L5R - The Great Dusk

The Chain of Dogs, Chapter One, Part 3

In the wake of the defeat at Sanada’s island, there will be… consequences for the 8th.

Daidoji Uji has closed the Crane lands to the MCA and the officers of the 8th are sent to Koeru Mura to answer for their actions at the Battle of Sanada’s Island, passing through the Valley of the Centipede and the Castle of the Wasp on the way.

Surely nothing can go wrong, right?

Part 3 of the Chain of Dogs and the end of Act 1.

Comments

As the minor clan “armada” returned to town, they were refused the right to disembark. The harbor was filled with other war ships, including one belonging to Daidoji Uji. After Toku’s reporting to Daidoji Uji, the minor clan alliance is no longer allowed to march through Crane lines. The officers were allowed to visit the town as a minor gesture by the Crane who snubbed the alliance at nearly every other conceivable moment.

After disembarking Yamata calls on Tokaji to fulfill his obligation. Tokaji purchases an mortuary tablet, and at Yamata’s direction and urging goes to the mud flats, where he discovers some of Yamata’s remains, a massive jaw bone, belonging to a creature far more massive than Tokaji has ever seen. Following Yamata’s prodding, the fox clears some of the mud off the bones and places the mortuary tablet near the remains.

Yamata sated, Tokaji turned to leave. While walking away Tokaji saw a peasant walking towards him. The peasant has a very large grin, and as the grin grew abnormally large as he started to shout:” We can almost see you Tokaji, Where are you Tokaji? Tiger Killed the Lady of the forest! We can almost seeeeeee yooou. We Killed your mother Tokaji, surely that means something. Come On Tokaji. We’ll FIND YOU!”

While perplexed by these statements Tokaji initially tried to set them aside as the ramblings of an insane peasant. But each sentence lingered, as they one by one struck a chord but did not quite take root. As Tokaji neared closer to the truth, Yamata bellowed to him that he must Not remember, and to escape. At this Tokaji tried to block out the ramblings of the deranged peasent as he ran back to town.

After this he ran into Yoshita who invited him to dinner with the fellow gunso’s. During the dinner time conversation Tokaji realized that though he knows they died of the plague, he never actually knew who his parents were. He then sent a letter to his uncle to learn more about his parents and lineage.

After arriving at the valley of the centipede, Tokaji was taken aside by two clearly senior members of the Moshi family, he then met Moshi Chuko. She asked him if he was even aware of what he was dealing with. She chastised him for using this power without thinking, and told him that he was dealing with primal forces, and that should he fail in his endeavours she hoped that only He would suffer for it.

The next mourning As Yoshita found her fellow gunso and friend dead, apparently assassinated, Tokaji politely asked to help the local magistrates with the investigation, and proceeded to give an oddly full and accurate depiction of what the earth Kami sensed of the murder.

After arriving at the minor clan alliance head quarters, Tokaji added his report to that of the other Gunso, essentially only adding details of the rival shougenja, and of Toku’s valiant effort to hold off the enemy forces, giving the wounded time to retreat.

The outcome of the evaluation of the report found Tokaji promoted to Chewy in the 13th legion, with possible consideration of being attached the command section.

 

Late night, Castle of the Tsuruchi…

Sparks whirled towards the shrine’s ceiling as the samurai-ko cast the scented peat on the sacred fire. The darkness of the small room retreated as the offering intensified the flames, casting familiar shadows around the windowless shrine that was located deep inside the heart of Kyuden Tsuruchi.

Returning to a kneeling position, Yoritomo Yoshita breathed deep to allow the woody aroma of the scented smoke to calm her. The familiarity of the place combined with the warmth of the room folded her body and spirit into a relaxed state.

As her heartbeat slowed, the young Mantis clapped twice to call the spirits of her ancestors to her, and opening her eyes, directed her thoughts towards the stylized, wooden statue of Osano-Wo who stood high above her on a plinth, depicted in His Righteous Anger aspect.

