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

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Utaku_Yamada
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Posts: 137
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Thu Feb 08, 2018 7:55 am

Here it is, the next story when Harun goes to war. We are all in for a ride, even me.

Rokugan Yogasha Shiro – Spring 1235

In the evening, on the roads of the Plains of the Emerald Champion, Kakita Harun rode his horse at a steady pace. He had travelled far and perhaps he should have stopped to pass the night in a village, but now he was almost home and couldn’t stop.
How long had it been since he had travelled this road? Well, there was the year he had just spent in Unicorn lands, and before that there were the sporadic visits home. Whose visits usually devoted to study with his books or practice in the dojo, telling his father and mother he needed to be at his best for when his year for the Topaz Championship came up.
Father and mother…now those words had a lot more meaning now, with a divide between those who had raised him and those who had given him life. The former, Kakita Karasu and Hitomi, he still in many ways saw as his true parents. They had brought him up, taught him the values and beliefs that had shaped him into what he was. But the latter, Utaku Yamada and Nakura, were still somewhat of a mystery to him, less though now by his meeting many of the people who had met them and meeting his father’s shryo.
Zetsubou said that they wanted me to look forward, Harun thought, but how can I when there is so much behind that I don’t know? And now, he returned home, to the place that had shaped him before he started at the Kakita Academy.
The light was fading, but Harun knew he was almost home. He rode up the rise of the hill to where he knew the castle of his father, the Palace of Emerald Champion lay ahead. And had it not been for the several lanterns that had been lit, he may not have seen it.
Harun spurred his horse faster, he had come home.

Rokugan Yogasha Shiro, the Palace of the Emerald Champion, was perhaps the most curious castle in Rokugan. In essence, it went back to Kakita Shimzu, son of Kakita himself and the second to hold the office, but the passage of years had seen the office go to champions from various clans and thus this was reflected in the palace itself.
A meditation garden inspired by the Dragon Clan, the impressive stables from the Unicorn adding to the traditional ornate interiors of the Crane. There were even secret passages that Harun and one of his brothers had discovered once, clearly done when a Scorpion had held the office.
But even with its confusion of décor and layout, it was home to Harun.
He rode up the path and the gates were opened, a guard look the reins of his horse and guided him while lighting the way with a lantern. Waiting at the front door were two people, pleased to see Harun arrive. One was Harun’s brother, Mirumoto Takeaki, about the same age as Harun was and just returned from his training in the Dragon mountains. The other was Saigou, the Steward of Rokugan Yogasha Shiro.
Saigou had been steward for as long as Harun could remember. He was a ronin, Karasu had told Harun background. He had wanted to devote himself to the cause of the Legion. He had been a cunning warrior in his time, but his skills in organisation and the efficient distribution of supplies had made him an invaluable asset. When a grievous wound had ended his days as bushi, Karasu had asked Saigou to join his household.
It was Saigou who was in charge during Karasu’s absences, presided over the table and made sure things functioned properly. He was seen almost more as family than servant. They had all called him Ooji-san, great-uncle.
Harun greeted them both gladly, following them both inside. Saigou’s greeting was quiet and restrained, the same could not be said for Takeaki’s.
“What’s all this?” Tareaki asked, laughing at Harun’s long, wild hair.
“I could say the same to you,” said Harun, nodding at the Mirumoto’s shaven chonmage.
They lowered their voices as they went further into the house, a servant lighting their way with a lamp. Many of the younger children were asleep, and Saigou’s wrath was fierce to any who unnecessarily disturbed the household.
Harun and Tareaki went to a small room where the doors opened onto the gardens, the night air coming in.
Food was brought for them and they sat talking, comparing stories of their respective adventures.
“I had a letter from father,” said Tareaki. “He said I might be able to get a court appointment. Perhaps you could as well?”
Harun shook his head.
“You still want to join the Legion with father, don’t you?” Tareaki asked.
“I’ve always wanted to,” said Harun. “And that hasn’t changed, after Shiro Moto I only want it more.”
“You sound as if you know what you are in for,” Tareaki said.
“I think I do,” said Harun.

Utaku_Yamada
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Fri Feb 09, 2018 8:28 am

Later, after a bath, Harun went up to his room. It was as he had left it, but for the past few years it was just where he stayed while on visits from the Kakita Academy. His futon, unrolled and ready for him. The small cabinet next to the futon where some of his possessions were still kept. On top sat the wish doll that had been in his room since he was very small, its single eye watching over him silently. He did not know how he came to have it, it was a Crab tradition. Now he wondered even more. Was it a gift from his father Nakura’s family?
There was one new thing there now, a daisho stand beside his futon. It was there waiting for Harun to put his swords onto. Ooji-san’s work no doubt, since Harun was now needing it. He placed his daisho onto the stand, the sayas of his swords a deep blue and purple in the lamplight, then sat on the bed.
Then at a tap on the door he sprang back to his feet. It was Ooji-san, and with two servants behind him carrying something large and heavy.
“Harun-san, I know it is late, but I had strict instructions from the Champion that this was to be given to you when you returned,” he said. He directed the servants to carry it inside. It was a large wooden chest, lacquered and decorated in a style he had seen in Unicorn lands.
“What is it, Ooji-san?” Harun asked, examining it.
He ran his hands over a single purple circle painted on it.
The purple circle…Asuna…the purity of the Utaku…Harun shook his head. No, that can’t be right…
“Ooji-san, is this from my mother?” Harun asked.
Saigou shook his head. “I only know the instructions I was given, Harun-san,” he said. He handed Harun a key. “I know less than you do, other the instructions I was given. I’ll send some tea up, do try and sleep before dawn.”
Harun held the key in his hand. What secrets would it unlock? There was only one way to find out.
The key turned in the lock a little stiffly and the lid of the chest stuck a little when he opened it. But once it was open, he was immediately hit by the smells that had long been contained. Sandalwood, camphor and some other exotic smells like frankincense, cinnamon and vanilla.
On top there was a sheaf of documents, bound with white and purple ribbons. Next to it was purple silk with gold patterns on it, a kimono perhaps. On top of this were two scrolls. One sealed with the mon of the Yasuki family, the other with the purple circle of the Utaku.
Harun picked up the second, opening it. His guess had been right, it was a letter to his mother.

To my son Harun,

I write this to you, now that you have become a man, as if I were speaking these words to you myself and see you before me grown and granted your daisho.
My son, I wish you good fortune for your future, and which ever path is set before you. May you honour the wisdom of those who have guided you and the traditions of our ancestors who have come before us.
And now, I suppose, you have questions about yourself and your heritage. I trust that Karasu has told you about your father’s sacrifice and the great task that I must undertake, so instead I will tell you of our family.
I named you for my father, Moto Harun before he married my mother Utaku Fumiko. He was a man of great honour and courage, he was of the line of Moto Chiban and Moto Asma who rode out of the desert with the first Gaheris behind Shinjo-no-kami herself. Before he married my mother, my father was a Chui in the Khol Army of the Unicorn. He rode behind Moto Chagatai in the Khan’s March on Toshi Ranbo and beside Moto Chinua before he was Champion in the War of Dark Fire.
My mother Fumiko’s line goes back many generations of Utaku battle maidens, though there was an alliance of marriage with the Daidoji family, which could become useful if anyone ever accuses you of not having Crane blood. My mother was also in the Khol, Taisa of the Fourth Utaku Battlemaiden Legion, which is how she and my father met.
I was the youngest of four daughters, Akane, Masuyo and Thane. All of them brave and beautiful, and all of them perished saving me when the forces of Daigotsu Kanpeki overran Seikitsu Pass. Perished like almost everyone that day, including my parents.
You are the last of our line, my son, I trust you know what that means.
Meeting your father Nakura was the happiest time of my life, the time we had together was short but full of hopes for the future. He knew we were expecting a child, you, and he was overjoyed. You were to be the first child of the family we planned together, a bright light in the darkness that surrounded us.
Your father, Nakura, was gentle and kind, but with the courage and resolve of a bushi. Before the entire Imperial Court, he swore he would devote his retirement to atoning for the sins of the Crab in their destruction of Kitsune Mori. He was a merchant, had travelled widely in Rokugan, privy to the secrets of the Friendly Traveller Sake which he could not even impart to me.
Before he died, he told me a little about his family that he had been estranged from. His parents, Yasuki Nobunao and Hanami, both merchants until they retired. Nakura was the second son, his older brother Soyokaze a bushi on the Kaiu Wall, his younger sister Momoibura quite a seamstress. Apparently, his line has links to the Crane Clan as well as the Hiruma and Hida families.
We had made plans to meet with them before everything happened, perhaps this is something that you could do.
I do hope these words give some comfort to you, my son. While this is your family, your blood, this is not all of who you are. The path ahead of you is your own, built from the life and family we wished to give you.
Go forward, my son, and live your life with my blessings and love.

Your mother,

Utaku Yamada


Harun put the letter down, going over it in his mind. He had heard about his mother Yamada from so many people. His adopted father Karasu, Akodo Kibo and his brother Zetsubou, Moto Chinua and even the shryo of his father Nakura and the Minor Fortune Hikahime. But this was the first time he had heard from his mother directly, seen her words.
And he could see what he had been told about her shining out from the page. Her compassion, her devotion to duty and the love she wished to convey to him through the page. He folded the letter carefully and put it on the cabinet next to the wish doll then turned his attention to the other items in the chest.
He took out the scroll with the Yasuki seal and opened it. It was not a letter, but a cypher. He looked over it and put it to one side, perhaps he could have some fun with it later.
He took out the purple kimono, shaking out its folds. It was a furisode, with the mons of the Unicorn in gold on its long trailing sleeves.
Her wedding kimono? Harun wondered. I thought they were white…or red?
He examined it closely, it had the light scent of vanilla and lavender, and he could see some black horsehairs. He smiled at it, those were no doubt from the Unicorn wedding. He carefully folded it and placed it on his futon.
Underneath was another garment, a man’s juban. It was black, but patterned with tiny purple and blue circles, giving it an iridescent appearancre.
Purple and black, the Unicorn and Crab? He thought. Wait, I have seen this before…
His father’s shryo was wearing it at Zetsubou’s ritual.
Perhaps, he guessed, my mother gave it to him.
He folded it carefully, putting it with the other kimono.
If the juban had been given by his mother to his father, then the next item his father clearly had given to his mother. It was a sandalwood fan, with purple silk, painted on it a horse leaping over a carp. He smiled down at it.
It’s like a story about my parents, he thought, and I even know enough to follow it.
Harun stayed up into the early hours of the morning, going over each item Yamada had left for him in that chest. A shamisen, carefully packed away in a silk bag. A comb and mirror set, inlaid with ivory with a matching trinket box with several hair combs inside. A jade figurine, carved into the form of a man brewing beer. A copy of Akodo’s Leadership, the pages battered from much reading.
He then went over the sheaf of papers, most of them were correspondence from the court at Shiro Mirumoto seventeen years earlier, requests for meetings and so forth difficult to know what was happening without context. He did see a few letters his father and mother had written to each other, which he read with a smile. There was a series of letters from a Spider named Susumu Ketsueki…of the Onyx Empire by his praise of Kanpeki.
Why did my mother write to him? Harun wondered.
There were a few drafts of what looked like the Last Legion that Kibo and Uncle Kousuda had told him about. And to his delight, there were some wedding invitations. Not just for his mother and father, but Uncle Kousuda and Aunt Kyoumi as well.
The last document in the bundle was the most recent, dated more than a year after the others. It was an official commission, giving his mother command of the Fourth Utaku Battlemaiden Legion of the Khol, signed by Moto Chinua himself.
Quickly, he checked her letter again, it was the same there. Yamada had given up her mother’s command to go with Shiba Michio.
She didn’t just give me up, he thought, remembering what Chinua had told him last year, she gave up her entire life, all her hopes and dreams.
There was one more thing, right at the bottom of the chest and bound in cloth. He took it out and unwrapped it. It was a bokken, bound in yellow and white ribbons where it was broken.
Harun held it in his hands, remembering Kibo’s story about it: two determined samurai, both unwilling to give way, then something else had. He turned the bokken in his hands, someone, perhaps his mother, had written on it.
Bend, don’t break.

The next morning, Harun woke early and went out to the terrace. The mist coming in from the plains felt refreshing. He would not be home long, once his father Karasu returned he would ride out with him. And then after the war, then what?
Arahime, he thought at once.
He dismissed it from his mind. Arahime was sailing south by now, perhaps she even had reached the warm land of Zogeku. If his fate and hers were to be intertwined, that would have to wait until after the war.
Out in the distance, he saw a riding party near the palace. Flying the green and gold of the Emerald Champion.
His father was home.

