.

 

     I wonder if this is how the Crab felt on their wall, Shunryu thought as he saw the children of tomorrow for the first time.  Even at this distance he could make out their smoky, semi-translucent bodies.  Then he noticed that the creatures did not seem to be advancing into the city.  A quick prayer to the air kami enhanced his vision and he saw beyond the wall.

 

     What he saw was enough to unnerve and possibly undo a lesser mind.  Hundreds of the Time-Eater’s spawn could be seen massing just beyond the outskirts of Yogen-Sha Toshi.  Their wyrm-like mist bodies twisted and coiled as they floated far too close to the city’s walls.  He didn’t even have time to ask himself why they weren’t coming inside his new home.  With the blessing that his spell bestowed upon his eyes, he could see the spiritual barrier keeping the monsters out.

 

     “The City is protecting us.  Or it may be protecting itself,” he explained.  Shunryu’s eyes widened as he realized something.  “The Shrine!”

 

     The Master of Void sprinted down the hill with a vigor that bespoke his youth while the two older men followed him after the surprise wore off.  Kitsune Parumba was the more physically fit of the two that trailed behind the running Phoenix.  But that didn’t stop Ikoma Akiyama from keeping up with the Mantis.  They were still close enough behind the Isawa for him to hear their conversation.

 

     “Why are we running towards the Shrine?  That’s outside the city,” the old Lion said, his exertion was evident in his voice.

 

     “The spiritual heart of our City of Prophets is that Shrine,” the earth shugenja answered.  Shunryu heard a squeal, one of the Kitsune’s spirit companions must have joined in the run.  “Our memories make this place what it is.  Those memories are focused at the Shrine and could be where the barrier is coming from.”

 

     Just as the young Phoenix Master passed through the gate of the city, the boar spirit passed by him at full charge.  The spirit stopped in front of the Shrine of Remembrance and waited for the three humans to catch up to him.  The squeals sounded like sniggering.

 

     Shunryu focused his awareness on the black chiseled stone of the Shrine itself.  The memorial and part of the mountain were still inside the spiritual shield that kept them safe for a time.  He could see that cracks were beginning to form in the graven words.  The barrier would eventually fail.

 

     A great crack sounded, like a northern river finally moving after being frozen all winter. That hair raising sound was followed by the gut chilling cries of the city’s first invaders.  To the south, a small trickle of mist dragons squeezed their way past the barrier and raced towards the Shrine.

 

     There was no more time.  Akiyama yelled to the guards of the Shrine, tried to rally them into a defensive position before they were overran.  Parumba chanted calmly, calling on more Animal spirits allied with his family.  Even the boar spirit snorted and pawed at the ground, getting ready to charge.  But Isawa Shunryu knew the number coming and he knew how long it would take him to prepare a spell powerful enough to deal with such numbers.  His mind reeled, trying to figure out how to not lose the Shrine, and themselves with it.

 

     A volley of arrows wrested his thoughts away from certain doom as they flew from the walls of Yogen-Sha Toshi and into the flank of the incoming horde.  The young Isawa calmed himself as he saw the Tomorrow beast get distracted by the attack.  He chanted a spell from memory, one that was a favorite of Koiso’s.  With a little luck, he would live long enough to stop the imitation dragons from gutting the heart of the city.

 

     As the shugenja released the fire spell that immolated four of the Void creatures, Parumba’s boar crashed into the remains of the charging vanguard.  Shunryu could now see that the reinforcements from the wall were distracting the Tomorrow spawn and causing them to split their forces.  But more of the Mist monsters were coming their way, intent on unmaking all they held dear.

 

     Before the young Isawa could prepare another prayer spell to the kami, the circumstances of the battle changed again.  He didn’t see the arrows that came down from the mountain, he did see the swarm-like response from the Time-Eater’s children.  They turned to meet the new aggressors and began to fall to their ferocity.

 

     The first of the new arrivals that Shunryu saw was a sturdy looking man dressed in the manner of a sohei.  The warrior monk looked over his shoulder and nodded at the shugenja before he brought down his naginata on another Mist dragon.  He heard the Keeper of Records spit out a name and it was then that he realized who the sohei was.  Michio, one time master of the Order of Spider and one of the deadliest monks to ever walk the Empire.

 

     A quick glance around showed that a number of the new combatants were from the Spider.  The rest were a rag tag group of samurai from the other Great Clans and a few ronin.  Most of them looked like they had been living rough for a while.  The faces the Phoenix Master could see all looked haunted and grim.  People who had lost too much to ever be comforted.  Somewhere, up the stony climb, a voice echoed with words that sounded suspiciously like the language of the Zokujin.

 

     As the fighting ebbed and flowed, Shunryu found himself next to Ikoma Akiyama again.  “Can I hope that we now prevail?”