“My lord Osano-Wo, Great Ancestor of the Mantis, Fortune of Thunder, Son of the Kami Hida, Master of One’s Own Destiny, The One Who Wields With Righteous Rage…”

“As always, I look to you for guidance, and pray that you aid your clan with your strength and by your great example, that the Mantis continued to be blessed through their own perseverance, and that the Empire prospers from the efforts of our willful contribution. Also…”

Interrupting herself, Yoshita looked up into the empty gaze of the statue with its hammer held high, ready to strike with the force of a storm in the very next instant. The artist had surely been inspired by the kami to craft his image in that immeasurable second before the strike, the exhale before the release, showing the world that Osano-wo was ever ready and without hesitation.

“Hesitation is weakness.” she said out loud, apparently to the image, or perhaps to herself. “And from what I know of your life you cared little for honourifics and useless words.” She bowed her head in meditation and silently continued her prayer, getting straight to the point.

“My lord, I had thought I had learned to cast away my foolish anger. But I find myself, tonight, assaulted by a storm of burning rage that is of my own making”.

Looking back up at the statue and seeing Osano-wo’s wrath clearly on his face, Yoshita felt that she too burned with anger and began to silently account for the rage that was in her heart:

“High handed snubs from the Great Clans usually amuse rather than enrage me, but with the Crane making the travel for the men and women under my command more tedious, I am angry. Angry!? But I know this frustration serves no purpose, therefore is not a useful tool in the pursuit of justice in the name of my clan, in fact, only serves to impair my judgment. It weights me down and yet I cannot seem to toss it away! And perhaps more disturbingly, I don’t think I want to shed it!

But my anger has shamed me! In the midst of the Moshi I let my face slip. Hurrying around and inadvertently insulting the Moshi magistrates, all because I failed in my oath. How does that help the Mantis? How foolish of me! The death of Gunso Tonbo… simply infuriated me! I felt like I would impale the first Scorpion who dared cross my path, knowing full well it could have been, but not likely a feint! And why was I filled with the desire to pounce, for it was not with the desire to better the Empire by removing the criminal who hampers the just, but with a burning desire for petty revenge, like a mindless Lion?

And I can barely admit that this rage steams from my craving for some sort of kinship. Here I have no brothers, no sisters, no Yoshi to guide me, no Souske to go home to. I realize that I have never been without someone who is refreshingly pragmatic and does not look down upon the me and the code I follow. And I can perhaps admit that my rage is also somewhat sustained by a desire of another kind… I thought my judgment beyond such things!

And Tonbo was like them, like a companion! Always I have been surrounded with those of my scouting brigade, fellow Mantis, fellow mercenaries, fellow something… here, I have only my fellow gunso, of which 2 to whom I could relate are dead, 1 returned home before I was able to judge him, another I barely knew, 1 of my own clan trying to pursue a blood fued against me, another, who perhaps I have some common ground with guards himself with the vigilance of a Seppun, and a shugenja, who, despite his own efforts, makes me somewhat uncomfortable due to his affinity for calling the Earth kami to him. Those above and below me are forbidden any extended association due to rank. How could I be so un-self-aware that I suffer from this distracting weakness?

I am angry that I am alone here, and I am letting this selfish need impair me. And,... I even hesitate in my thoughts, but… but having a member of the sisterhood of the Tsuruchi proclaim her intentions to see me dead has affected me more than I initially thought could.

And to see a noble Wasp such as Heichiko fall prey to the selfish desire for revenge, to the point of humiliating her own daughter for the sake of what, pride? If she truly sought justice and had no doubt in her righteousness, could Heichiko just not hunt my mother down herself and settle the matter? No samurai ritual attended by gossiping courtiers of the corruptible code of bushido would stop me from setting things to right if I truly believed it, not even if I was forbidden and felt my cause would help the Empire… I am so enraged that a Wasp would betray the sisterhood like this! And there is no one to understand that I want this feud to go away, not out of cowardice or to shy away from whatever my mother’s legacy is, but to free my clan from petty squabbles that have consumed so many followers of bushido under the guise of honour, duty, or glory, but really for the sake of regret or pride!