Utaku_Yamada
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Posts: 137
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Sat Feb 17, 2018 10:05 pm

It was one of Harun’s earliest memories. He must have been about three of four at the time, just coming on to winter and his father Karasu was due back any day in the lead up to New Year. He would sit on the terrace every moment he could, watching the road for his father’s horse. Even having to be dragged back by Saigou for his lessons.
Then, after the evening meal, and after Harun was supposed to be in bed, he had stolen out onto the terrace wrapped in his blanket. And then he had seen his father ride home, in full regalia on a white horse and the green and golden banner flying, flanked by magistrates and legionnaires.
He had jumped up and down with joy, his heart burst with pride at the splendid sight before him. He felt like that now, but now he didn’t have to run back to bed to avoid being caught by Ooji-san.
Harun came down the steps with Saigou, some of his younger siblings as well as the various magistrates and administrative staff of the Emerald Office that lived and worked on the estate. The servants were there too, throwing themselves onto the ground before rising and helping the Emerald Champion and his retinue dismount.
“Harun?” Karasu sounded a little uncertain when he saw him. A year ago, they had parted at Tsuma, and while it was not on bad terms it could have been better. That year Karasu had worried what Harun would find out in Unicorn lands, find out what had been told to him.
But all it took was seeing Harun’s smile to see he had nothing to worry about.
“Father,” said Harun. “It is good to see you.”
“And you,” said Karasu, grinning. “But what’s all this?” He gestured to Harun’s longer hair and beard. “You brought back some Moto with you?”
Harun laughed. “Something like that.”
“When did you get back?” Karasu asked.
“Just last night,” said Harun. “I would have been back sooner, but the late snows in Lion lands delayed everything.”
“Lion lands?” Karasu raised a quizzical eyebrow. “You have been around.”
Harun nodded.
“We’ll talk later,” promised Karasu, going on to greet the other children.

For much of the day, Harun didn’t see his father. This was, unfortunately, normal. There were always a number of pressing matters awaiting the attention of the Emerald Champion when he returned to the estate.
Harun made good use of that time in the castle dojo, stopping only when Tareaki came and suggested they played in the gardens.
They went to the old spot, at the stepping stones on the eastern side of the koi pond and right next to the moss-covered statue of Bishamon. They stood each on one leg, each with a practice sword, each of them trying to knock the other down.
“You’re out of practice,” Tareaki said, trying to hit him.
“Of course I am,” said Harun, managing to keep his balance but only just managing not to get hit. “How much time do you spend duelling one-legged in ponds?”
“More than you,” said Tareaki, knocking him into the water.
Harun sat up in the knee-deep water, knocking a water lotus off his head. “You know, I think Arahime was always better at this game than me.”
“What happened with her?” Tareaki asked.
“Nothing,” said Harun. He got to his feet and shook the water off his clothes. “She left Kyuden Kakita before I arrived. I didn’t see her or speak to her.”
“No, not that,” said Tareaki. ”I thought you and her were…well, you mentioned her a lot in your letters.”
“Well, we practiced together a lot,” said Harun.
“Harun, remember I’m investigator now,” said Tareaki, getting off his rock and sitting down beside the pond. “Even though I know you’re not lying, I know you’re hiding something.”
Harun sat down next to him. “Well, I sort of came back for her,” he said with a sigh. “That’s not the only reason, but it is one.”
“And you came all that way and didn’t see her,” said Tareaki. “That’s rough.”
Harun nodded.
“’Don’t worry, you’ll see her again,” said Tareaki. “They say the war could be over soon, after that you could even go to her.”
“That’s very unlikely,” said Harun.
“But not impossible,” said Tareaki.

Harun went up to his room to change into dry clothes. There was still a little while before the evening meal, but it was always tradition that they ate as a family the same night father came home.
When he came down, he walked past the open door of Karasu’s study. From the outside he could see the table was full of maps and documents, there had clearly been more people in there. Karasu was sitting across the table from his second in command, Akodo Ryoichi.
They both looked up when Harun walked past.
“Harun, come in,” said Karasu.
Harun entered, he sat an empty end of the table. He couldn’t help but recognising one of them.
“Toshi Ranbo?” He looked up at his father. “Is that where we are going? To take it from the Onyx?”
“We? You’re not in the Legion, Harun,” said Karasu.
“Not yet,” Harun countered.
Karasu met his son’s eyes. Still very much a boy, he thought, his eagerness for adventure, to prove himself, And yet…
“Is this what you truly wish, Harun?” Karasu asked seriously. “You were Topaz Champion, there are many paths that are open to you.”
“Father, you know this is what I have always wanted to do,” said Harun. “To serve the Empire as you do, to ride out beside you.”
Unseen to Harun, Karasu gripped the edge of the table until his knuckles turned white. Harun had come back from Shiro Moto, even fighting with the Unicorn to take it, in one piece. How long would his luck hold out? Karasu had seen many killed, including ones just as young and eager as Harun.
I promised Yamada I’d keep him safe…
“Joining the legion will be hard, Harun,” said Ryoichi. “All new recruits to the Emerald Legions, samurai and peasant, are submitted to the same training and living conditions. Promotion is on merit, and no exceptions can be made. Not even for you.”
“I understand,” said Harun.
Oh kami, there’s no dissuading him, thought Karasu with a sinking heart, I’m sorry Yamada, but you wanted to fight too. And how can I deprive the Legion of his blade?
The gong sounded for the evening meal, Ryoichi excused himself and left. Karasu and Harun began to make their way to the dining room.
“Father, tell me,” pleaded Harun. “I am coming with you, right?”
“We will talk about it later,” said Karasu.

Utaku_Yamada
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Posts: 137
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Wed Feb 21, 2018 8:06 am

A family dinner at the Castle of the Emerald Champion was surprisingly informal, particularly given the ornateness of the dining room with the frieze of musicians in a garden on the walls and the delicately painted paper lanterns that hung in the open window frames.
Everyone was talking at once, telling stories, laughing and passing food between them. Harun found himself sharing stories about Moto Majid, especially to his younger brother Taguichi who particularly liked Harun imitating the Moto’s flamboyant way of speaking.
Several times, Harun caught his father just sitting there quietly, watching and listening that was going on. Merely content to be there. And once, Karasu was looking at one end of the table.
That’s where mother normally sits, Harun remembered, I wonder where she is, and what is keeping her?
Kakita Hitomi, the wife of the Emerald Champion had mysterious duties that took her all over Rokugan. More than once, Harun had asked his father just what it was that Hitomi did while she was away.
“Your mother protects Rokugan in her own way, Harun, just as I do.” And that was all he would ever say.

After dinner, Harun went back to the castle dojo. This, he knew, was one of Karasu’s improvements. The simple décor was reminiscent of the Kakita Academy, right down to the smell of fresh tatami.
Suits of armour sat on guard around the walls with their backs to the walls. And on the walls themselves were the names of every Emerald Champion, going right back to Kakita himself.
On the opposite wall was a painting that had always intrigued Harun. It was by his Uncle Kousuda, of his father Karasu when he had won the Test of the Emerald Champion seventeen years before. Karasu had his head bowed, accepting the brow of the opponent Yasuki Yamase.
Yamase, she was the old Yasuki Damiyo’s oldest daughter, Harun remembered, wait, that was her name on the cypher in the box…wasn’t it?
There were others in the painting he recognised, the Emperor and Empress in the centre, with members of the Imperial Court around them. And towards the back, his Aunt Kyoumi and Kousuda himself and Hitomi.
Harun had looked at this painting many times, him and Arahime had used to make stories about some of the people, but now he looked at it even more closely, but not sure what he was looking at. Until, that is, he saw it.
At the back, next to Hitomi, was a woman in purple. She wore a jacket lined with white fur. And beneath it was a baby, with dark skin and curly black hair.
Harun stared at it, his mouth hanging open in shock. Is that…my mother? Is that…ME?
He looked at it more closely. Yamada sat a little detached form the scene, her eyes half closed as she looked down at her baby. Down at him.
This has been here all along, thought Harun in shock, and I did not know…
He was still looking at it when Karasu came in. “Harun, I thought I would find you here.”
“Father,” said Harun slowly, “is that…me?” He pointed to the painting.
Karasu nodded. “It was gift from Yamada, your mother,” he said, giving a small smile. “I have seen you look at it many times and I wanted to tell you. Did Saigou give you the chest?”
“Yes, last night,” said Harun. “My mother…she wrote me a letter.” He looked at her figure in the painting. “I…I wish I knew her. I spoke to a few people in Unicorn lands who did.”
“Do you feel as if you know her more now?” Karasu asked.
“A little,” Harun admitted.
“You remind me of her, sometimes,” said Karasu.
Harun gave a sad smile. “That’s what Zetsubou said.”
“You were with him when he died, weren’t you?” Karasu asked.
“I was,” Harun answered. “He sacrificed himself to cleanse the land of taint.” Harun looked down. “The night before, he told me that if anything went wrong I…I had to kill him. But I didn’t need to, one of the Kitsu that came out of Yomi, he took Zetsubou’s spirit.” He was silent for a moment. “There were others who came out, many others. I…saw my father Nakura.”
Karasu was quiet for a long time when he heard this. “What…was he like?”
Harun smiled at this. “He was…very happy to see me,” he said. “He ran out of the gate once Zetsubou cast the spell.” He smiled again, then looked at Karasu. “It was he who told me to return home, that there were things I needed to do.”
“He did?” Karasu asked with a little surprise.
“Yes,” said Harun. “I knew returning was the right thing, but I was fighting against it. But seeing him, it made it all clear.”
Karasu nodded in agreement. “The reminding of duty,” he said. “You are like Yamada, and speaking of duties…”
“Yes,” said Harun, snapping out of his reverie. “I did come here to practice.”
“Then show me,” said Karasu. He went to the weapons rack, got a bokken and passed it to Harun. “Show me what you have learned.”
It was in this very room that Karasu had been Harun’s first teacher. Moving Harun’s small hands with his strong, capable ones to show him the correct grip. Watching the young Harun imitate the stances of the elements as Karasu did them, Harun himself enough to walk. And of course, sitting on the tatami mat enraptured while he watched Karasu train, his sword as swift and agile as a bird in flight. Sometimes even falling asleep, curled up on the mat so Karasu would have to carry him back to bed.
But now, things were different, Harun was in his seventeenth year. He had been granted his daisho and had already won his first duel. Harun’s actions would reflect back on his Clan, his family his school. Karasu felt he could be certain about the first two, but as to the third…
Well, we will just see what effect a year in Unicorn lands can have on your form, my son, thought Karasu.
Harun first went through the basic stances, combining a few of these with basic katas. Then he went into strikes, overhead first and then from each side. Karasu watched with what seemed like even more scrutiny than the Kakita Academy Master Sensei Kakita Kenshin had showed when he had tested Harun but a few days earlier.
After a while, Karasu told Harun to stop. “Your grip, it’s very firm,” he said. “It needs to be looser, more fluid.”
Harun adjusted it. “I hadn’t noticed it had changed,” he admitted. “Majid did show me a thing or two going against Dark Moto.”
Karasu frowned. “Strength over speed may work for some, Harun, but you can’t change just like that.”
Harun made another few strikes, Karasu nodded with approval. “Finesse, not power,” he said. “Let’s see your draw now.”
Harun demonstrated, first with the bokken and then with his katana. His movement was sure and swift, like an arrow leaving a bowstring. Karasu watched without comment.
“I am guessing there are not many iaijutsu duels with the Legion,” said Harun lightly.
“That’s no reason not to practice,” said Karasu. He then picked up another bokken from the rack and they began to spar.
Watching Harun was one thing, sparring with him was quite another. It didn’t take long for Karasu to realise something: Harun was as good as he had been at the same age.
Perhaps, even a little better, Karasu thought.
And as their spar continued, Karasu noticed that Harun possessed a quality that Karasu had not had at the same age: restraint. Sure had confidence, but it was a thing that he was rather than displayed.
And going by Kenshin’s letter, Karasu reflected, and Kami willing, Harun will see the end of the war…
Karasu lowered his bokken, Harun did the same.
“Father? Did I do something wrong?” Harun asked.
“No Harun,” said Karasu. “But…I can see there no convincing you away from the Legion, is there?”
Harun shook his head.
“Then you will be welcome, with my blessing,” said Karasu.
Harun smiled, he felt so light as if he could float off the dojo floor. “Thank you, father,” he said. “I won’t disappoint you.”
Karasu then went over to one of the suits of armour. Blue, with black shakkudo and iron plating with blue silk padding and gold accents. And on the helmet, a Crane with its wings outstretched in gold.
“This is Steel Feather,” Karasu said. “I am its custodian, and I am now passing it on to you.”
“I will endeavour to be worthy of this honour, father,” said Karasu, giving a bow.
“I know you will,” said Karasu with pride.

Utaku_Yamada
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Posts: 137
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Mon Apr 02, 2018 8:25 am

Sorry about the delay, there should be more very soon.




The next few days, Harun devoted himself to training. Not just in the castle but also riding and, with his father’s permission, sparring with some of the students from the Ruby Dojo. It was quite a challenge, but he needed it and the challenge made sense since those who he sparred with would be going on to be Emerald Magistrates.
Being back though brought back a lot of memories of his childhood, it was like being back in a dream. Yet he had seen what was beyond this idealistic world and he was ready to face it.
Or thought he was.
One day, a lot of people began to arrive. Representatives from all the Great Clans and a few Minor Clans. This was normal, before leaving for the summer campaign against the Onyx, the Emerald Champion held court so that word of his decisions could be carried throughout Rokugan.
Harun and his siblings were generally removed from what happened in the audience chamber, but they had tried and listened from the spy holes accessed in the secret passages. But Harun had not been in there during a court.
Which why it felt a little odd when Saigou told Harun that he would be attending.
“Are you sure, Ooji-san?” Harun asked. “Why?”
“I am sure you will find out in due course,” said Saigou. “I am merely conveying a message, I trust you know what to do now.”
Fortunately, Harun did. He put on his best hakama and Jinbei, adding kataginu jacket with the pointy shoulders. They were in the pale blue of the Crane, on the lapels of the kataginu were the mons of the Kakita family with a silver slash on one of them to indicated he had been trained by the Kakita Duelling Academy.
His hair was another matter, it needed lacquer to smooth out the kinks and make it behave so it could be fashioned into a proper topknot. Then he went down to the chamber the silk of his clothes making a swishing sound as he walked.

