The Era of the Heavenly Empress

Winter Court 1173 Concludes; Endings

Far from Kyuden Doji, an honor guard of Lion bushi arrived in Mantis lands, seekinig Yoritomo Hanako: she was to stand before Shosuro Jimen, the Emerald Champion, and be judged as either hero to Rokugan or betrayer of the Empire. The letter had not only Jimen’s seal, but that of Akodo’s Hope, now named as such by The Empress herself. Her future husband, Kitsu Kosho said that she had sailed off a short while ago, and that he did not know where Yoritomo Hanako had gone. Grimly, the Lion thanked him for the information, and then asked after the whereabouts of Orochi Hanako. Again, Kosho said that he didn’t know where she was, and in fact, he hadn’t seen her since The Great Warrior Pilgrimage 1173. Lastly, the Lion told him that there was a warrant out for the arrest of the ronin Hanako, accused of crimes against the Empire itself. After the Lion had departed, Hanako emerged from an adjoining room, having overheard the conversation, and decided along with Kosho that they would go to Winter Court, and she would defend her actions.

Meanwhile, at Winter Court, Bayushi Yoshimi sent an emissary to Bayushi Tosen to ask for advice concerning the true danger the gajin represented. Asoko Nabashi sent a letter to Tosen, asking to speak to him privately on the third floor of a tea house, in a private room. After receiving Tosen’s answer, and meeting with him, he proceeded to speak of a ‘dream’. In that ‘dream’, the emissary spoke of the Shadowlands fighting side by side with the samurai of the Empire to combat the gajin outsiders. A ninja had come to the powerful and influential at Court and all had agreed to an alliance, as the Shadowlands despised outsiders just as strongly as the Empire did. Tosen returned that an ally of his had spoken of how the weapons carried by the gajin caused the Taint, and allying with the Shadowlands was, as a result, too dangerous for those close to the Empress to consider…and he advised that should the dream happen again, not to speak to Bayushi Paneki, but to instead come and talk to him.

Akodo Sozen meanwhile had received an invitation from Doji Akemi to come and meet with her at her home in the city. After being let in, he found her in her gardens, with her hair done in a peculiar new style; his keen eyes noting that the chopsticks holding it up were in fact a set of tiny, wooden daisho. She hastily apologized for not having the spear he had given her up amongst the other gifts she had garnered from influential individuals, instead drawing his attention to the fact that it rested near a training stand. Sozen returned that he had given her a spear; it was meant to be used! He also imagined, however, that Akemi had carefully arranged this display to impress him; he’d learned a great deal about the art of flattery from his wife, Akodo Namiko. Akodo Hoshi, the new Lion Clan Champion, joined the two of them for dinner, at which point she presented them both with scrolls containing The Pilgrim’s Prayer.

After the dinner had concluded, Doji Akemi found herself with a request to grant a meeting to Kakita Tiru, the very same Crane she had asked to defend her and her honor, if such a thing was needed, from the Emerald Champion Shosuro Jimen. During their short encounter, Tiru said that he believed it was possible for Akemi to champion the Pilgrimage, a feeling she felt very strongly towards (and that the Crane Clan Champion Dojo Domotai had strong feelings towards), as well as maintaining their current, secretive alliance with the Scorpion. As Bayushi Paneki and Jimen both agreed with the Pilgrimage as being a poor idea, against the interests of the Empire, everyone was looking for someone to blame, and Tiru suggested Yoritomo Hanako, known also the Tsunami. The scroll The Danger of the Fated had talked about the dangers of those with a Dark Fate, and she would serve as the perfect example. After some thought, Akemi agreed, and another dinner was planned…

This time it was Bayushi Tosen, his wife Bayushi Kita , Bayushi Yoshimi, and Yoshimi’s nephew Shosuro Iku who were invited to dine with Doji Akemi. They found themselves gifted with rare pearls to begin, before seating themselves. Already present were Tiru, and Akemi’s close confidant, Doji Kwanchai. There, Akemi made her intentions known to the Scorpion. She would support the Pilgrimage and those who fought and died in it, but not the Mantis, nor any of their actions. Nor would she support Yoritomo Hanako, regardless of which name she chose to call herself. Tosen was naturally suspicious; he had heard from Bayushi Paneki himself exactly how strong Akemi’s feelings were towards the pilgrimage. Kwanchai was quick to allay his concerns, stating that the Crane and Scorpion clans were enjoying a very unusual period of close co-operation, and that both sides could have what they wished when it came to the Pilgrimage. The brave bushi would be lauded, while Hanako would be condemned. Yoshimi agreed that this could very well work for all sides concerned. After the meeting, Tosen sought out Jimen, discussing Akemi’s new attitude towards the Pilgrimage. Jimen would only smile and say that it was always good to have a Doji Courtier in one’s debt.

