By Shawn Carman
A tale of Rokugan, the world of Legend of the Five Rings
A decade ago...
It seemed almost unthinkable. Gaijin had
not entered Rokugan in any significant numbers since they were
driven out during the Battle at White Stag and the subsequent
series of naval skirmishes. Now, however, Yabanjin raiders had
descended from the mountains north of the Phoenix lands to plague the northern coasts of Rokugan. The
Emperor Toturi had dispatched his own daughter, the renowned
Toturi Tsudao, to lead the Emerald Legions against them.
The notion of sending a spoiled aristocrat
to do the work of a true warrior disgusted the young Mirumoto
Junnosuke. He had been with the Legion nearly six months now,
and was convinced that the entire organization was led
exclusively by the weakest members of the Imperial court; they
were riffraff that Toturi did not want cluttering his chambers
during diplomatic functions. He had wondered if incompetence was
a prerequisite for a ranking position within the Legion.
Glancing sidelong at his commanding
officer, Junnosuke corrected himself. Incompetence was definitely
a requirement. The doddering old Scorpion had
single-handedly dispelled every notion the young Dragon had ever
had about the so-called clan of secrets.
Kitagi and his officers sat
atop their powerful steeds, surveying the foothills surrounding
them. Tsudao had dispatched their force to maneuver into a
flanking position should the bulk of the raiders attempt to move
away from the coast inward toward the center of the Phoenix
lands. Between Kitagi's forces and the considerable Phoenix army
massed against the raiders, it seemed an unlikely prospect.
Meaning that Junnosuke would be denied the glory of combat once
A grunt from his commanding officer broke
the Dragon's concentration. The old man had fixed upon a narrow
column of smoke on the horizon. "A small fire, likely a
single building. Perhaps the target of a small raiding party, or
one of several." Kitagi stroked his chin, deep in thought.
He turned to face the men assembled at the bottom of the hill,
and his eyes settled upon Junnosuke. "Junnosuke! Take a
patrol and investigate. If there are raiders, put an end to their
Junnosuke was stunned. Kitagi had barely
acknowledged him in the past, and when he did it was usually in
the form of thinly veiled hostility. To be placed in command of a
scouting mission was quite a shock. "What?" he blurted
out before he could stop himself.
Kitagi raised a single eyebrow. "You
think yourself unequal to the task, little Dragon?" There
was a chuckle from somewhere behind Junnosuke. "I shall send
Kitsu Dejiko with you. If you find yourself paralyzed with
fear, we shall let the young lioness take command in your
stead." Now there were several men laughing in the ranks
behind him. Junnosuke fumed, gritting his teeth and remaining
silent. He glanced over to Dejiko, the young Lion warrior who had
only joined their force very recently. She was looking at him
with unabashed anger and distaste. It seems Kitagi's comments had
not found favor with her either.
"As you command, Kitagi-sama,"
Junnosuke forced himself to say without too much detectable
malice. He turned to the men and signaled the fourth patrol, men
from his barracks that he knew and trusted. With a hateful glance
in Dejiko's direction, he spurred his horse forward toward the
distant column of smoke.
After a full two days of chasing the
Yabanjin outriders, Junnosuke was on the edge of a furious rage.
The other men had long since stopped speaking unless spoken to;
it simply was not worth risking Junnosuke's explosive outbursts
to ask questions or offer suggestions. Only Dejiko had the
temerity to question his decisions or offer dissenting advice,
something she took every opportunity to do. It was maddening.
"If all your clan talks this much,
woman," he had said at one point, "then it is no wonder
the Lion have so many victories to their credit. I know I would
surrender before I endured your mindless prattling any
further." One of the men had laughed, and Dejiko had looked
at both of them with barely concealed hatred. To her credit, she
said nothing, respecting Junnosuke's command even if she did not
On the third day, Junnosuke knew they were
close. They had seen the dust from the raiders' horses on one or
two occasions. It seemed their prey knew they were following
them. Near mid-day, the patrol came to a place where the trail
split, with one branch leading into a valley and the other
disappearing into the northern mountains. Junnosuke deliberated
for some time before finally choosing the valley.
protested, the respectful term of address sounding forced.
"Do you not believe the raiders would attempt to take
advantage of the higher ground? I believe they would have taken
to the mountains."
The Dragon officer only laughed. "Face
an unknown foe on unknown territory? After having been chased for
three days? I think not, Kitsu." He turned to gesture toward
the valley. "No, there is a village within that valley. They
are heading there to refresh themselves before attempting to
ambush us." He looked at her as if expected a protest, but
Dejiko merely turned away, her attention absorbed by the report
of a young Scorpion scout.