The great audience chamber was the most ornately decorated room in the castle. The walls were gilded and painted with scenes of sakura and cyprus trees, the ceiling with floating water lilies.
“Stop gaping,” said Takeaki from behind him. “It’s not like we haven’t seen it before.”
“We haven’t really been in here before,” Harun pointed out. “At least, not allowed to be.”
Saigou had helpfully told them of their places. Ahead of the clan representatives who lined up in order of precedence in front of the dais, and opposite Saigou, Akodo Ryouichi and First Magistrate Kitsuki Shinpei. He and Takeaki side by side, sat in seiza, with their backs against the side wall, the shoulders of their kataginu lined up exactly.
They all bowed as the inner door behind the dais and the Emerald Champion appeared. He sat in seiza on the dais, the Emerald Daisho removed from his obi and placed on the stand near him, the armour on display behind him.
Harun kept his eyes lowered until the signal was given for everyone to rise. Then he cautiously looked at his father, Karasu’s face was a blank mask, here he served as representative of the Emperor’s Will. It wasn’t something Harun was used to seeing in his father, he lowered his eyes.
The First Magistrate, Kitsuki Shinpei, gave a report on the state of the empire. The late snows in Lion and Dragon lands had delayed preparations for their armies moving against the Onyx. There were reports from Phoenix lands, a council of sensei were acting in the absence of Champion Shiba Tsukimi were still attempting to establish order in the outlying provinces. There were a few reports about Unicorn lands, how most of the taint had been driven from the lands. Harun could even hear some of what he had related to his father, the gathering of the ancestors’ shryo, the words of the Kitsu spirit, and Akodo Zetsubou’s courage.
Harun felt pleased about this, even though the memory was quite painful. Zetsubou’s sacrifice needs to be known to everyone, he thought.
The report done, Kitsuki Shinpei now called for any petitions. The first one to come forward was the Lion Ambassador. He was tall, powerfully built and clearly was trained as a bushi, yet his limp right kimono sleeve and patch over his right eye indicated his early retirement from the battlefield. He was introduced as Akodo Sesuke.
“My lord,” said the Lion after he had prostrated himself. “The Lion Clan wish to have the City of the Rich Frog returned to our lands.”
His speech was short and concise, saying the city had traditionally been part of the lands of the Lion Clan for many generations. He also went into how in the war with the Onyx, how the Lion had won the land back after the Spider had been unable to defend it. Having said his piece, Akodo Sesuke bowed and retreated.
Susumu Nishio, the representative for the Spider Clan, was then given the floor. His words we gushing and eloquent, citing the petitions at the Imperial Winter Court at Kyuden Doji the previous year that had led to these decisions.
Harun watched his father through this, Karasu’s face still remaining impassive. His on flawless as he heard both sides with equal attention. Harun kept waiting for someone to mention his name, mention the duel he had taken part in a year ago the shell of the city.
They don’t have to, Harun realised, just by my being here, they’re all thinking it.
“In times such as these, when we have begun to emerge from the shadows we have long fought against,” said Karasu. “We must begin to think of the Rokugan we will have once peace is established. All of the Great Clans will need to grow, and the situation assessed as a whole. Fighting over small pieces merely makes us look petty.” He gave a pause. “The Son of Heaven had already decided upon this matter and I will not revoke it. The City of the Rich Frog remains under the leadership of the Spider Clan.”
Akodo Sesuke’s face fell, but he had sense enough to keep quiet while his Ikoma companion gave an appropriate response before retreating.
There were a few more petitions after this. Harun did his best to looked focused and interested, even if most of what was going on was routine. He wondered how his father managed to do it.
Then Yasuki Ogawa, Damiyo of the Yasuki Family and representing the Crab Clan, came forward. He was a tall man with a long lean face and pointed beard which his tall tate-eboshi hat made look longer and leaner.
“Champion Karasu-ue,” he said. “I have come to relate to you a disturbing incident in the lands of the Crab. A clan magistrate, a member of my own family, sought to extort both samurai and peasant in his collecting of tithes. Usually, this would not be something I would bring before. But…for the nature of his death.” Ogawa paused for dramatic effect. “He was found severely burned, the outline of a black hand imprinted onto his face in ash. And all of his belongings still on him.”
A low murder of surprise was heard in the chamber, even Harun reacted with surprise. This was the Black Hand’s work, and the notoriety and fear that surrounded him and his followers meant that no one, not even bandits, criminal or eta would even pick up the bag of koku that lay next to him.
And my mother is with them, thought Harun.
At a nod from Karasu, Shinpei began to speak.
“The actions of the Black Hand and its leader Shiba Michio are well known to the Emerald Champion. Any information that will lead to his capture or that of his followers is most welcome,” he said.
“The return of the Black Hand to the lands of the Crab is most concerning, given the unrest that followed when they surfaced there years ago,” said Ogawa. “The Crab Clan requests assistance with the capture of the Black Hand and its leader.”
“This is granted,” said Karasu in a tone that could not be questioned.
Yasuki Ogawa made his bows and retreated.
“I also wish to announce that my sons Mirumoto Takeaki and Kakita Harun will be serving Rokugan now they have come of age. Takeaki-san will be serving as yojimbo at the court of Otosan Uchi, Harun-san in the first Imperial Legion.”
Harun and Takeaki bowed their heads as they were named, all eyes upon them.
“I am grateful to have this honour, father,” said Takeaki.
“As am I,” said Harun. “And to follow your example.”

Utaku_Yamada
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Tue Apr 03, 2018 8:16 am

That evening, Karasu sat in his study with Kitsuki Shinpei. They talked at length about the Black Hand, the group had been around as long as Karasu had been Champion. Information had been hard to get in the first few years as the Onyx still controlled a fair portion of Rokugan and much of what they didn’t had fallen into some degree of lawlessness.
The deaths, even the more graphic ones, but this only meant reports of the whereabouts of the group were harder to get. And then there was the leader, Shiba Michio, bearing the divine power of the Obsidian Dragon.
Karasu wasn’t even sure if Michio could be stopped, but he needed to be. And then, there was the history between them.
Shinpei listened intently, asking questions at intervals. Finally, Karasu asked for his assessment.
“Well, I will say this Champion,” said Shinpei. “You have given me a difficult task, but not an impossible one. With the Onyx forces in withdrawal we should be able to devote more resources to this.”
“I agree,” said Karasu. Shinpei had only been First Magistrate for a few months, but he had more than proved his worth in that time. “I want weekly reports. And do not underestimate Shiba Michio, do nit try to take him alone.”
“If I may be bold, Champion, there is something I wish to ask,” said Shinpei. “Were you acquainted with Shiba Michio? I have been going through records, and his name appears at the Imperial Court the first year you were Champion.”
“Yes, that is true,” answered Karasu. “We knew each other, I would even say we were friends. Good friends even.”
If Shinpei was surprised by this, he did not show it in his face. “What sort of man would you say he was?”
“Well…” Karasu’s voice trailed off as he remembered. “He is perhaps the best man I have ever met…and the worst. He is more honourable than any samurai I have ever met, perhaps what a Shiba was supposed to be.” Karasu paused. “That was then, it probably has little to do with what has happened since he has become Lord Moon’s agent. Has it changed him? Or has it come from who he always was? I do not have the answer to that, perhaps one day I can ask him myself. I look at what he has done and I see a man who is lost, one whose path could have been very different.” He shook his head. “There is one who travels with him, the only check on his actions: Utaku Yamada.”
Shinpei raised a surprised eyebrow. “But that is…”
“Harun’s mother,” answered Karasu with a nod.
“Does he know?” Shinpei asked.
“Harun? Yes, he knows,” said Karasu. “I promised his mother I would tell him, and that he would make what he would of his own life.”
From the window next to them they could see Harun sparring with some of the Ruby Dojo Students in the courtyard below. A challenge for him, but Harun was holding his own.
“He will do well in the Legion,” Shinpei said.
“Oh, I know he will,” said Karasu with a little pride.

Over the next few days, the Emerald Champion and his retinue began to make preparations to leave. Harun began to as well, he was almost eager for it. To take the next step, to serve as his father did.
On the morning they were to leave, Saigou came to Harun’s room and helped the young man put on his armour. First there were the padded undergarments, then the blue enamelled steel plates that were strapped to his limbs and hung around his waist, then the breast plate and neckplates that went over his head. Harun then tied the obi firmly around his waist. He then took a sky blue hachimaki with the Crane clan mon in the middle and tied it around his head.
Saigou then held out Harun’s helmet. It was of blue enamelled steel, and on the front was a Crane in gold, its wings proudly outstretched. There was a solemnity about Saigou that surprised Harun.
“Ooji-san, this isn’t the first time,” said Harun. “I’ve worn armour before, I’ve even seen battle before.”
“This is different,” said Saigou. “Then you were trying to hide, this is who you are.”
Harun nodded, taking the helmet and placing it on his head, then tying the straps. There was one more thing to do, he sat in seiza before his daisho, bowed and then secured it beneath his obi. He was ready.
He went to leave the room, then went back, taking the letter from his mother that sat on the table beside his bed. He had read it every night since he came home. He folded it carefully and secured it beneath his clothing.
Now, he was ready.
Outside, the horses were being made ready. Harun got a few looks as he came out in his new armour as well as a few nods of respect. He began to say good bye to his siblings. Some of them were staying, some leaving for their own training.
It was then that Karasu arrived, his brilliant green and gold armour making everything look dull.
Harun looked at his father, he had seen him in the Emerald Armour many times, his father riding off to war.
But now I’m part of it, thought Harun, I am going with him.
Karasu looked at his son, his eyes going up and down as he took in the sight of Harun in armour. He gave a nod of approval.
“It suits you well,” Karasu said.
Harun flushed with pride. “Thank you, father.”
Harun mounted his horse. They rode away, the green and gold banners of the Emerald Champion flying in the wind. Harun was thrilled to be a part of it.
But Karasu’s thoughts were more sombre. I hope I’m doing the right thing.

Utaku_Yamada
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Sun Apr 15, 2018 5:04 am

They headed northwest, through the lands of the Kakita and into the lands of the Doji family. The weather was pleasant and they made good progress, staying in villages and temples when they passed them. And when they didn’t the green and gold jinmaku tent was pitched and they unrolled their sleeping mats.
Their party attracted attention as they travelled., peasants coming out of their homes or looking up from the fields. Bowing when they realised who it was. Samurai and peasants they met on the road pulling to onside to let them through, bowing and falling to their knees as the Emerald Champion passed.
Travelling again felt good for Harun, he welcomed the possibilities each new day on the road would bring. But travelling with his father, that was even better. It was different from when he was younger, sometimes Harun and his siblings would accompany Karasu on a visit to Otosan Uchi or one of the castles of the Great Clans. But those trips were short, and there were far more people around. On this trip there were just the magistrates and legionnaires that usually accompanied the Emerald Champion.
And on the road, Karasu had more time for him than at home. They would train in the evenings, side by side, father and son. Harun also had lots of questions about the Legion. He had grown up around it, but now it was before him he wanted more details. Karasu answered them, sometimes with Akodo Ryoichi adding his own remarks. Ryoichi also took the time one evening to scratch out a strategy on paper for Harun, showing the young man how the Battle for the Second Seal had gone.
“Was it always like this?” Haruna asked one evening as their journey neared its end. “What you’ve told me about the Legion, its different to what I have read about war at the academy and what I was part of when I was in Unicorn lands.”
“It is different to a traditional army,” Karasu admitted. “And it is different because it had to be.” When Harun looked a little confused, Karasu explained more. “The Legion was started in a very dark time for Rokugan, much of the land had been taken by the forces of the Onyx, peasants had been driven from the lands and the ones that stayed were raided and found it hard to grow food with the spread of the Taint.” Karasu gave a sad smile. “Many of us tried to help as much as we could, your mother Yamada was one of them. She told me of the raids she would go on against the Onyx, and how they would train the villagers to resist the Onyx if they returned.”
“But…didn’t we fight?” Harun asked. “The Clan Legions? The Imperial Legions?”
“Yes, but…there wasn’t a lot of success, at least at first,” Karasu explained. “Moto Taigo told me that he and Mirumoto Tsuda, he was Emerald Champion then, disagreed about how to go about it. Taigo left and formed the Last Legion and welcomed anyone who came there wishing to fight. Clan samurai, peasant, ronin…they all got a home, and a cause, and then they started winning.”
“What about Akodo Kano?” Harun asked, thinking back to his talk with Akodo Kibo not long ago.
“Kano was…” Karasu thought back, looking a little uncomfortable. “Well, he was having a lot of success and there were some who thought he should be put in charge of the Legion. And there were a few who were…worried.”
“I read some of my mother’s papers,” said Harun. “I think some were draft of the Legion treaties, all the restrictions that were put on him. There were a lot.”
“Well, they couldn’t change the Legion from what it was,” Karasu said. “What Taigo started, everything he and the other generals put in place, were a large part of the success. That treaty, that was one way to continue the Legion as it was. And…I was another.”
Harun stared at him. “What do you mean, father?”
“The Legion needed someone to stand up for what it was,” Karasu explained. “Someone that would work with it, and the leadership in place to make sure the success would continue with the full support of the Empire. Yamada, she explained all this to me and she introduced me to Hikahime-no-fortune who began my lessons on strategy.”
Harun stared at his father through the firelight. “Father…I…I met Hikahime-no-fortune, that night that Zetsubou-shryo-died. She came through the arch after my father Nakura did, she wore the armour of the Blessed Guard.”
Karasu stared at his son for a long moment. “Did she speak to you?”
Harun nodded.
“What did she say?” Karasu asked,
“Well, she said something about my mother not following her advice,” said Harun. “But she also said that I would join the Legion, and take Toshi Ranbo.”
“By yourself?” Karasu asked, raising a sceptical eyebrow.
“She didn’t say,” said Harun with a grin. “It didn’t quite seem right to ask more of her.”
“Fair enough,” said Karasu.