 

     The Lion’s snort would have terribly insulting from any other samurai.  A Tsuruchi of the Wasp Code could have done it, but they would argue that they are not samurai.  What came from the Ikoma’s mouth was a simple expression of his opinion on their chances of saving the Shrine.  Even Isawa Shunryu wasn’t naïve enough to believe that any of them would live to see another dawn.

 

     And then the situation changed once more.  A cry, a shout, a roar of rage?  Not even the Master of Void could be sure.  That dreadful sound reverberated everywhere and threatened to break them.  Parts of the city wall cracked and collapsed while buildings inside the city fell under their own weight.  The mountain shook as if it were going to give birth to a great kami of fire.  And the Shrine of Remembrance fractured as the barrier fell with the sound of one thousand bells falling.

 

     The brave and the foolish alike took advantage of this moment.  The terrible sound threw all the Tomorrow spawn into convulsions and rendered them unable to fight.  Many of them were cut down as they writhed in midair.  Some were left to convulse as their would-be victims fled, all courage leaving them.

 

     The confusion and opportunity did not last long enough.  Soon, the remaining Mist Dragons all rose high in the sky and fled the vulnerable and practically defenseless City of Prophets.  Shunryu and many of the survivors stood and stared in silence at the behavior of the alien monstrosities.  None of them cheered, as they all knew that this wasn’t a victory.

 

     He heard who he assumed to be Michio shouting up the rocky incline for status on the situation up there.  The way he said it made the shugenja think that there was something in the mountain that was important to these outcast.

 

     As they waited for a response, he became aware of a different kind of roar.  It was quite, but it was getting louder and the Isawa could feel a slight vibration in his feet.  He was about to commune with the kami when a Spider samurai wearing an oddly shaped mask came down the mountain.  It caught his attention because what he assumed to be a man didn’t run or jump his way down.  He simply slid down as if aided by the spirits of Earth.

 

     “Kotoba report,” Michio ordered.

 

     This close, Shunryu could see that the person called Kotoba wasn’t just wearing a strange helmet, but his head was misshapen to conform to the helm.  The shugenja couldn’t detect any Taint from this samurai, but he knew the signs of a significant elemental imbalance when he saw it.

 

     “Our Shrine…. safe,” Kotoba said.  His voice was deep and rumbling, like he had trouble speaking a human language.  “Water wall…. coming.  Mountain…. high.  Will kill all.”

 

     “Tsunami,” someone whispered in a panic.

 

     Many of the warriors looked around, uncertain.  Some started to climb the mountain, including a few that came from the city.  Their resolve was now breaking.  A normal tidal wave was not a foe that a samurai could fight against, it was simply something that one survived.  A tsunami that was over a thousand feet high was something none of them could survive.  Even the Master of Water would most likely fall to such a massive force of nature.

 

     “The Battle of Broken Waves!” Parumba shouted.

 

     “What!?  What do you mean?” Shunryu demanded to know.

 

     “Kaigen's Island,” the Mantis shugenja said excitedly.  “Isawa Sachi-sama raised the island from the ocean’s floor during the battle.  We could do the same thing.  Raise the city above the tsunami.”

 

     “Isawa Sachi was the Master of Earth during the War of Fire and Thunder,” the young man spoke as he was thinking the problem through.  “You’re not strong enough to raise it by yourself.  We would need the Master of Earth.  But Norimichi isn’t here and the effort would probably kill him.”

 

     “It killed Yoritomo Kaigen too,” the Keeper of Records remarked.

 

     “We don’t need the Master of Earth,” the Kitsune tried to explain, “we have the Master of Void.  You have told me numerous times that Tomorrow is a thing of the void.  You can do this.”

 

     Isawa Shunryu, the last known Master of Void of the Phoenix Clan, looked around at all the faces of his fellow refugees from Rokugan.  Many of the ashigaru and peasants that had been created by Yogen-Sha Toshi also gathered around the Shrine, now that the Mist dragons had gone.  The shugenja from Kitsune Mori had given them all a great gift that was reflected in many of their faces, hope.  Shunryu took a deep breath and nodded.

 

     “I will need help.”  Many listening to the Master of Void would assume he was being modest.  Very few would ever understand how terrified he was deep in his heart.

 

     “I raise Mountain.  You…. City,” the masked Spider declared, right before he walked into the stone of the mountain and disappeared.

 

     “I’ll go back to the temple and stabilize the city,” Parumba said.  “Just focus one getting us above the water and I’ll do what I can to keep everything upright.”

 

     Shunryu didn’t look as the Mantis ran back through the gates.  He was already sitting on the ground, praying to the kami of Earth and Void.  They did not answer at first.  They did not want to move.  But a great tug came from within the mountain, urging it up.  The land within the city grew calm, accepting whatever fate was about to be visited upon it.  And at last, the ground beneath them all rumbled and rose.