But if I cannot calm my mind, I become a mindless liability to the Alliance and my Clan… I can’t seem to focus this night on doing my duty, my mind splits and goes in so many different directions. As many as there are teeth on a shar…

The Shark Captain who should be too old to exist! Why does he haunt me too? I neither fear or hate him, for he is like any other criminal, and one I must respect for his skill, less I overstep myself foolishly, but I have let my anger rewrite his actions and turn them into ones fueled by relentless maliciousness rather than any sort of strategy!

How can I out think a criminal to whom I have given an irrational mind and no purpose? I should have been studying his actions and tactics during the retreat instead of fooling myself into thinking I was seeking justice rather than revenge! I gave my oath to protect Raiko, and I shall not waiver, but if I have to defend myself… and I failed, and will fail again if I’m allow my anger to consume me and I fight back and kill her… but I can’t! I wish to tear out my own heart to stop me from thinking these things!

Perhaps I am no better than Raiko in her rage, for how I burn with the need to destroy Tonbo’s assassin, and hear the thud of two arrows sinking into the soft neck of the Captain. To drown the haughty ambition apparent in Daidoji Uji’s eyes and to somehow wreck havic on the pirates for the loss of Morito and all those men…

And again, the Captain… why did he back down and not pursue, he could have slaughtered us all? There is something to him. He is ruthless and yet I find myself more enraged that he will not face me, which given his reputation would be somewhat foolish, but I can’t help but need to face him. Especially after what he did to Raiko, and I wonder why I feel this drive, for it can be only fueled by pride and rage… I want to tear off his mask!

Yoshita blinked the sweat that had begun to sting her eyes. The pain ripped her temporarily away from her vengeful thoughts. The fire burned brightly, unrelenting. Behind the flames Osano-wo remained vigilant as ever, despite the increasingly uncomfortable warmth of the room.

“To be so unmoved by the scrotching heat of rage.” murmnered Yoshita as she looked admiringly at the statue. It was difficult to not let the warmth make her thoughts sluggish. Yoshita smirked.

“Yes my lord,” she thought as she gazed up at the image, “It is indeed difficult to remain vigilant and unhazy in the face of the consuming fire of revenge. Perhaps more so when those you count as kin or mentor are fanning the flames, as Raiko’s mother has.”

The young Mantis let out a small sigh. It has been a while since Yoshita had remained in kneeling position for a length of time and pressed down on the floor with her hand for a moment to let the pressure temporarily off her knees. As she did, she brushed the handle of the blade of her wakasashi at her left, which she had ceremoniously laid beside her before the altar.

The heat made her mind wander and Yoshita paused and recalled one late afternoon when Tonbo had been instructing her not only in how to use her blade but in some of the mechanics of a sword and its creation as well. Tonbo’s light voice and occasional stutter was punctuated by a graceful swoop of his blade, that particular lesson, he swung the sword down as if hammering on an anvil telling how a proper blade was folded many times over to ensure it’s unbending durability…

As the scene finished replaying in her mind, a log on the fire cracked and fell, sending up another shower of sparks into the hot air. Yoshita’s eyes were drawn to Osano-Wo’s mighty hammer. The statue peered down, resolutely offering a challenge to any who sat beneath it.

Images of armories and the sounds of the blacksmith’s quarter assaulted her mind. Sparks once again crackled from the fire and her eyes were once again drawn to Osano-Wo’s mighty hammer.

A flicker of understanding crossed her face. Hands on her knees, Yoshita returned to her prayer, her mental voice speaking more quickly than before, “Thank you my lord. A burning desire for revenge fueled by anger makes me vunerible and weak. Every weakness in your enemy is an opportunity, and tonight, I am my own enemy. I must find a way to transform it to my advantage. Thank you for reminding me of these truths.