The next day, they rode up the hills that surrounded the Kintani valley. At the top they made a stop, below in the valley they could see the vast encampment surrounding Kyuden Kyotei in the valley below.
“The headquarters of the First and Second Imperial Legions,” Karasu said. He took a spyglass, old by the look of it, looking through it down the valley and then offered it to Harun.
Harun held it in his hands for a moment. “How did you get this? Majid told me they’re even rare among the Unicorn.”
“From an old friend,” said Karasu. And that was all he would say about it.
Harun held it up to his eye. Through the spyglass he could see the rows of tents surrounding he castle, even the columns of soldiers as they trained.
“Now look up, further away, to the west,” said Karasu from beside him. “Can you see it?”
“Toshi Ranbo,” said Harun breathlessly. “It looks so near!”
“We should be there soon,” said Karasu. “And we all need to be ready.”

Utaku_Yamada
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Wed Apr 25, 2018 8:47 am

That afternoon, they rode into the encampment. The emerald green and gold banners had clearly been seen from a distance, as there were soldiers either side of them cheering and waving as they rode through. Harun grinned, but Karasu was ahead of him so Harun couldn’t see his reaction.
Harun thought they would be going to the castle, that made sense. But instead they turned before they entered and stopped near a rather modest tent. The castle, Harun learned later, was for the accommodation and treatment of the wounded and medical staff. Also there were the stables as well as where supplies and weapons were stored and distributed.
A woman came out of the tent, she looked to be in her thirties. Her hair was cut short and rather ragged, her clothing a dull brown aside from the Imperial Legion jinabori jacket which she wore. But she wore the daisho of a samurai.
She’s a ronin, Harun realised as they dismounted, and high ranking from that jacket.
The horses were taken away to the council, the ronin woman stood there almost defiantly then made a bow.
Not as low as a ronin usually would make even to a Clan samurai, thought Harun.
“You and yours are most welcome, Champion Kakita,” she said. “You have chosen a good time to return. Most of those who left us for the winter have now returned, and we have a number of new recruits.”
“And I have one more for you,” said Karasu. “This is my son Harun, he will be joining the Legion. Harun, this is Katsua Hisato, Taisa of the First Imperial Legion.”
Harun made a bow as he was expected to. Hisato looked him up and down, from his armour, to his daisho, to his fresh eager face.
“Impressive looking, but has he experience?” Hisato asked.
“I do...Taisa,” said Harun, remembering at the last moment. “I was Topaz Champion of my year at the Kakita Academy, I won my first duel at Kaeru Toshi and I saw combat while I was in the lands of the Unicorn Clan last summer.”
Hisato raised her eyebrows. “So, you have been blooded?” Her voice softened a little, but it still had the air of authority. “We will see what sort of hohei we can make you into. Report to recruitment, you’ll be assigned kit and barracks.”
She then turned away and started talking with Karasu, both of them walking away and leaving him there for a few moments before Harun realised what had happened. He had been given an order, by a ronin. So he left to find recruitment
Karasu looked over his shoulder, watching Harun leave. He would find out sooner or later what was expected of him here.

Fortunately, it didn’t take much to find recruitment. Harun was then told to stand on one of the rows of new recruits. He stood between two peasants who looked a little uncomfortable with him there.
Down the row were clerks with writing tablets, checking and securing people’s papers that had their experience of combat as well as permission from superiors to volunteer themselves for service.
Karasu had marked Harun’s with his own chop, this did cause the clerk to take a second glance at Harun before moving on. Harun waited after they passed him, looking around to see who else was there. A lot of ronin and peasants, but he saw a few clan samurai. Many of them Crane or Phoenix, a few Dragon and one in Unicorn colours. And a good number from Minor Clans that he couldn’t recognise.
Then in groups of about twenty they were told to move off, heading to the castle where they were to be kitted out.
“Is this where we get weapons?” asked a woman behind him asked. Harun looked behind at her. She wore the threadbare clothes of peasant and smelled as if she needed cleaning.
“I don’t think so,” Harun said politely, trying not to breathe in too much. “I think those are distributed later unless you have one already.” He absently patted his daisho.
The woman looked annoyed and didn’t say anything.
It came for Harun’s turn and he was issued a wicker backpack heavy with the soldier’s kit that was given to everyone who joined the legion, samurai and peasant. Mess kit, rations as well as writing supplies, candles, flint and a whetstone and silk cloth for keeping weapons sharp and clean. Tied on top was a rolled tatami sleeping mat and blanket, so when Harun slid the pack onto his back it was rather heavy and cumbersome. He left the supply room at the back of the column, walking as quickly as he could in spite of the load.
He followed them down the lines of jinmaku walls which had been set up. Walls that would give them privacy and shield the wind, but not yet the roof that made up the tent.
Harun put down his pack. Are we supposed to set it up ourselves? he wondered.
Apparently, they were.
Harun had no idea what to do, even when he had been travelling with his father there had been other people to do things like this. The camp was always made ready for them if they needed it. But this wasn’t the case here.
Fortunately, there were people there who knew what to do. Shimo, the peasant woman who had spoken to him earlier, started taking charge. This was a bit…confronting at first for Harun, but seeing as the others went along with he did as well without complaint. Though he thought it a bit much when he was set to digging a trench alongside the Badger Clan samurai Ichiro Sadake,
“I guess they found something we can do, eh Kakita-san?” he said with a grin.
Harun didn’t answer him, grunting in irritation when dirt got into his scandals.
When that was done, Harun went back to his pack for something to eat. A bag of rice, konbu, dried fish flakes, dried plums…nothing very substantial. At least, nothing he could eat right now.
Shimo came over, an amused expression on her face. “I guess you don’t really know what to do with all that?”
Harun shook his head.
She picked up the pot and the bag of rice. “Come on, Mikote,” she said kindly. “Let me show you the ways of the world.”
Over that meal that Harun helped prepare, he got to know the other people in his unit.
Shimo, he learned while she showed him how to mould the rice balls, had been on the retinue of an Emerald Magistrate until he had died the previous summer.
“The Legion seemed like the best move,” she said. “The Taisa has risen through the ranks, made a name for herself. I don’t see why I can’t. And,” she added, “there was Hikahime-no-Fortune.”
Harun smiled and said nothing. There were some things that were too hard to explain.
Ichiro Sadake had grown up in the hub villages that surrounded Otosan Uchi where what remained of the Badger Clan.
There was Kawa and Toshi, brother and sister who had come from a village in Mantis lands along with Yoritomo Oyama. Shiba Nishina, who wore armour of a much earlier vintage though he seemed hardly much older than Harun. Mirumoto Itami, whose go board provided some amusement later. And there was Yonezu, who talked to hardly anyone and when the meal was over sat in a dark corner with only his pipe for company.
“Harun, you haven’t told us much about yourself,” observed Shimo.
She’s rather forward, Harun thought. Aloud he said modestly, “Well, there isn’t a lot to tell. I have wanted to serve in the Legion for as long as I known what it was. I tried the Kakita Academy…”
“Very find background for soldiering,” observed Ichiro Sadake dryly.
Harun grinned. “I was Topaz Champion of my year, and then I went to Unicorn lands and was there when Shiro Moto was taken.”
“You have seen battle?” Kawa asked,
Harun nodded.
“What was it like?”
Harun thought a moment. “Confusing,” said Harun. “But that was with the Unicorn, things are a bit different here or so my father said.”
“Your father?” Shiba Nishina asked. “Was he a Moto that married into the Kakita?”
Mirumoto Itami laughed. “No,” he said. “I think I saw you earlier riding in, Kakita-san. Your father is Kakita Karasu-ue, the Emerald Champion.”
Harun was quiet a moment. He had wanted to fit in more, this meant not telling people who his father was. At least not just yet. Then he nodded.
They all looked at him in surprise and shock.
“You could have gone anywhere, but you came here,” said Yoritomo Itami. “Why?”
“Because I wanted to serve,” answered Harun simply.
“I think its good,” said Shimo, backing Harun up. “We all are here to serve, and to prove ourselves.”
Harun smiled, he was starting to like this place.

Training began in earnest the next day. The trumpets blew before dawn, and they were on the training field before anyone had a chance to eat. They were issued bamboo poles and an instructor led them through a series of drills. The pace set was gruelling and even Harun found it hard to keep up, but he knew this wasn’t about combat but endurance and discipline. Something that wasn’t always valued by the Kakita.
Onyx won’t stop after the first strike, he told himself every morning when his arms would start to ache, and he would keep going.
After drills and the morning meal, it was time for combat training in earnest. Spears, bows and—for those who were samurai—swords.
Most afternoons it was back to endurance training. Drills again, or running around carrying packs filled with rocks until they were told to stop.
The training was harder than anything Harun had gone through and most nights he fell asleep as soon as he lay on his sleeping matt. But it was also rewarding, not just when he improved but when he was able to commiserate with the ones he shared barracks with. It drew them together as a group, and he learned new skills.
He was proud of the day he formed rice balls by himself, despite scalding his hands.
Sometimes Harun saw his father on the training field. Watching the new recruits, talking with the instructors. But if he saw Harun he didn’t approach him.
Days turned into weeks, training was intense and it left only little time for leisure in the evenings. And it was on one of those evenings that Harun received a letter from Arahime. He wanted until later that night and read it by the light of a candle.


Dear Harun,

I am writing to let you know I made it safely to Second City. I only just arrived, and this is the last boat back to the Empire before summer begins and all the ships stop.
I’m sorry that I was angry that you were late. I am sure you had good reasons for it. You never go back on your word, ever, and I know you tried your best.
I wish I could have waited, but when Lord Ayumu gives an order, it is my place, just as it is yours, to serve as best we can.
This city looks so strange and wonderful. I am sure it is full of adventure. I will have so many good stories to tell you when I get home. And you can tell me of the life with the Unicorn. Of what it is like to ride freely across the plains.
I cannot wait to share all these stories with you some day. That would be enough for me.

Fondly,
Kakita Arahime

He smiled and read it three more times, then folded it carefully and secured it safely with the letter from his mother Yamada. And most nights, if he managed to keep his eyes open, he would get either one of them out and read them again.

Utaku_Yamada
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Sat Apr 28, 2018 9:33 am

Training in the cold light of the spring dawn was one thing, was something else entirely. And very unpleasant.
Even with a straw cloak over his training clothes, Harun found it hard to keep dry. Water would get through, getting next to his skin while they ran drills on the training field.
There was the trouble of getting dry wood for the fires. Sometimes it was hard to find a shugenja who could help them out and they were faced with a cold meal and cold camp for the night.
And then there was the trouble of keeping their camp dry, which became a problem after about a solid week of rain. The trench Haurn and Sesuke had dug to drain water away wasn’t deep enough to do the job. So they had to go out, at night, in the pouring rain and dig it deeper.
It was all Harun could do to not grumble about the weather. Morale was lower than usual, but some too it better than others. Yoritomo Oyama functioned no differently to when the weather is fine, Shimo and Kawa just put on their conical straw hats and showed benign indifference. And the ronin Yonezu looked no different than what he did from day to day.
It seemed petty, but Harun did find it a little difficult to get up some mornings when he could hear the sound of the rain. You wanted this, he reminded himself, you were told it wouldn’t be easy.
The rain finally passed, they were able to get dry wood and have a hot meal for the first time in days. When this was done Harun retired to his sleeping mat, intending to read his letters before sleeping, except he couldn’t find them. They weren’t in his pack, his inro box or with his armour. He knew he could not have misplaced them, the letters were far too precious. Clearly, someone had taken them.
This is just like back at the dojo, Harun thought. The other students, they had called him “dirty” and “gaijin”, they had hidden his socks and messed up his bed. He closed his hand into a fist. He walked towards the campfire.
“Which one of you did it?” Harun demanded, looking at all of them in turn. “One of you went through my possessions and took something, I want it back.”
Shimo frowned at him. “There is a better way to do this, you know,” she protested.
Oyama shook his head. “This is serious, of one of us is guilty of this theft then how can we trust each other in combat?”
Yonezu made a derisive noise. “This is all rot,” he said. “How do we know you are not just making trouble? You are just complaining as this grubby camp offends your Crane sensibilities.”
Harun stared him down. “Are you accusing me of lying?” Harun challenged.
“Hardly,” spat Yonezu. “That would mean crediting you with actual intelligence.”
Harun pushed him back and they started to scuffle. Quickly, everyone else got up and pulled them apart. Harun resisted them, Yoritomo Oyama gently pushed him to the ground.
“Don’t let baka like him get the better of you son,” said Oyama.
Harun stopped resisting, but said nothing.
They all searched the tent and everyone’s possessions, but there was no sign of the letters. Harun sat down, his heart sinking. It wasn’t until he was getting ready for sleep again when something fell out of his clothing. He picked them up, it was his letters.