 

     He could sense the sea water hitting his face while he prayed, but he did not stop.  He could feel the warmth of the bodies that kept him from being swept away, but he would not stop.  He heard the Void rejoicing in being part of creation instead of destruction, but he did not open his eyes until the Earth spirits told him that they were finally above the water.

 

     The people he saw of Yogen-Sha Toshi were too tired to cheer.  Michio and his outcasts received no accolades, they simply nodded towards Yogen-Sha Toshi and went back to their mountain.  Shunryu understood that they wanted to survive, and that meant the city surviving. He soon learned from the survivors that the few shugenja left in the city also aided in keeping back the water.  But there was one shugenja he needed to find.

 

     As he walked back into the City of Prophets, the changes were startling.  The city walls had all fallen, the ground was much rockier, and many of the standing buildings had changed slightly.  The changes were subtle but all of them were still level over the uneven ground.  The standing ones anyway.

 

     One great exception was the modest temple that he had been meditating in that morning.  The simple wood and plaster structure was gone.  In its place was a hill filled with trees, strong and unbroken before the waves.  All of the changes were beginning to make sense, returning home was always foremost in the thoughts of his Mantis friend.  The kami had responded to both of their desires to save the city.

 

     Isawa Shunryu smiled sadly as he finally climbed the last stone steps and entered the outdoor temple, an open space in the center of the wood.  Lying in the middle of the clearing was the body of Kitsune Parumba, a boar spirit stood on each side him.  Their eyes were closed and they held their heads low for their fallen friend.  Shunryu could think of only one thing to say.

 

     “Thank you.”

 

***********************

 

 

     Iweko Seiken gripped his sword knowing that it was going to be the last time he ever would.  The false Hoturi was just as quick and skilled as every story he had ever heard about the real Doji Hoturi.  Most of his soldiers were dead or dissolved into nothing, the two men he wanted to humiliate would outlive him, and one of the few friends and allies he had was just unmade by the same monster that was about to unmake him too.

 

     Sieken was never able to best Toshimoko during their sparring sessions.  He was at a loss of how to best an infuriating good copy of the Grey Crane’s best student.  At least he wouldn’t have to ponder it for too long, the false Hoturi was already advancing on him.

 

     The Iweko was able to parry the first strike, but his sword began to vibrate strangely.  He avoided the second attack entirely, but was forced to parry again on the third swing coming for him.  That was when his sword stopped ringing.  In fact, it stopped doing anything at all.  The Imperial Heir’s katana faded into Mist with that third strike, robbing him of the dignity of being able to die with a sword in his hands.

 

     Just when the false Hoturi was about to take his entire existence, a masked Spider stepped in front of Seiken to defend him.  He stepped back to give the newcomer room.  Yuhmi, Seiken remembered, his name is Daigotsu Yuhmi.  One of Kokujin’s tattooed that the madman entered the city with.  While he wanted to live, owing a Spider or the tattooed monk was not how he wanted to do it.

 

     Three more of the Mist spawn came forward dressed in the bodies of Crane duelist, but none of them were Hoturi.  Yuhmi laughed unpleasantly as they formed a loose semicircle around him.  He parried three attacks and intentionally took the blow from the false Hoturi on his left shoulder.

 

     Instead of being unmade, the masked Spider snorted in irritation.  When the sickly silver blade bit into his shoulder, Yuhmi’s tattoo flared green on his hands and then faded away.  The sword still cut his flesh, so the Daigotsu returned that pain on the four shape-shifting dragons.  A heart beat later they were headless, and then they were Mist.

The Spider chuckled as he turned and looked at the Imperial Heir.  “I’ve come to take Susumu-sama, you, and that Snake away from here.”

 

     Seiken looked about the battlefield, what little of it he could see.  He couldn’t even guess at how many they had lost.  Three fourths?  Seven Eighths?  He needed a sword so he could continue the fight.  He could still salvage this situation and claim victory.

 

     A horn blew in the distance, the signal to retreat.  All thoughts of triumph died with that sound.  A cold rage bloomed in his chest as the note faded.  Someone other than Iweko Seiken had just ordered Seiken’s army to retreat.

 

***********************

 

 

     Matsu Tsuko half listened as the Rangers gave a report to the Keepers.  Most of it was about the state of their city, if they could call it that anymore.  Gone were the walls, gone was the gentle wind throughout the city, and gone were the plains and farms that surrounded Yogen-Sha Toshi.  Mostly, what surround the city now was water.