"Now," growled Junnosuke,
"let us show these gaijin devils what it means to face the
Legion." With a great shout, he spurred his horse forward
toward the village, his men following suit.
The raiders had not been found within the
village. Enraged beyond measure, Junnosuke turned his wrath upon
"No, Mirumoto-sama, we have seen no
one!" The village headman seemed on the verge of a panic,
his face white with terror where he looked up from the ground.
"We... we would never disgrace our lady Shiba Tsukune by
consorting with filthy gaijin!" All around the village, the
same terrified look was on the face of any villager who dared
show themselves before Junnosuke's men.
The young Dragon found himself torn between
two possible courses of action. There was the possibility that
the villagers were telling the truth. The raiders could have
circumvented the village, or even allowed the patrol to ride past
them before doubling back the way they came. Junnosuke's patrol
had moved through the valley so quickly that there was a
possibility, however remote, he had overlooked his quarry.
However, the villagers might be lying.
Peasants were stupid and superstitious, particularly in the Phoenix lands. They would be easily intimidated by
the fearsome Yabanjin, perhaps even enough to commit the
unpardonable sin of lying to a member of the Imperial Legions.
Fear for one's life and home could lead to the justification of
nearly any act, even one of treason.
Junnosuke wiped his mouth with the back of
his hand. He was exhausted, having slept only a few hours in the
past three days. There was a constant buzzing sound in his head,
and a tinge of red had begun to cloud his vision. He needed rest
and sleep, and he needed it soon. How could he make such a
decision in this condition? How could he risk resting in a
village that could be a haven for enemy troops?
In that instant, Junnosuke knew what he
Leaping down from his horse, he gave a
great shout and kicked the headman away from him with his armored
boot. "Run, old man!" he shouted. "Run and tell
the other villages what happens when you side with barbarians
against the Imperial Legions! Tell them that they can die heroes
fighting the raiders, or be executed like the cowards they
are!" As the heavyset man scrambled away from the raging
Dragon, Junnosuke turned to his men.
"The Yabanjin are here," he
rasped. "Destroy the village. Burn everything. Leave
nothing." With another great shout, Junnosuke turned and
charged the line of ashigaru who had been watching his
confrontation with the headman.
One week later...
The quarters in which he had been left
seemed infinitely smaller than his former barracks. Junnosuke
paced angrily, nearly climbing the walls in his frustration. The
officers discussing his situation had left him here to await
their decision. He was not being held against his will, of
course, yet it would be a huge dishonor to leave the room in
which they had left him.
How could this have happened? He had
completed the task assigned him in a manner that left no room for
doubt. And yet he faced punishment? Outrageous! It was surely
that little Lion whore. She had somehow convinced Kitagi to turn
against him. Perhaps she had even seduced the old man...
The Dragon's reverie was broken by the
brisk sound of the shoji sliding open. Yogo Kitagi stepped
easily into the room and closed the door behind him. Despite that
his mouth was covered by a mask, his eyes were smiling. It was
not a kind smile.
"Junnosuke-san," the old Scorpion
said mildly, his voice full of mock sorrow. "We are
certainly in a bit of a predicament here." Kitagi walked
around the edges of the small office, his eyes never leaving
Junnosuke. "We have sworn testimony from three witnesses
that you led an assault on a village with no real indication that
the raiders you sought were even there."
"They were there," the young
soldier snarled. "We attacked when they were unprepared. We
cornered them in the Temple of the Jurojin."
"Which you proceeded to burn,"
Kitagi nodded, looking at him pointedly. "Well, we certainly
cannot be sure of that your testimony is reliable, can we? Anyone
who could tell us for certain is dead now, thanks to your
"But the gaijin weapons, their
armor," Junnosuke said. "Surely that was proof
"Dejiko's scouting party found nothing
more than bones," Kitagi said, leaning in close, his eyes no
longer smiling. "You are finished here, Junnosuke. When I am
done, you will be the most disgraced ronin this empire has ever
seen." The Scorpion leaned back, obviously enjoying himself.
Junnosuke slowly raised his head and locked eyes with his
"I would not lie," Junnosuke said
hoarsely. "My testimony is my life..."
"And it means just as little to
me," Kitagi said with a smug grin.
Junnosuke paused for several moments.
"I have the scroll," he finally said.
The effect of his words was impressive.
Kitagi's eyes narrowed for the briefest of moments, as if
confused by the younger man's words. Then they widened suddenly
in recognition. He started badly, knocking a delicate statuette
from the desk behind him into the floor where it shattered.