Utaku_Yamada
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Sat May 12, 2018 10:29 am

Kakita Karasu’s tent was modest in size, hardly what one would expect for the Emerald Champion. But it did make up for it with the few personal touches he had brought in over the years. Every summer he was based with the Legion he worked out of this tent, not just Legion business but the numerous duties he had as Emerald Champion. In a way, it was a second home.
Along the back wall, partially concealed by a painted shoji screen, was a tatami sleeping mat and bedding, no different to the ones issued to the soldiers. Personal items were held in a small chest beside the bed that also had some candles and scrolls on top as well as a bamboo flute. Perpendicular to it, next to the entrance, was Karasu’s desk as well as daisho stand and armour stand which held the Emerald Armour when he wasn’t wearing it. On the opposite wall was a cabinet that held documents and maps as well as some personal items. In front of that was a wide low table surrounded with zabuton cushions, this had been used for many meals as well as planning battles and receiving guests.
Karasu was at the table this evening, going over reports and various correspondence as well the ongoing battle plan for Toshi Ranbo. But that evening he was lost in thoughts, the tea he had been drinking left to go cold as he ran over one thought in his mind. The new recruits were about to complete their training, and Harun with them.
Karasu had been watching the recruits a little, but deliberately kept his distance. He had talked with the training gunso and had heard how thoroughly Harun had been devoting himself to the training and the hardships that had come with it. And he had seen Harun’s test for the cavalry, coming out with the best of them.
And now Harun would be facing combat. That fact almost made Karasu reassign him elsewhere, it was within his power, to place Harun in an out of the way posting that would never see combat. Protect him from harm, as he had promised Yamada.
He had sent so many young men to their deaths, some of them not much older than Harun.
As Harun’s father, he would have picked up that brush, written that transfer, but as his commanding officer…
“Senzo,” Karasu called, the man who attended the tents came in and bowed. “Find my son, bring him here.”
Senzo gave another bow and left.
Karasu cleared the table and poured out the cold tea, putting some more hot water on to boil.
If anything happened to him…how would I explain it to Yamada? Karasu wondered.
Harun entered the tent and Karasu could only marvel at the change that had come over him in only a few weeks. He looked taller, either he had grown or he stood more erect and confident from the drills and standing on parade they had done in training. He was thinner, tanner from the time spent outside, his teenage beard grown beyond its careful trimming.
But there was one other thing that had not changed. That eagerness, that drive to prove himself. Only there for a moment before the blank on resumed over his face, but still there.
Harun made a bow. “You sent for me, father,” he said.
Karasu nodded. “Sit down,” he said, his tone friendly as they went to the table and he poured the tea. “I have been watching your progress, but it’s a while since we spoke. How are you finding it all?”
“Challenging, like you said,” said Harun, sipping his tea. “But there have been a lot of new things, and I don’t think I’ve done too badly.”
“Too badly?” Karasu raised an eyebrow. “I watched your cavalry test, not everyone can get selected for mounted infantry straight out of training.”
“Did you…speak with them?” Harun asked.
“I didn’t have to,” said Karasu. “Your skills and experience showed for themselves.”
Harun looked down, his cheeks hot with embarrassment. Karasu shook his head.
“Never be less than who you are Harun, or what you are capable of,” said Karasu.
“I won’t, father,” said Harun.

The next morning, the former new recruits were all given their assignments and sent to outfitting. Those that needed weapons were issued with them, as well as fresh supplies and rations. Finally, each soldier was given the sashimono flag that would attach to their backs in combat, it showed their unit painted large in black on green with their platoon and rank smaller below.
Most were assigned to Togawa unit, on Harun’s the Kyojin Platoon was painted below, but didn’t see anyone else with this. Still, he walked with the others to another part of the encampment where the Togawa unit’s nobori flag was sunk into the ground to mark where they resided when not in combat. At least five hundred strong in the tents that lined the row.
“From what I heard, they had significant losses last summer when the Onyx pulled back,” said Ichiro Sesuke to Harun. “And here we are, replacing them.”
Harun nodded, they walked down the rows to find their barracks which were on either side. The Chui, Shiba Dankaro, had a small tent at the end where he slept, and as Harun neared it the others with him started to peel off until he was alone outside Kyoujin Platoon’s tents, marked outside by a flag.
He stopped, putting his backpack on the floor but they all seemed to be occupied with eating, talking and some playing a few games of strategy. Only one looked up, a young man a few years older than Harun who wore the purple of the Unicorn Clan. He gave a smile.
“Welcome, I am Utaku Kenji,” he said, bowing.
“Kakita Harun, I have just been assigned,” he said, holding out his hand for Kenji to take.
Kenji took it to shake with pleasant surprise. “Gunso Koharu told me to expect to, she is in the field,” he said. “Leave your possessions here, she wants to see you saddled up. Everything else can wait.”
Harun nodded, leaving his backpack in the tent and then following Kenji.

Utaku_Yamada
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Thu May 24, 2018 8:35 pm

Kenji took Harun to one of the training yards where the cavalry was. It was big field, with a rope line in spikes all around, where some of the various cavalry units drilled and trained. It was mostly light cavalry, but Harun did see some heavily armoured ones as well. Koharu was at the far end, in the company of several horses and bushi, shouting at them as they drilled. Riding back and forward under her scrutiny.
Koharu looked Harun up and down, hands defiantly on her hips. She was a short woman in her thirties, her hair was cropped short about her ears and she had a scar on her chin. “Kakita Harun?”
Harun nodded.
Koharu frowned at him and frowned at his armour some more. “You look too pretty to be useful,” she declared. “Are you sure you haven’t wandered into the wrong place?”
“I can ride and I can fight,” Harun said. “I also have seen battle, at Shiro Moto.”
She examined him again, less critically this time. “You’ll do.” She then blinked and then stared at him. “Kakita Harun? That armour…dark skin like a Moto…you’re Denko’s son…”
This confused Harun. “Denko? No…I’m…”
“I know who you are,” Koharu barked. She nodded to one of the others around. “Get this prince a mount.”
Harun stood there awkwardly while a horse was brought out. A well-formed gelding, brown in colour, light and bred for speed from probably Unicorn bloodlines.
“I know his paces, lets out you through yours,” said Koharu. “And mind you don’t be rough with him. You are replaceable, a horse not so much.”
“Yes gunso,” Harun said.
If Koharu expected Harun to mount straight away, she did not show any surprise when Harun did not.
Uncle Kousuda would kill me if I messed this up… Harun thought.
He approached the horse gently, slowly, holding his hands out to show the horse he was not a threat. He held out one hand, palm up, fingers angled down so the horse could down so the horse could sniff it. With the other hand, he fished half a piece of bread out of a pocket that was from his rations. Suddenly, the horse was a lot more interested in him. Harun smiled.
“What is his name?” Harun asked.
Koharu’s eyebrow went up. “Hayate,” she answered.
“Hayate,” Harun repeated. He stroked Hayate’s nose, allowing the horse to sniff his arms and shoulders, then ran his hand up the horse’s neck just as Kousuda had taught him as a boy. Then, when he was certain the horse was relaxed, Harun mounted in an easy, practiced motion.
The horse snorted, Harun used the reins to move the horse in a few circles.
“Taking your time?” Koharu asked, a little impatiently.
“Some things cannot be rushed,” answered Harun.
She nodded in agreement. Harun took Hayate through a few more paces before coming to a stop before Koharu.
“Ready,” he said.
“Take it a hundred paces, return and dismount,” Koharu said curtly.
Harun took off, making a brisk pace that wouldn’t tax Hayate too much, aware that the gunso’s eyes and a good number of the platoon’s were on him. He made the turn without slowing down too much, then started back. He could feel himself tense, the dismount was what he was worried about, and if he did it wrong, say caught his foot on the stirrup he could fall flat on his face.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Harun fairly slid down off the horse, needing only one hand to balance. The other was on his sword hilt, drawing it as he descended with the blade unsheathed before his feet had touched the ground.
Harun smiled, Koharu didn’t.
“Do it again,” she said.

They did it “again” so many times that Harun lost count. When Koharu was done watching Harun do it by himself, some more from the platoon did it with him. Back and forward, dismount and draw. And it was only when the sun was getting low that she dismissed him.
“You don’t wish to see me use my sword, gunso?” Harun asked her.
“If I wanted to see a flashy display of art, I’d go see a kabuki play,” Koharu said bluntly. “You are more than competent with that, or you wouldn’t be here. What I wanted to see how was how you could get in and out quickly, and I am satisfied you have.”
They then went back to the camp, Harun’s muscles aching from all the riding.
What was that name they called father? Denko? Lightning? I guess someone saw his strike…I could use a bath.
He said the latter to Kenji, asking where that could be gotten. Usually they washed with a bucket of water heated by the fire.
“Well, Tonashi Row has a few,” Kenji said.
Harun’s face was blank at this.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t been,” Kenji said.
“I haven’t,” said Harun.
Kenji laughed. “Lets get that armour off you. You are in for a treat.”

Utaku_Yamada
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Fri May 25, 2018 8:59 am

Toshiwara Row was several rows of tents, houses and shacks, situated between where the barracks of two units and only accessible from the main entrance at one ends. No weapons were permitted within other than the jitte that the patrolling yoriki carried. And almost anything from within Rokugan—and beyond, to a small extent—could be found within its confines. Food and drink to augment one’s rations, exotic goods, entertainment, women—and men is one desired—as well as more mundane things such as getting one’s laundry done or getting a letter written and dispatched. And, to Harun’s relief, a bath house.
It was but a small shack with various booths where one changed and bathed. The place could have been cleaner, but the hot water was good, there was a time limit though and Harun would have liked to have stayed longer. But it did do a lot to relieve soreness in his muscles.
Afterwards, Kenji took him down to see other places. Several sake houses, a few stalls set up by traders, a geisha house that had some lurid paintings of girls on a flag outside…and a small tent with a dragon flag outside where they went inside.
“Nawa!” Kenji said as he pulled the tent flap back.
“No noise!” shouted back a voice. “Not until I am done here.”
Harun blinked in the dimlight, inside it was dark and there was the smell of ink and charcoal. He heard a woman’s low moan, then as his eyes adjusted he saw the woman, sitting on the floor with her back bare, her covering her modesty in front with her hands. Behind her was a man, bald and also naked to the waist.
What have I walked into here? Harun wondered. Then he saw the tattoo on the floor next to them. So, he’s a henshi, a tattooist…
They sat down against the far wall while the tattooist finished with the woman. It did not take very long, she was shown the results by angling two mirrors then put her clothes back on and left.
The tattooist then approached them and Harun could see him more clearly. He wore patched pants of a Dragon green and had a Dragon tattoo that coiled around his chest and arms, ending on his face with his own eye the dragon’s eye.
“Ah, Kenji,” said the tattooist. “I assume you have come for some more shading? I hope you haven’t ruined the work I have done with that recklessness I keep hearing about.”
“It is still intact, Nawa,” laughed Kenji. “But I have brought you someone new. Just out of training and wanting to make his mark. Harun, this is Mirumoto Nawa.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mirumoto-san,” Harun said, taking a bow from the seated position.
“Bah, your Crane manners are hardly needed in this tent,” said Nawa, spitting into a bucket. “But there’s so much green in you, I’d wonder you weren’t from my clan.”
“I’m not green,” Harun insisted. “I was at Shiro Moto.”
“Not bad, not bad,” Nawa nodded. “But from the look of you, you look as if you arrived there by palanquin and watched from a distance.”
Kenji laughed and Harun joined in.
“You came here to watch or be marked?” Nawa asked.
“I didn’t know I was coming here,” said Harun.
“Well, if you make up your mind, look at the scroll on the wall,” said Nawa. He nodded to Kenji. “You there, you know what to do.”
Kenji stripped off his shirt and sat still on the floor, Nawa picked up his tools and set to work. Harun went and had a look at scroll, he wasn’t sure if he wanted a tattoo. Most of what was there were animals, the totems for the Great Clans but there were also some samurai with swords swinging and shapely geisha. But when he saw the horse and the Crane, so well-drawn and alive looking, he knew he had to get both of those.
Both parts of me, together…
Kenji finished, carefully putting his shirt back on.
“You made up your mind?” Nawa asked.
“Yes,” Harun said. “The crane and the horse, can you do them close together? On my left shoulder blade?”
It took a bit of time with the sketching with ink on Harun’s shoulder and the mirror, but Nawa would not begin until Harun was completely satisfied with it.
“It will be on your body for the rest of this life,” he told Harun. “You need to get it right or not at all.”
When the sketch was complete, Nawa dipped the steel point of the needle in the ink.
“This will hurt,” Nawa says. “But no more than a dozen or so nicks with a sword will do. Keep still, you don’t want me drawing ragged.”
“I am ready,” Harun said, bracing himself.