Akodo Sozen, regardless of the current ebb and flow of public opinion, and the influence of the powerful amongst the Clans, was determined to protect Yoritomo Hanako. She had fought and died, as had many Mantis, and Sozen respected them for their sacrifice, and their willingness to perform their duty at all costs. Discussing it with his wife Akodo Namiko, they decided that the best way to protect Hanako would be to praise her actions as a bushi, how she had in act fulfilled her duty as a Mantis as mandated by the Empress, “To protect all lands not already occupied by another Great Clan”. His chief concern, however, was how to protect Hanako from her own temper.

While this was going on, in an attempt to further discredit Yoritomo Hanako, Bayushi Yoshimi struck up a conversation with Togashi Sakura on the subject of bushido. Specifically, at how poor it reflected on a samurai to change their name again and again and again. Known as a sage, it was Bayushi Paneki‘s hope (with he being the one to instruct Yoshimio to begin the conversation) that he would further reduce Hanako’s good standing. Instead, Sakura spoke about how in the pursuit of true destiny and heroism, a samurai would change their name again and again, not only at genkpeku, but at each time they were reincarnated. Paneki’s plan had backfired, with the sage’s tale supporting Hanako’s acts as both a nameless ronin, and as a member of the Orochi ronin family!

The day that Yoritomo Hanako and Kitsu Kosho arrived with a guard of Mantis bushi, Otomo Kage went to speak to Shosuro Jimen. He believed that, given the current public opinion, that execution of Hanako may not have been the bad idea, but that threatening that could be a good distraction. Jimen replied that he had a similar plan in mind, and that Kage’s sole goal was not to make her look poorly, as a Mantis, but also as a servant of the Empire.

Many of the more prominent members of each Clan were present as the trial began. Shosuro Jimen presided, and behind him was the normally empty throne reserved for The Empress, who was in attendance! Hantei Ryozo sat in a smaller throne next to her, each of them protected by a dozen Seppun guardsmen. Equally surprising though was Yoritomo Hanako‘s entrance, accompanied not only by Kitsu Kosho but also by an honor guard of the Lion’s Pride, provided by Akodo Sozen! Hanako stood facing Jimen without fear or concern, the Lion’s Pride arrayed around her, as Jimen announced the purpose of it; “We are here to determined whether or not Yoritomo Hanako is a true servant of the Empire, or a traitor to all of Rokugan.” To which Hanako replied; “I may be the truest servant in this room.” Instantly the room was filled with discussion and whispered words at her unbelievable answer.

Immediately Otomo Kage stepped forward and began to question Hanako. Instead of giving answers however, Hanako attacked Kage’s own reputation and honor, telling all present of how Kage had stood against the absorption of the Kitsuki Clan by the Mantis. Kage replied that his loyalty to his Clan had cost him an eye. The two battled back and forth, accusing one another of act after act, Hanako not even answering the simplest question. Before too long Togashi Sakura recognized the fallacies present in the ‘argument’, and stepped forward. He spoke of the 350 ships that the Empire had sent out, of the thousands of samurai that had left and fought and died bravely. While the gajin had been banished for more than 800 years, they clearly had the power to travel and invade Rokugan once again. Thus, the brave and honorable bushi of the Empire were forced to bring the fight to them.

Otomo Kage cleverly switched topics, instead discussing how there were already gajin in the Empire, specifically how the Orochi family had brought in not one, but two large vessels from the Ivory Kingdoms of the Burning Sands! Building on those words, however, Akodo Namiko also stepped forward and said how there were already gajin in the Empire, pointing out that there were even visits in the Imperial capitol! Countering this however, Bayushi Yoshimi took a turn to speak, staying that he had gone to the Orochi islands, like several of those present, and when they had asked to meet The Serpent of the East, they had been brought to Hanako as the highest ‘servant’ of the infamous pirate. Despite Hanako’s constant barbs and retorts to Kage’s accusations, the Mantis-trained courtier had the sense of mind to focus her anger on a figure near-untouchable, proclaiming Bayushi Paneki the true saviour of the Empire.