"Oh yes," Junnosuke continued. "I believe you know
the one I speak of. The one my sensei took from you years
ago." Now it was his turn to lean in closely. "The one
in which you order the murder of Moto Gaheris' son. You had
instructed your assassin to destroy the message, of course, but
my sensei never gave him the chance. Out of respect for the
alliance between Scorpion and Dragon my sensei never revealed the
truth, but I have no such love for your clan. Tell me Kitagi, is
Moto Chagatai a forgiving sort?"
"I... I don't... " Kitagi
sputtered, "I don't know what... "
"Spare me, you fool," Junnosuke
said with a clearly disgusted look on his face. "I sincerely
hope the other members of your clan are more successful at
deception than you. Otherwise the vaunted tales of the Scorpion
are little more than children's stories. A shame, really."
Junnosuke glanced down to the floor. He moved his foot to crush
the head of the shattered figurine. "It was perhaps the
wisest decision my sensei ever made, keeping that scroll a
secret. It placed you under his thumb for decades." He
grinned. "And now under mine."
The old man shook his head in disbelief.
"I was certain that damnable scroll died with Mirumoto
Reikan." He looked at Junnosuke curiously. "Why have
you not used it before now? You are clearly an ambitious man. Why
not use it to advance your station within the Legion?"
A fleeting look of contempt crossed
Junnosuke's face. "I did not need that. Your position would
have been mine within a matter of months, perhaps a year at most.
I need nothing so crude as blackmail when my own talents are such
as they are." Junnosuke bared his teeth in frustration.
"But I had not imagined that your troops would conceal the
Yabanjin weapons and armor after I had departed the village, or
that you would use Kitsu Dejiko as your pawn, delaying her
arrival until they could see that the Yabanjin were 'just
peasants.' I must give you this much, the gambit was well
planned. With my testimony in conflict with what Dejiko believed
she saw, surely Tsudao-sama would favor a Lion - a member of her
father's own clan - over me. You made your move. Now I have made
"What do you want?" hissed
"So quick to negotiate!"
Junnosuke clearly enjoyed his power over the aging commander.
"If you had left well enough alone, Kitagi, all would have
been well. But no, you had to attempt to destroy my career as you
destroyed my sensei. It is very simple. Even you should have no
questions. I want to remain within the Legion."
Kitagi shook his head. "That is
impossible. Too many people know that something happened in the
village. If you remain, they will ask questions. Eventually,
someone will come looking for the truth. Have you forgotten who
our commander is? The Emperor's daughter would be painted the
fool for this scandal. However this ends, both of us would
Gritting his teeth, Junnosuke slammed his
fist into the wall. The Legion had been his dream since
childhood. To lose it for something so simple as doing his job
effectively was unthinkable. "If I am to be cast out for my
sins," he whispered hoarsely, "so too shall you, old
"There is no way for you to
remain," Kitagi said. Seeing the rage boiling inside
Junnosuke, he hastily added, "However, we can control the
circumstances of your departure to spare you dishonor. Allow you
to return to your clan as a revered veteran of the Emerald
Legion, rather than..." Kitagi allowed himself a small
smile, "... a disgraced outcast."
Junnosuke was numb. That he was discussing
the circumstances by which he would return to the mountains of
the Dragon Clan... it hardly seemed real. "I could simply
tell them the kami appeared to me and bade me return to my
duties at home," he heard himself say as if from a distance.
"Those meditating simpletons are always going on about
things like that."
"Perhaps an illness in your
family," Kitagi began.
Junnosuke cut him short with a rough laugh.
"A sick relative? Is that the best you can do? By the
Fortunes, how you ever achieved a post of this caliber is beyond
me." He shook his head in disbelief.
Yogo Kitagi had grown very still and
silent. A cold, deadly rage was clearly visible in his
hate-filled stare. "I assure you, Mirumoto Junnosuke,"
he said quietly, "I am quite capable of dealing with such
details. Make your preparations and say good-bye to your
comrades, if one such as yourself can call any man a comrade. I
will arrange everything. Be ready to leave in the morning."
Without another word, the older man slid silently through the
shoji screens and disappeared, leaving Junnosuke to brood.
Four days later, Junnosuke met a messenger
coming to meet him on his way to the Dragon lands. His mother, it
seemed, had taken very suddenly ill and had died at the monastery
where she had lived these past few years. The brother monks had
no explanation for her sudden death.
Somehow, Junnosuke was not surprised in the