It did hurt, much more than Harun thought it would or care to admit, almost as bad as the wound he had suffered in Unicorn lands. But it did look good, Nawa had shown him the finished outline in the mirror before they had left, but not before a stern warning not to “ruin his work” and to return once the skin healed.
Kenji suggested they go to the sake house, it would help numb the pain and he figured some of their unit should be there right now.
Calling it a “sake house” was rather exaggerating. It was a grass shingled roof where one sat on the floor and used boxes as small tables. Harun was a bit hesitant to go in, but Kenji assured him it was good sake.
They were noticed the moment they entered the place, at least Kenji was. A group waved them over and then made room for them to sit down.
“Harun, I don’t think you know everyone, so I’ll go around,” he said, pointing to people as he addressed them. “Shinjo Sayaka, Isawa Kanbei, Yoritomo Osu, Tsubaru, Daidoji Akemi…” The names blended after a while, but Harun did try to remember them.
The first round came and Harun felt more relaxed. They asked him questions, traded stories and told Harun about themselves. Shinjo Sayaka, almost the mother of the group, had been there the longest, joining when Moto Taigo was still in charge. Isawa Kanbei was an exile from the Phoenix Clan, quite polite but more willing to talk once sake loosened her tongue. Yortiomo Osu had joined the legion three years previously, quite jovial, but Kenji told Harun later that his entire close family had been wiped out when the Mantis islands fell. Tsubaru, a pleasant-faced ronin who was just as boisterous as Osu. And Daidoji Akemi who was—despite her repeated denials—the best sniper in the unit.
“A sniper?” Harun asked. “Do you use a bow or a crossbow?”
“Neither,” Akemi told Harun. “I use a Tanegashima, with gaijin pepper.”
Harun was a little shocked at this. He knew the Legion and yes, even his own clan, used weapons like this. But he didn’t like them, there was something…dirty.
But somehow those felt less important, at least right now.

When they left the sake house, Harun could feel his feet wavering a little. As if they did not know how to get in contact with the ground very well. Kenji took one look at him and suggested they head back to the barracks. Harun stumbled, brushing against someone as he passed.
“Hey watch it,” they snarled.
“So sorry,” said Harun, his words slurring a little.
“Hey…Yonezu,” said another. ”Is that that Crane you said killed your father.”
“That whelp?” Yonezu laughed. “It was his mother.”
This stopped Harun in his tracks. “What?”
“You heard me,” Yonezu spat. “Those letters you had, your mother was Utaku Yamada. She killed my father, her and the Black Hand she is with. You’re the son of a traitor.”
Harun heard voices behind him calling his name, but he didn’t pay them attention. And all he saw was red… He could hear people shouting at him, pulling him away…
“Harun! Harun!” Kenji shouted, slapping his face.
Harun brushed something off his face, blood. Then looked around. What had happened? Then he saw Yonezu, his face was bloody as well.
“What happened?” Harun asked, allowing them to help him to his feet. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“No shit,” said Kenji. “Lets get you out of here.”
Harun allowed himself to be led. Did I just make an enemy?

Utaku_Yamada
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Wed May 30, 2018 11:17 pm

Why does everything hurt? Was Harun’s first conscious thought. Then it all came flooding back. Nawa…the tattoo…the sake house…Yonezu… He said my mother was a traitor… He burned with shame at what had happened. He had lost his head, and drinking wasn’t an excuse.
“Harun, roll call,” called out a voice.
“Hai!” With a sheer force of will, Harun pulled himself into a sitting position. Somehow, he managed to get his clothes on and stagger out.
They assembled in columns on the parade ground between the two wings off the barracks, the gunso calling names and each hohei calling out “Hai” when his or her name was called. The Chui of Togawa Unit, Shiba Dankaro, stood on the platform outside his tent. A solid-built man of about thirty, he wore hakama and juban or a rather muddy orange. His second in command, Shiba Jiyuna, stood beside him.
When the gunsos were finished roll call, Dankaro stepped forward.
“Togawa Unit, you stand before me and I am proud of all of you,” he said. “To lead you into battle, to fight beside you and if it came to it, to die beside you. And I know you will all do the same, we serve the Emperor and his Champion with Pride, we fight as one.” He paused, looking over all of them. “Which is why when one of you shames this unit by their actions, they shame all of you.”
Harun felt butterflies in his stomach. He was eight years old again, about to be called into Kakita Kenshin-sensei’s study.
“Kakita Harun and Yonezu,” said Dankaro. “Step forward.”
Harun moved forward, walking between the columns of soldiers. He could feel all eye on him as he mounted the platform. Hs knew what was coming, but that didn’t deter him from bowing as appropriate.
Whereas Harun felt appropriately penitent, Yonezu showed no such traces. He stood beside Harun defiantly, sulkily. This just made Harun despise him more.
“Both of you stand accused of conduct unbefitting a member of the Emerald Legion,” said Dankaro. “Do you have anything to say?”
Harun shook his head.
“Actually, I object to this,” said Yonezu in a rather saucy voice.
Dumbfounded, all eyes went to Yonezu.
“You object?” Dankaro asked incredulously.
“I do,” continued Yonezu. “It was that one that threw the first punch. I was defending myself. It is him you should be punishing, not me.”
Harun stared at him, aghast at his audacity. “I was defending the honour of my family that you insulted!”
“Then defend it with steel!” snarled Yonezu. “Not with fists like the Moto gaijin you really are.”
Harun would have been on him had Dankaro not pulled him back.
“I will not have disputes in Togawa Unit,” declared Dankaro. “You will settle this like samurai, the first blood. The loser will be reassigned. Is this acceptable?”
Harun and Yonezu nodded. Harun thought he saw Yonezu smile.
“You will be given ten strokes and confined to barracks for five days,” said Dankaro. “At the end of this, it will be settled.”
He then nodded to Jiyuna who came forward holding a bamboo switch.
Harun took off his shirt and bowed. He didn’t flinch.

The switch did without breaking the skin, just like the beatings he had had at the Kakita Dojo. Discipline, not punishment. It still hurt, but Harun did his best to not show that it got to him.
He used the time in barracks to train, of which he had been slipping a little recently. Fortunately, it did not take long until he was back at a satisfactory level.
Yonezu trained as well. The ronin’s style was just as quick, though far less cleaner. Still, Harun wondered if he had studied at a dojo.
The day of the duel came and it was the subject of some interest to the unit. Many of the soldiers, samurai and peasant, made a ring around where the duelling circle was to be set up talking excitedly. Not everyone took an interest, Koharu the gunso of Kyoujin Platoon thought it an utter waste of time but couldn’t do anything about it.
Harun wore his Crane blue Hhkama with the matching kataginu, the mons of the Kakita Academy and the Kakita Dojo on each side of his chest. He tamed his kinky hair into a topknot, looking every bit proper as he should.
Yonezu wore the standard everyday garments one could get in supplies. Serviceable and brown, but not fancy. But to this he added an obi of faded red, and another cloth of the same hue on the lower half of his face. Yonezu’s hair was long and black, cascading down his back and floating over his face with the wind.
Shiba Jiyuna stepped forward, she carried a fan. Behind her, Shiba Dankaro watched silently.
Jiyuna raised the fan and called for silence. “This will settle the dispute between you,” she says. “The victor will remain, the loser transferred. Let fate fall as it will.”
Yonezu and Harun bowed, taking up positions.
Taking a deep breath, Harun immersed himself in the void. All was clear, all was calm. He looked at Yonezu and saw his weaknesses.
Jiyuna brought her fan down.
A flurry of movement, a rasp of steel, and a gasp of surprise from those who had sharp enough eyes to see what had happened. Harun and Yonezu stood eye to eye, each having the other’s sword on their neck.
There was complete silence as everyone held their breath. Jiyuna stood frozen for a moment, then quickly consulted with Dankaro.
“Fate has decided,” she declared. “Both will remain.”
Harun and Yonezu bowed then the crowd began to disperse noisily. Harun stood still a moment, watching the Chui go back into his tent with Jiyuna.
Utaku Kenji came up with Yoritomo Osu. Both were grinning like idiots.
“Well, I don’t know how you did it, but you managed to solve this the perfect way,” says Kenji.
“Perfection in all ways,” said Harun loftily. The he laughed.
“Come on,” said Osu, nudging them both. “I need a drink.”

Utaku_Yamada
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Fri Jun 15, 2018 8:09 am

Some weeks later, Kakita Karasu sat at his war table. After what was a rough start, the reports about Harun had improved. He had now seen combat with his platoon in engaging Onyx stragglers that raided the borders of the Lion Clan lands. He had fought bravely beside his comrades. And, perhaps most importantly, he had returned.
But all of this was but a mere rehearsal for the main game that would be played at Toshi Ranbo. A game that seemed to have almost too many players by the way all the Great Clans were promising troops and materials with a hope of sharing in the glory and spoils.
But it was still too early for that. A hit at the former imperial capital had to firm and decisive with no rom for failure. Toshi Ranbo had to truly be an island, cut off completely from any support from the Onyx yet. And it wasn’t, not yet but it would be soon.
As the meeting drew to a close, someone entered the tent. At first Karasu thought it was just Akodo Ryoichi returning with more water for the kettle. But it wasn’t. It was Karasu’s wife Kakita Hitomi. She was dressed in plain and comfortable travel clothes wet from the rain.
Karasu smiled. This was not the first time she had surprised him as such, nor would it likely be the last.
“Mina-sam,” he said to his officer. “I think that is everything, thank you.”
They left quickly, bowing to Hitomi as they did.
“You never cease to surprise me, my wife,” said Karasu, crossing the room and clasping her hand gently.
Hitomi smiled quietly. There was and had always been a significant difference in the affection they felt for each other. However, years of marriage had formed a middle ground between this. A bond of friendship, one with established boundaries as well as frequent absences from each other.
Yet they were together on many things, their devotion in their service to Rokugan and parenting their adopted children.
“Please, get your wet things off, I’ll make some tea,” said Karasu. He found the full teapot where Ryoichi had left it by the tent door. “Are you staying long this time? You never do, but I always ask.”
“I will need to leave in the morning,” said Hitomi. She removed her clothing to dry by the porcelain heater and borrowed one of Karasu’s yukatas. She sat down at the table, her hair hung long and loose about her shoulders, damp with rain. “I will see Harun before I go. How is he?”
“Doing well, at least now,” said Karasu. He put the water on to boil and started clearing the table. Hitomi started to help but he prevented it. “No, you sit there,” he said gently. “You have had a long journey.”
“Harun has been having problems?” Hitomi asked.
“Managed to get himself into a fight and a duel in the first two days out of training,” said Karasu. “But you know Harun, he handled it.” Karasu started to make the tea and passed Hitomi her cup.
“I had hoped to see him when he came home, but I was delayed,” said Hitomi taking her cup. “Has he changed at all from his time in Unicorn lands?”
Karasu searched through a chest and brought out some dried plums for them to share “Not exactly,” said Karasu. “He has become more like himself, you could say.” He paused a moment, looking down into his cup. “There was a time last year when I thought he wouldn’t come back.”
“You put too little faith in yourself,” said Hitomi. “Of course Harun would come back. He has always wanted to be like you, that’s why he is here now.”
Karasu blushed a little and drank his tea.
Hitomi drank her tea and put down her cup. “I came tonight because I have news for you,” said Hitomi. “I have some word from Toshi Ranbo.”
“You do?” Karasu said with surprise. He had given up asking where Hitomi got her intelligence and he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. But word from Toshi Ranbo was welcome, as all they had were from records or the observation of their own scouts.
Hitomi nodded. “I have a few things, we can talk about them later,” she said, pouring more tea for both of them. “But there is something I must tell you now. In command of the defence of the city is Daigotsu Shimekiri.”
Karasu felt cold to his very bones. Shimekiri, the Fallen Crane, the Black Kakita. So notorious that many thought he wasn’t real, just a tale to frighten children. Yet every child that passed through the Kakita Academy knew of him.
He had once been a promising duellist of the Kakita but his arrogance and cruelty had had him barred from ever becoming a Kenshinzen—the best duellists in the Crane Clan. He had joined the Spider Clan, embraced the Taint of Jigiku and taken his revenge on the Kakita family. Including Kyoumi’s parents.
“Of course he’s not dead,” Karasu said, his voice cold with anger. “He can’t be killed, and he’s been around for enough lifetimes to surpass the skill of any Kenshinzen.”
“He will die in that city, Karasu,” said Hitomi. “He needs to.”
“I’ll make sure of it,” said Karasu. “Even if I have to do it myself.”
Hitomi nodded and said nothing, for now.