Completing the ritual, Yoshita clapped, fed a small amount of incense into the fire, bowed, and left the shrine.

As she made the journey back to her room, she thought to herself and couldn’t help a small smile from creeping onto her face. “When I cannot redirect the fires of my anger as righteous rage back unto the enemies of the Empire, I will allow its burning wrath to consume me, leaving me weak and easily moulded.”

“But, then I will quench it in the waters of my home, in the strength and kinship of the Mantis Clan that flows in my veins. The torrent that comes with me. I will remind Raiko too of this, and when the waters wash over us, it will make us both stronger, like a tempered blade, and thus our anger will be gone and have served the purpose of making us stronger, unyielding.”

Carefully removing her wakasashi, which had gained new significance tonight, to put it on the rack provided in her room, Yoshita called for paper and ink. By the time the servant arrived, she was ready to put her thoughts to paper.

_To the family of Gunso Tonbo Kenshin, _

The magistrates will have duly informed you by now of the heinous murder of Gunso Tonbo while in service of the Army of the Minor Clan Alliance. That he was marked for assasination is a testiment to the paramount role he played in upholding the honour and dignity of the Dragonfly and the Minor Clans, for our enemies could not suffer even his presence.

As his fellow gunso, I wish to convey the extent to which he has benefited the Alliance. Having fought by him in battle and witnessing his prowless in skirmishes and duels alike, and perhaps more significantly, his unbending duty, courage, and honour, I am confident he is assured a favourable place in Meido while he waits to return to Ningen-do, if not to go directly to Yomi.

I would also like to humbly note his contribution to my own ability to serve the Empire. Tonbo-san’s instruction in the mechanics and use of a blade have granted me much insight which I will use to better serve the Mantis Clan and the Minor Clan Alliance. I cannot express how profoundly his lessons have affected me. In this way, his contribution will live on in a tangible fashion in the battles, of many varities, that I am sure will follow.

_Lastly, I wish to convey that during his life, I was looking to fullfill my duty to my clan by providing my family and my husband’s with an heir; thought the point is now mute, I would have been honoured to be the bride of Tonbo Kenshin. For if he was an example of his clan, I would be proud to call myself a Dragonfly. _

_May the Fortunes bless and keep you. _

_My best regards to your household, _ Yoritomo Yoshita of the 8th_

And after many restless nights the week previous, Yoshita slept soundly, the night breeze of the winds around Tsuruchi Castle cooling the last vestiges of her rage, strengthening her for the battles, of many sorts, that surely lie ahead.

 

I’m having significant trouble with getting italics to work…

 

(Don’t forget to put out-of-character discussion in quotation marks! Or are we still doing that?

Also, Shameful Thomas ought to be able to help you fix that up. He certainly removed many of my abortions in the past. Wait, that didn’t come out right…)

 

(Actually, I would recommend going old-school and using HTML. It’s less touchy than Textile, because the latter can be interrupted by something it doesn’t recognize. I have a theory that once it encounters an error, it’s designed to abort interpreting any symbols at all as a failsafe so that the page itself doesn’t break entirely.)

 

The contingent neared the end of the narrow path, their horses trotting along confidently. And from the destination ahead approached an older woman and her entourage, all of whom were dressed in black and gold. Tsuruchi Raiko’s skin, however, was white like death. She was clinging tightly to whatever courage she had left, but Heichi Masu was nonetheless proud to be at her side.

This archer had fought honourless pirates on the beach of some forgotten island, defending the honour of the Minor Clans. She had lost her arm to a superior opponent – a soulless giant with a thirst for blood and battle for its own sake. She did not hesitate. She looked directly at this human-shaped monster, then took battle to him. There is nothing more that can be asked of any warrior, thought Heichi Masu as they dismounted. It was impossible of him to conceive of a reason for Raiko to be so nervous.