That was all that Yoritomo Hanako could stand, and in a fit of anger and frustration, she accused the The Empress of being a pretender, a Kolat spy! While The Council of Thunders had their own suspicions regarding her true veracity, spawned from the same discoveries that Hanako had made on Other Castle Island, only Akodo Sozen dared to stand and support Hanako’s accusations. Rather than being struck down immediately, the Empress coldly remanded them to the custody of the Crane for the moment, and they were each led down into separate ‘guest rooms’ in the basements of Kyuden Doji. Hanako had her kama taken from her, while Sozen gave up The Viper’s Tongue, his katana that was gifted to him by Bayushi Tosen. When both Tosen and Isawa Banasu were discussing the events, and what it mean for the Council, Kakita Tiru joined them. After a short talk, Tiru would only say that Lion courage had failed, and that living with dishonor and the heavy weight of a terrible truth was harder than dying with honor, and speaking that truth.

While imprisoned, Yoritomo Hanako was visited by her future husband, Kitsu Kosho, and the two conspired together to escape, Hanako mocking the abilities of the Crane, especially the Kenshinzen, to stop her. After Kosho left, Kakita Tiru went to see her. After reminding her of the insult he had endured years ago to the Kenshinzen Dojo, as well a short discussion about whether the two should conclude their feud outside the city, Tiru passed the Mantis bushi a pair of kama, and drew his blade so the two would fight on even terms. The battle was short, but brutal, with Tiru cutting her down after three blows from The Sword of Kalima, then finishing her where she lay on the ground. Meanwhile, in another of the ‘guest rooms’…

Shosuro Jimen had gone to see Akodo Sozen. He lamented that it was Akodo’s Hope had forsaken the The Empress, and that he was perhaps unsure of what exactly Sozen had said during the trial. He asked Sozen to swear to the Empress above all else, and to swear that she was the true Maiden of Heaven, as appointed by the Celestial Order. “I serve the true Empress”, Sozen stated, and Jimen settled into an iaijutsu stance, as did Sozen. It was over in the space of three strikes, the two both drawing and unable to slay the other during the duel, but Sozen proving faster and cutting down the Emerald Champion with a quick kenjutsu strike afterwards. Finding himself looking down upon Jimen, Sozen claimed both the Emerald Mempo and the The Sword of the Emerald Champion, two of the three symbols of the Emerald Champion, before escaping from Kyuden Doji. Both events were discovered soon, with The Dark Crane having called for the guards after slaying The Tsunami, and with Sozen’s escape anything but quiet.

After learning of the events that befallen his former betrothed, Kitsu Kosho went to speak to Yoritomo Naizen, the Mantis Clan Champion. He found him in the middle of an argument with Yoritomo Haruko, the Courtier Daughter, and the sister to the slain Yoritomo Hanako. Quickly dismissing Haruko after realizing that Kosho had overheard the exchange of words (with Haruko listening and not speaking), he and Kosho discussed the future of the Mantis. Naizen was informed enough to know that the opinion of not only the Imperials and The Empress but also of most Great Clans had turned against them, and he wondered if there was a place in the Empire for them. When Kosho suggested he would marry Haruko, Naizen was surprised, but agreed, and stated that from then on, the Mantis would find their own way, outside the Empire. Kosho suggested that the military might of The Kingdom of Yoritomo that had just been born would need a leader, and he knew of a certain Lion that would do well…

After seeing advice from Bayushi Tosen and Kakita Tiru whether or not it were possible to take the former Mantis islands by force, and then asking Bayushi Yoshimi, Doji Kwanchai, and Otomo Kage about the best political course of action, Hantei Ryozo advised The Empress that taking The Kingdom of Yoritomo by force was ill-advised.

Thus it was that the Mantis were no more, with the the Minor clans Centipede, Kitsune, and Wasp returning to existence and taking over their original mandates, and The Kingdom of Yoritomo formed by the descendants of Yoritomo, once again asserting their independence and ambition. An uneasy ‘peace’ would exist between the tiny Kingdom and the mighty Empire, for while The Great Warrior Pilgrimage 1173 had depleted the Mantis fleets more than any, it was the remnants of that Clan in the form of the Kingdom that still ruled the seas, preying upon poorly protected kobunes and shipping. Yet they could not stand against the full might of the Empire, and the Empire could not land and take their islands.

Three years would pass…

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