Later, Hitomi slept in his bed and Karasu laid out cushions for himself. But he couldn’t sleep. He practiced with a bokken. He was a blur as he did strikes, guards, katas. Faster, and faster still. He had once hoped to be a Kenshinzen himself, to walk out with the Crane army in the bright winged raiment. But fate had decided something very different for him.
But still, to kill Shimekiri, to purge this blight from the Crane Clan had a certain satisfaction about it.
He went into another kata, Standing on the Heavens, he was ready.

Harun saw Hitomi the next morning when he was on the way back from drills. The sun was coming up, drying the dew as it sparkled in the summer light. It all the makings of a hot day. They passed the Shiro where the Taisa’s and Emerald Champion’s tent were and Harun saw her there. He stopped.
“I’ll catch up later,” Harun said, going over to her.
Hitomi watched as he approached. “Harun,” she said.
“Mother,” he said, bowing and smiling. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“I just came in last night, but had to see you before I leave,” she said. She looked him up and down. “I can see the change in you already, the last year was good for you.”
“Is it that obvious?” Harun asked, a little worried. “I have been told that I brought the Moto in me back from the Unicorn lands.”
“It was always there, Harun, you just became more confident with yourself,” she said.
As they walked around the camp, he told her about the year he had spent travelling. Visiting the Dragon, the Lion and of course the Unicorn. Shiro Moto, Majid, City of the Rich Frog, the ritual with Zetsubou…Hitomi listened to it all patiently, and it there was something missing in his narrative she didn’t comment.
When Harun finished, Hitomi was thoughtful.
“So through all this, all the people you have talked to that knew your mother Yamada, I want to ask you this: why do you think she chose to leave you in our care?” Hitomi asked,
Harun felt a lump forming in his throat. “She…she wanted me to have a family, I guess. Like she had had.”
“Yes, bit that’s not all,” said Hitomi. “There is something else, why she went to this terrible duty with Shiba Michio and the Black Hand. Do you know what this is?”
Thinking back to the talk he had with Zetsubou the night before he died, Harun nodded. “It was so no one else had to do it.”
Hitomi nodded. “What you were taught at the dojo, Harun, was very clear cut in how we should act in accordance with traditions and bushido,” she said. “But you know now that the world doesn’t always work like that.”
“It doesn’t,” Harun said. “But that doesn’t mean we should not live these virtues.”
Hitomi laughed slightly. “You sound like your father, though he has learned and I hope you will too that there are necessary things that happen to win a war.”
They came to one of the training yards where there were Daidoji at a firearms range. They fired at paper targets held on poles, each one painted with a snarling oni’s face. They fired their weapons and reloaded, the latter taking what seemed to Harun a lot of time for just one shot.
Harun watched Daidoji Akemi there, standing a decent distance from the target and firing her taneshagima. It hit the oni face in the eye.
Hitomi nodded in approval.

Three days after Hitomi left, Karasu watched much of the First Legion head out again, and Harun with them. Harun went with a light heart and a smile, leaving Karasu’s heart heavy.

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Ide Yesugei
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Sat Jun 16, 2018 12:59 am

WOW.. its been a while for me.. to read any fiction... but that really blew me away..

Great work.
Diplomat * Host * All around fun guy

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"Smiling makes me happy and others nervous"

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Utaku_Yamada
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Tue Jul 03, 2018 6:12 am

Thanks, there is lots more to come.

They travelled west for a number of day, crossing the Kitani River south of Toshi Ranbo and proceeding north west along the edges of the Kokoro Nezuban Mori. And it was there that they met up with troops from the Lion Clan.
Here they were not far from their target, the town of Oiku which in the past had been a Lion military outpost where troops could quickly defend Toshi Ranbo. Until now, no attempts had been made to hold it though there had been plenty of conflicts to throw the Onyx back from invading the rest of Lion lands.
Now, taking it was one of the more important last steps before Toshi Ranbo.
They made a light camp, sleeping out in the open with only the jinmaku walls for shelter. They trained and drilled alongside the Lion, a friendly sense of competitiveness starting between the Lion and the Imperial Legion troops. But it also drew them together, they had a shared purpose, a common enemy.
The night before the attack on Oiku, Koharu gathered Kyojin Platoon together for their briefing. As always, their role would be to advance on horseback and to take and hold strategic points until they were relieved by infantry. Then she dismissed them, telling everyone to get some rest.
But Harun found he couldn’t, he felt excited. He saw it as his first real battle with the Legion, different from the skirmishes on the Lion border he had been in.
He walked the camp and saw people making preparations. Writing letters, making prayers to ancestors and fortunes, drinking heavily… When he got back to their camp he saw Utaku Kenji, he had a number of hachimaki bandanas he was painting messages on. Harun went closer and saw what they said: Hikahime.
“They’re for us for tomorrow,” he said to Harun. “Hikahime-no-fortune, she is special to the Legion. She was once one of us, so we invoke her name before battle.”
Harun nodded, not exactly sure how to say that he had actually met Hikahime last year when she had come out of Yomi during Zetsubou’s ritual. So, he didn’t say anything about it at all.

Utaku_Yamada
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Tue Jul 03, 2018 8:27 am

Harun woke in the grey morning light, too excited to eat anything more than a few mouthfuls of rice. He watched how the others were a lot calmer, Yoritomo Osu gently ribbing Isawa Kanbei over something, Tsubaru and Koharu arguing over the merits of cooking daikon. It could have been any other morning, but it wasn’t.
Then it was time to gear up, long lines of bushi and ashigaru helping each other getting into their armour started to form. There was a lot of laughter. It was quite undignified, quite the opposite of what Harun had been taught about the proper way for a samurai to get ready for battle. But somehow he didn’t mind it at all.
Then it was time to mount up and form ranks, waiting in their places until it was time to begin. But first, a tremendous shout went up and down the ranks, shouting Hikahime’s name, chanting that she may grant them victory in battle.
When it was over, Harun thought they would be given the signal to go. But they weren’t. He could see just into the town, the Onyx were beginning to stir and come out of the village like angry bees.
What are we waiting for? Harun wondered. And then he saw them.
Lion bushi, white garments beneath white armour, leading the charge against the Onyx with a viscousness and utter disregard for their own lives.
“Deathseekers,” Harun whispered.
Koharu, who was next to Harun on her own horse, nodded.
Harun had heard of them, dishonoured Lion samurai who had nothing left but to die in the glory of battle. Harun didn’t know what they could have done to have such status, and he didn’t have time to wonder. The signal was sounded and they were off.
Kyojin platoon advanced forward on their horses, ahead of them was a line of Lion cavalry. Harun’s heart beat fast, the thunder of their hooves, the shouts among them as they rode. The Onyx came towards them, Harun couldn’t see them, but he could hear them. The shrieks and howls of the onispawn and goblins. The shouts and taunts of the tainted samurai. And then, the rasp and ring of steel and tear of flesh as they clashed.
The Lion cavalry threw the Onyx back, scattering them in different directions. This gave Kyojin enough time to dismount and ready their weapons. And no sooner had they done so that Onyx were on them. Kyoujin platoon fought in a tight formation, slashing with their sword, with their spears, holding that position until the infantry could come to relieve them.
It was confusing, it was messy in all the noise and the blood. And it was easy to lose focus. But Harun thought back to his training, those hours they had spent in the cold light dawn, and kept his head.
“Relief coming, hold firm,” Harun heard Koharu say.
And sure enough, ranks of infantry came forward and engaged the enemy from the other side. Between the two of them, they made short work of the Onyx.
“That’s it, mount up,” Koharu shouted. They ran towards where Yoritomo Osu was guarding the horses, mounted up and advanced forward.
And this was how it went, they would take positions quickly while waiting to be relieved by infantry. Always advancing, taking up key positions in the town so the others could move in. It worked well, until it didn’t.
They were fighting between rows of houses for much longer, it seemed like the relief wasn’t coming. Still they fought, there could be any reason for the delay.
Then Harun smelled smoke, heard a crackle of flames not far from where they were.
“Gunso, we need to move now!” Harun shouted.
“We hold out until we are relieved!” Koharu shouted back, between strokes of her yari.
“This house here is about to go up in flames!” Harun yelled. “We stay, our horses bolt.”
Sure enough, the horses started to whinny and paw at the ground with their hooves.
“Back, Kyoujin, mount up,” Koharu said. “You better be right about this,” she added to Harun.
Harun hoped he wasn’t, as that meant there was something wrong.
They headed back to the courtyard they had taken earlier, smack in the middle was a massive oni that just seemed to devour any that went near it. Several of the squad started forward to help those already there, but Koharu held up a hand to stop them.
“No, no, we can’t all rush in like fools,” she said. “Let me think a moment.” She pointed to Kenji and Harun. “You and you, we’ll take thirds of the squad. Tease it, play with it, then maybe those others there will catch on what we are doing.”
Harun left with his portion with nothing more than a “Hai” in acknowledgement, barely been considering we’d been given his first position of responsibility.
The three groups started taunting the oni, going in to attack him and then withdrawing when one of the others got closer. Then the rest got the idea and joined in, more soldiers started pouring in and soon the massive oni fell.
Before they moved on, Koharu went up to Harun. “You did well there,” she said.
Harun smiled.

Utaku_Yamada
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Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:35 am

Oiku was taken, they moved in to occupy it, but what followed was the more difficult task of defending it from the Onyx raids from Toshi Ranbo. These seemed to Harun like a relentless grind, just throwing back what the Onyx threw at them.
They did their best, but sometimes it wasn’t enough. To Harun, it didn’t seem to matter if he was fast enough or his katana was where it needed to be. Some days their numbers were thinned due to people suffering from wounds, but then there was the sad day that Tsubaru was killed. It wasn’t a brave death, just a mistake on her part when he thought the tainted samurai she had downed had no fight left in him. The camp was quite for a few days after that, Yoritomo Osu finding sleep in the stupor of drunkeness.
One evening, Harun walked through the village to distract himself, passing the various tents and shelters where the Imperial Legion and Lion troops were billeted. Games of chance, drinking as stories and music by the various fires. It was a balm in a way to see life when what he saw every day was death.
Then when he looked at one of the fires, he saw a face he recognised. Akodo Harumasa, the son in law of his mother Yamada’s friend Akodo Kibo. Harun had met him the last winter at the Castle of the Swift Sword. Harun had thought he was a poet yet here he was with a samurai’s daisho.
And an officer, looks like it, Harun thought.
Harun had intended to pass him by, yet Harumasa called out to him. “Kakita-san,” he said. “Come, share the fire a moment.”
Harun went over, more because he couldn’t think of a way to refuse. Hanam introduced him to the others at the fire, Akodo Taruma, Ganou and Komatsu, Harun nodded to them all as he sat down.
“Mina-san, this is who I was telling you about,” said Harumasa. “He was at the ritual with my wife’s uncle when the land was cleansed.”
They looked at Harun with more interest now, seeking confirmation.
“This is true,” said Harun, he felt a twinge of sadness as he always did when he thought of Zetsubou. “I was a witness.”
“A witness?” Akodo Taruma asked. “There were more?”
“Just one more…at least with his soul still in Ningen-Do,” said Harun. “Moto Majid, is was his Void magic that made it all possible.”
“That hardly seems fitting,” said Ganou, with more than a little scorn. “What would a Moto’s gaijin magic do with…”
Harumasa cleared his throat loudly. “Please, no insulting guests, Ganou,” he said. “Where did you leave your manners? Get the tea.” He turned back to Haurn. “I apologise for my men, Kakita-san.”
“No need,” said Harun. “I’ve spent these last months in camp and its hardly where one sees refinement. Tell me, how are you family? I hope they are well.”
“They are, Miraiko is not liking sitting out the push to Toshi Ranbo,” says Harumasa. “She is at home with our son, and writes constantly.”
“It is an important duty, raising children,” said Harun, a perfectly conventional game response.
“My father in law has returned to his duties at the Swift Sword Dojo,” Harumasa continued. “Little Kibo was just starting there when I left, his mother and the rest of the family are staying for the time being.”
The tea arrived. Strong, thick warrior’s tea in plain cups. Harun welcomed its flavour.
“And Koneko?” Harun asked, he had grown closed to the redhaired girl in the short time he had known her.
“She should be continuing her training soon,” said Hanamasu, looking a little uncomfortable. “But I did want to ask about you, did you make it back to Crane lands in time? I know that was troubling you.”
“No, I didn’t,” said Harun, feeling his cheeks colour slightly. “When I got back to Tsuma, she had…it had all ended.”
“She had?” Taruma asked, repeated, raising an eyebrow. “You had a girl waiting for you?” That explains a lot.”
Harun laughed. “I suppose it does,” she said. “Yes, I did. But she’s in Zogeku now, I doubt I’ll see her again.”
“Don’t count your losses so soon,” Taruma said with a grin. “You never know what can happen after this war ends.”
Harun nodded and drank his tea.