And then the old woman struck the injured Gunso. Without thought, the young Boar leapt to catch Tsuruchi Raiko as she fell, and held her just inches from the ground. He looked up and with obvious disdain allowed his eyes to meet those of the terrible woman who had done this. A cacophony of thoughts and emotions screamed inside of Heichi Masu’s mind, his vision turning bright white and his face red. It took every ounce of his willpower to avoid acting even more inappropriately.

“Who are you?” snapped the woman towering over Masu and Raiko.

“I am Heichi Masu,” responded the headstrong bushi. Acid flowed through his veins, and dripped from his lips. “Who are you?”

“I am Raiko’s mother.”

Her mother!

This is why the Alliance shall fail, thought the Boar, cringing inwardly. How can the Minor Clans come together if they threaten always to erupt from within? How can the Clans co-exist harmoniously in coalition if those within refuse to let go of their petty rivalries and vendettas?

Heichi Masu took little comfort, witnessing vindication for his long-held beliefs. How could he? The young man had left cold objectivity behind with the Twilight Mountains. He was invested, now, in the people who would want for the Minor Clan Alliance to succeed. Indeed, even his own Champion, Heichi Nobunaga, had devoted all of his considerable talents to the endeavour.

For the first time, the bushi understood Nobunaga’s personal ambitions, for Masu wished too for the status and authority necessary to properly reprimand such an ignorant and selfish old woman. But he was a lowly Gunso, from a Clan of forgotten Crab; he was impotent here.

He watched as the old woman walked away, beside her daughter who was wounded both physically as well as mentally. Yoritomo Yoshiti had, moments earlier, whispered her name: Tsuruchi Heichiko. That was the name of the woman who perfectly encapsulated what the Heichi Masu hated of the people outside of his lands. Tsuruchi Heichiko was someone Heichi Masu could not forgive.

The young boy swung the bladeless mai chong back and forth effortlessly and without finesse, enjoying both the bending of the pliable staff as well as the sound it made as it whizzed through the air. He stopped suddenly, as though having an epiphany. The child then dashed through his father’s workshop, his little feet slapping rapidly against the hard floor. He came to another abrupt stop in the doorway of the next room, standing entirely upright and staring at his father, who was examining another one of his completed weapons.

“Hm?” his father muttered, his eyes remaining fixed on his newly-completed tanto. He held it in the air, this man, turning it over again and again, his eyes moving across it like the sun over the mountains.

“Father,” the boy started with childish impatience. “Was mother a great bushi too?”

The tanto stopped moving instantly, as though time were standing still. The father of Heichi Masu allowed a tiny smile to pierce his normally-stoic face, and he slowly and lovingly laid the sword upon the table. He looked across the room, seemingly staring at nothing, and his eyes narrowed.

“Like our clan,” Shuzo began, looking very far away, “your mother was something great, someone the others wished they could be, someone to be admired for her grace and her kindness and her pride. Her strength…was not something physical, not something tangible…”

Young Heichi Masu nodded, pretending to understand the words flowing from his father, pretending that his father was acknowledging him at all instead of speaking simply to himself and to his memories. Shuzo’s eyes then narrowed a little more, the smile slipping from his face. He caught himself in his daydream, and looked over at his son purposefully.

“She was a good wife,” he continued, releasing a tiny sigh. “She never spoke, or acted, out of turn. And yet she could have carried the world upon her shoulders, if she needed to. But like the greatness of the Boar, the world saw fit to take her from me, and from you, and I will never understand why.

“I will never forgive it,” he spat. And then he resumed his work, ignoring his son once more.

 

Dear Kitsune Tokaji

My friend, it is with regret not joy that I am sending this letter of congratulations to you. It will be a difficult task, Toku’s leadership was astounding and he was a good man, but I know that you are up to the task. It seems that I shall be tending to my estate for some time, such is not my skill and as such matters are complicated. I hope to join you on the field my friend, I know that until such time you will defend the honour of the 8th. Take care Your Friend

Usaji Kenchi

Shameful_Thomas

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.