 

     Part of the city was gone too.  Not just the buildings that fell down while she was away, but the households of those that were unmade during the battle.  It was a small comfort that she was able to find a few of the homes of those that never returned.  Death was always better than being unmade.

 

     “We have also discovered that the time of the Iweko is now beyond travelling,” the Qolsa said calmly.  Tsuko chided herself for not paying more attention to the Naga’s previous words.  She then realized that what she should have paid attention to was a who, the Iweko at this gathering.

 

     “Are you telling me that that we lost the only chance to save my mother?” Iweko Seiken shouted at the Naga that was easily three times his weight.  His face was red and the man’s hand strayed for a sword that wasn’t there.

 

     “All paths to the days of the Iweko are gone.  If you could find her, it would be before she became the Iweko,” the Qolsa said calmly.  The Constrictor wasn’t threatened by the Imperial Heir and Tsuko doubted that a weapon in his hand would change that opinion.

 

     Seiken’s rage wouldn’t be quelled so easily.  She saw him look at the other Keepers before his gaze settled on her. She steeled herself for the wrathful words that would come next and the dishonor that was coming with them.  It was time to take responsibility.

 

     “And why is it that my mother is now lost?” he spat scornfully.  “Tell me why, Matsu-san, my forces retreated in shame rather than press on and find the Empress?  Why did we not save the Empire!?”

 

     Matsu Tsuko stood up slowly and reached for her katana.  She slipped the sword and its sheath out of her belt and placed on the bare rock she was just sitting on.  The Lion Champion then pulled her wakizashi, still in its saya, from her belt and held it with both hands.

 

     “Shinjo Shono was with my detachment when we lost contact with Iweko-sama’s detachment,” she said slowly, as if saying the words for the first time.  “We fought and lost many brave women and men to those monsters.  Shono-sama refused to give up in the face of overwhelming odds.  But after that roar, after those things took the faces of those we just lost, he understood.  He understood just like I did that there was no winning that battle.”

 

     Tsuko took a deep breath before she continued speaking, her knuckles white as she gripped the blade.  “We both knew that dying there meant that we wouldn’t be able to save the Empire.  I wanted to hold the line, but Shono-sama convinced me that we could save more lives if he and his cavalry kept the enemy at bay.”

 

     “I sounded the retreat.  I organized what was left of our fighting force so that they may live to fight another day,” the Keeper of Armies admitted.  “The shame and dishonor are mine.”

 

     She pulled her wakizashi from the scabbard.  “I will commit seppuku to atone for my actions and the loss of Shinjo Shono.  He and his Unicorn died bravely, like Lion.  The least I can do is die like a Lion.”

 

     She was surprised when the Keeper of Courts, Susumu Takuan, stood up to intervene.  She didn’t know much about the Spider Clan, but she knew that they had never been allies.  The Smiling Spider was not smiling now. Instead, Tsuko saw Duty and Respect in his eyes.

 

     “I cannot let you do that Matsu-sama,” he said boldly.  “If anyone here should commit seppuku, it would be me.”

 

     The other Keepers kept their reactions to themselves at Takuan’s statement, as did the spectators and attendants.  Iweko Seiken let the glare in his eyes speak for how much he hated the Spider courtier.  Tsuko wondered if the Susumu meant it or if she had presented him with an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

 

     “I knew this was a fight we couldn’t win,” Takuan admitted as he turned to face Sieken.  “Matsu-sama knew that we didn’t have enough forces.  The Rangers warned us that that many people would destabilize the paths that they work tirelessly to discover.  Everyone did their job but me.”

 

     “It fell to me to give informed council to his Highness.  And I did not,” Takuan paused for effect.  “I used the words, but they did not work.  I used the information that all of you brought forward, but I did not understand Iweko-dono’s desire.”

 

     Before the Susumu could continue any farther, Tsuko saw the rage and shame burst out of Iweko Sieken.  Takuan’s veiled ridicule had finally pushed him too far.  The only Iweko in the City leapt to his feet and struck the Keeper of Courts in the jaw.  Hard.  The courtier stumbled back, but to his credit, did not fall.

 

     Seiken stared for a long minute at man he despised.  He then took a slow deep breath and drew his wakizashi from his belt.  Instead of cutting the other man open, like Tsuko thought he would, the Imperial Heir sliced his own topknot off.  Even the Yasuki Daimyo watching gasped at this unexpected action.

 

     “I am not fit to lead,” Seiken said bitterly as he looked around at the assembled Keepers.  He dropped his knotted hair on the ground as he sheathed the short blade.  “I will shave my head and join the Order of Remembrance.  I will not let any of those lost today be forgotten.”

 

     The first born of Iweko the First look at Matsu Tsuko and bowed, as if apologizing.   “I was never a Keeper.  The City is yours.”

 

***********************

Edited by Coyote Walks
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