Utaku_Yamada
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Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:33 am

Three days later, Harun was fighting in the fringes on the north side of Oiku. Things had gotten a little more manageable, the Onyx numbers seemed to be slacking. Though everyone knew that this was probably due to the Onyx keeping resources in reserve back at Toshi Ranbo. Still, it only made things slightly easier. As in, Harun had more room to swing his sword between the swarms.
Kyoujin were fighting with ranged support from Ranshu platoon, they stayed back at the palisades with their bows. Daidoji Akemi was there, with her gaijin powder taneshagima. Harun did his best to ignore the explosive sounds it was making.
Fortunately, as there was a long gap between Akemi’s shots, Harun found his concentration wasn’t broken too much, he found his rhythm quite well, fighting beside the gunsoThree days later, Harun was fighting in the fringes on the north side of Oiku. Things had gotten a little more manageable, the Onyx numbers seemed to be slacking. Though everyone knew that this was probably due to the Onyx keeping resources in reserve back at Toshi Ranbo. Still, it only made things slightly easier. As in, Harun had more room to swing his sword between the swarms.
Kyoujin were fighting with ranged support from Ranshu platoon, they stayed back at the palisades with their bows. Daidoji Akemi was there, with her gaijin powder taneshagima. Harun did his best to ignore the explosive sounds it was making.
Fortunately, as there was a long gap between Akemi’s shots, Harun found his concentration wasn’t broken too much, he found his rhythm quite well, fighting beside the gunso Koharu. His katana and her yari working in concert together.
Then there was an attack by a tainted samurai that he had to quickly dodge, parrying it overbalanced him and he fell to the ground. The tainted samurai pressed the attack, slicing his blackened blade towards Harun. Then he collapsed, smoke and an acrid smell coming out of the side of his head. Harun stood up, then noticed Daidoji Akemi standing on the other side of the palisade with her smoking weapon in her hand. Harun gave her a nod in acknowledgement and kept fighting.
The Onyx started to rush at them then, in larger groups. But they barely stopped to engage, instead keeping on going. Right into their blades or arrows, in many cases. This was a little confusing, but Harun wasn’t one to question it. At least, not straight away.
“They’re fleeing,” Koharu said.
“What from?” Harun asked.
It wasn’t long until they got their answer though. They could hear the sounds of an approaching army. The thunder of hooves, the ring of steel and the shouts of the soldiers in battle. They came from the northwest, Harun could see them approach. And as they neared, Harun could make out the green and gold laurel banner of the Emerald Champion.
The soldiers of the legion drove the Onyx back like an oncoming storm. And among them Harun could see his father, urging them on with his green sahai baton.

That evening, Karasu and Harun walked around Okiu. Harun was telling his father about the last few weeks, flush with pride of the skill and courage of his comrades, saddening when he talked about Tsubaru’s death.
He’s a soldier, Karasu thought, with a little sting, this was not the path I wanted for him, Kenshin-sensei at the academy said he has it in him to be a Kenshinzen. Well, he's young, there’s still time…
This wasn’t just about Karasu spending time with Harun, it was about being seen by the troops. A morale boost just in case it had been flagging, a reminder that he was in the same fight they were in.
They came to the northern side of Oiku, from there the walls of Toshi Ranbo could be sighted. High, impregnable, but Harun looked towards it eagerly. And he wasn’t the only one.
“Is that next, my lord?” A bushi in Dragon colours asked. “Are we finally going to take the fight to the old capital.”
“We are,” Karasu said. “In a few days we will start making our camp around the city, and the rest of Rokugan will join us.” Koharu. His katana and her yari working in concert together.
Then there was an attack by a tainted samurai that he had to quickly dodge, parrying it overbalanced him and he fell to the ground. The tainted samurai pressed the attack, slicing his blackened blade towards Harun. Then he collapsed, smoke and an acrid smell coming out of the side of his head. Harun stood up, then noticed Daidoji Akemi standing on the other side of the palisade with her smoking weapon in her hand. Harun gave her a nod in acknowledgement and kept fighting.
The Onyx started to rush at them then, in larger groups. But they barely stopped to engage, instead keeping on going. Right into their blades or arrows, in many cases. This was a little confusing, but Harun wasn’t one to question it. At least, not straight away.
“They’re fleeing,” Koharu said.
“What from?” Harun asked.
It wasn’t long until they got their answer though. They could hear the sounds of an approaching army. The thunder of hooves, the ring of steel and the shouts of the soldiers in battle. They came from the northwest, Harun could see them approach. And as they neared, Harun could make out the green and gold laurel banner of the Emerald Champion.
The soldiers of the legion drove the Onyx back like an oncoming storm. And among them Harun could see his father, urging them on with his green sahai baton.

Utaku_Yamada
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Thu Jul 05, 2018 8:17 pm

In the lands of the Dragon Clan was Shinyoake Mura, a village that stood in the shadow of the Jurojin’s Sanctum temple. A small village, nothing quite remarkable about it other than the facts that those who lived in it wore the saffron coloured robes of the Phoenix Clan. For it was here, in the midst of the chaos of war and rebellion where many of the Phoenix Clan made their home.
It had started small, two Isawa, Koyo and Akiko. Newly married and had been made to stay in Dragon lands by the decree of the Emperor as hostages to ensure the rebellious Elemental Masters faced retribution for their crimes against heaven.
Since then there had been a slow by steady trickle of Isawa into Dragon lands. Most were fleeing from the chaos of the civil war in Phoenix lands as well as the terrible retribution Shiba Michio was bringing on the Isawa with the fury of the Obsidian Dragon. Numbers swelled as more arrived and children started to be born.
Finally, Mirumoto Shikei, Champion of the Dragon Clan had let the Phoenix use some land near the temple that Koyo had established years before. The condition being that they would be proper stewards of it. This was the birth of Shinyoake Mura, the new dawn for the Phoenix Clan. There, with Koyo as their leader, the community had not only thrived but had done their best to make sure the Dragon benefited from the Isawa’s magic.
The years that followed the Phoenix’s arrival in Dragon lands had seen some of the most bountiful harvests in living memory. And not just in Dragon lands, Koyo had made sure the knowledge spread throughout Rokugan. Doji Arami, while he was still Imperial Agriculturalist, came with some Asahina shugenja despite the risks of such a journey.
But now, the main square of the village was filled with every adult who was able to travel. They were all packed and ready, they would be journeying with the Dragon down the mountain to Toshi Ranbo.
But not all of them, on one side of the square were the children who had gathered to see their parents go. And standing in front was a girl of no more than sixteen, yet she already had the air of taking on a responsibility beyond her years.
Koyo came out of the temple, making his way down the narrow well-worn mountain path. The final preparations were complete. As he went down into the village the crowd parted to let him through. The girl approached him.
“Father, please,” she said. “Let me go with you, I’ve made my gempukku, my place is at your side.”
“Keiheki, you were my best student, and that is why you must stay here,” Koyo said, his face as blank and featureless as a sheer stone wall. “You need to be sensei here if I don’t return and carry on my work. The Phoenix’s future is here, we need to make sure it survives.”
Keiheki bowed her head in acquiescence.
The adults said farewell to the children. Koyo and Akiko said good bye to all in turn. The twins, Sakura and Daini, so alike in appearance, so different in temperament and their affinities with fire and water respectively. The youngest, Daiyon, just starting to show some skill speaking to the air kami.
Then the moment of parting arrived, as they left the village Koyo looked back over his shoulder. Keiheki was already comforting some of the children, listening to them and helping dry their tears. Akiko gave him a soft smile.
The future of the Phoenix Clan was in that village. And one day, when the fortunes willed it, they would emerge and return to the lands of their ancestors. But until then there were battles to fight, and a war to win. Until then, the Clan of Shiba would do their part.

The soldiers of the Imperial Legion moved in force to surround Toshi Ranbo, the rest of the Emerald Legions, the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Imperial Legions began to arrive from where they had been stationed in the Empire. The rest would arrive with Shogun Utaku Chikara when she returned from Unicorn lands. New recruits also arrived, fresh out of the training camps and eager for battle.
Once the siege camp was established on both sides of the Drowned Merchant River, there were a number of changes. Koharu, gunso of the Kyoujin platoon, was promoted to Chui of a new unit. Her last act as gunso was to name Harun as her successor.
Harun was shocked by this, he had only been with the Legion months and felt almost inadequate for it. But the positive response he got from the platoon itself decided matters. Harun’s first act as Gunso of Kyoujin was to make Utaku Kenji his Nikutai, another action applauded by them. He wrote the news of this in a latter to Arahime, sending it off quickly but not sure when it would reach her.
Until the siege was begun properly, the fought right up against the walls of Toshi Ranbo. This was potentially dangerous as it would put them in range of the archers and maho-tsukai on the wall, resulting spending more time with the healers to recover wounds as well as jade therapy. And deaths, which Harun took keenly and would stay up in the evenings writing letters to their families.
One afternoon, just as he and Kenji were heading back to camp with some rations, Harun saw the arrival of the Crane Clan contingent. A sea of banners in various shades of light blue displaying the mons of the families and the designations of the various units of the Crane Army. Harun particular noticed the kenshinzen, splendid in their feathered raiment, carrying themselves with that characteristic arrogance.
“They put on a good show,” Kenji said with a grin.
Harun agreed.
Harun saw his father come out of his tent to greet the Crane Champion, Doji Ayumu. The two men were of a similar age, Ayumu a few years younger than Karasu, both coming to their positions relatively young. They exchanged bows and spoke, Ayumu then giving a signal for the bulk of the Crane to depart to where they would be quartered around the city. Then they entered the tent.
Harun turned to leave himself, but a great shout from the direction of the wall made him turn back. What looked like a scout ran toward’s the Champion’s tent, running through Ayumu’s entourage and scattering them like startled birds. The scout then looked as if he was arguing with the bushi who stood watch outside Karasu’s tent. Curious, Harun went closer. The scout held an arrow in his hand, shaking as he spoke.
“…you don’t understand,” said the scout. “This message, it came from them but the seal it carries is Crane.”

Inside his tent, Karasu entertained the Crane Champion. The more serious talks on strategy would wait until later that evening. Now they discussed the most recent news over tea. It had recently been announced that the Imperial Court would be held at Kyuden Hida that winter, something that not many of the Crane would be looking forward to. What was even more interesting is the Crown Prince Kiseki would also be there even though the boy had yet to make his gempukku.
Karasu was just pouring more tea, when the tent flapped stirred and someone entered. Both of them turned to regard the visitor, a scout, still sweaty and dirty from combat. In his hand he carried a small scroll, he bowed most low. Behind him was Senzo, the ronin who attended Karasu’s tent. He also bowed, on his face an unspoken apology.
Doji Ayumu seemed a little miffed. “What is all this?” He asked, a little indignant.
Karasu got to his feet. He always wanted to be accessible to the soldiers of the Legion, but even then no one would interrupt him meeting with the Crane Champion. And Senzo wouldn’t let them. Not unless it was serious.
Karasu gave a nod for Senzo to leave. “Tell me your name, and why you have come,” he asked the scout calmly.
“Suzume Iehira, my lord,” he said, sinking to his knees and bowing again. “I apologise for this intrusion, but you must know that an arrow just came from the Onyx, carrying this.” He held out the scroll, the mon of the Crane visible.
“From the Onyx?” Karasu took the scroll and read it just as Akodo Ryouichi entered the tent.

To Kakita Karasu who calls himself the Emerald Champion,
So delighted that you have brought so many of my old clan to my city. None of them will ever come in and neither will you. We should meet to discuss terms. Perhaps it will go as well for me as it did for you when you won that sword and armour. I will come to you, and I hope this ragtag army of yours hasn’t rubbed off your manners.

Shimekiri


Karasu crumpled the paper in anger, Ryoichi looked at him with concern. He gave a wave for the scout to leave.
“My lord, is it…?”
Karasu nodded. They had spent many evenings debating just how to deal with Shimekiri.
“He has proposed a meeting,” Karasu said, his voice tight and controlled. “I cannot refuse.”
“But you must!” Ryoichi insisted. “My lord, I…” He cast a look at Doji Ayumu and fell to silence.
Ayumu took the hint. “I should be seeing my clan are settled,” he said, getting to his feet. “Thank you for the tea, we will speak later.”
Katasu nodded silently, watching him go. He didn’t speak until they were alone. “This could be my only chance to kill him, I cannot not take advantage of it.”
“And his chance to kill you,” Ryoichi argued. “You cannot play into the enemy’s hands like this. I say this not only as an advisor, but as a friend. Your loss, my lord, would be a devastating blow to morale for the Legion and the Great Clans right when they are all looking to you to lead.”
“And how would it look to them if I refused?” Karasu demanded. “That I was afraid? Cowering in my tent.”
“Refusing to come to the summons of a dishonourable traitor is not cowardice, but common sense,” said Ryoichi. “Send me, I can be spared.”
Karasu shook his head. He knew Ryoichi was right, but he couldn’t agree with him. This was something he knew he had to do himself.
Ryoichi unsheathed his wakizashi, he pulled at the straps at his armour then pulled back the clothing there to reveal bare skin. “If you do not send me, I will make the three cuts right now,” he said, his voice as hard as iron. “I cannot let you do this.”
Karasu closed his eyes, he didn’t want to send yet another good man to his death, let alone someone he had worked closely beside for so long like Ryoichi. “Fine, have it your way,” he said, throwing the note into the fire of the porcelain stove.

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