A Tadashii A

Prologue

The winds of change have oft blown over the Empire, putting lies where truth once stood, and making truth of lies. Mighty men rose to great heights, only to be brought low by others. Fates changed as men strove for glory and honor, while others struck out from the shadows, manipulating in secret the fates of those around them.

Bravery and courage would be displayed a thousand times, and a thousand times again, but none would ever know true peace, for their hearts would be torn by loss and turmoil. People followed blindly after what they didn't understand, dying for causes they could not comprehend. Worth was measured in sacrifice and fulfillment of duty, while the true depth of honor was lost to the machinations of the deceitful.

For over a thousand years, the Empire went through this terrible cycle, struggling against itself, until one day. Two individuals rose up to defy all that it meant to be Samurai, not to destroy the way, but to remind others of what it meant to live it.

Chapter 1

Heritage

The year 1128 heralded one of the greatest and most terrible battles in the history of Rokugan, the Second Day of Thunder. Though there are many tales to be told of this fateful time, one story was never told, the tale of Akodo Seidai.

The broken walls of the capitol city of Otosan Uchi filled with the cries of the dead and dying as thousands of brave samurai gave their lives against the terrible forces of Fu Leng. A thundering crash sounded nearby as Akodo Seidai crouched in the shelter of a half-ruined building. His armor was already stained heavily with thick black blood, his katana clutched firmly in his hands. Despite the fear beating within his chest, he held his place, ready for more of his foul foes to reveal themselves.

A jittering series of squeals echoed out nearby, followed by yells and shrieks of fear. Moving like the wind, Seidai rushed from his hiding place to find the source of the distressed cries, anger clouding over his mind. No, I must maintain control, or my life will be forfeit. Calm, control, do not give your ancestors anything to be ashamed of, Seidai. Even as he calmed himself, he thought about how likely it was that he might be joining the honored dead very soon.

As he hurried around the corner of a wall that had been reduced to rubble and fire, he spotted the source of the commotion. A family of Crane who were desperately trying to escape found themselves trapped by a large group of bakemono, foul goblins of Fu Leng. They were short, lanky green creatures, carrying a variety of old rusted weapons and armor, hissing and cackling in glee at their newfound prey.

The Cranes they were harassing looked terrible, their fine sky blue robes torn by the claws of the bakemono, their faces blackened by the smoke of the fires that raged throughout the city. The eldest of them, an aged courtier, stood his ground, clutching a wakizashi in both hands. He was shaking like a leaf, trying to keep himself between the foul creatures and his wife and daughters, who were crying in fear.

"Come to me, and meet your deaths!" Seidai shouted, raising his sword as the bakemono turned to face him. They screeched and cursed angrily in their wretched tongue, furious at having their fun interrupted. Rushing at the defiant bushi, they swiftly attacked, trying to overwhelm him with their numbers.

Lunging forward, Seidai laughed as his blade sang a song of death for the little beasts. The first lost the upper half of it's head, falling in ruin to the ground at his feet. The second was split from shoulder to hip, screeching wildly as his blade left it crumpled on the ground. A third was skewered before it even realized it was dead.

Seidai didn't even hesitate to release his katana, instead gripping his wakizashi and taking a fourth in it's gut. Whirling and ripping both blades free, he hacked through two more, still moving nimbly through their ranks.

A bamboo spear cut into his arm, leaving a bloody gash, but it meant little to Seidai. He grabbed the weapon, shoving it back through it's owner's bloated body, then whirled it about, shattering the spear and crushing yet another as he clove the arm from one that was coming up from behind.

As blood seeped across the ground, the mighty man knelt and retrieved his wakizashi, wiping the blades clean of the blood that stained them. He turned to the family he had rescued, bowing politely.

"You are safe now, Crane-sama. Allow me to escort you out of the city." He let no pain nor weariness into his voice.

"Yes, thank you." The courtier returned his bow, his eyes darting back and forth over the dead beasts laying about upon the ground.

Seidai rose and turned, his eye catching a passionate stare from the youngest of the girls. He half smiled, hiding his embarrassment as he led the way back to the broken walls, and to safety.

***

"Thank you again, brave samurai." The Crane bowed more deeply this time. "I am grateful for all you have done for me and my family."

"My duty and honor demand no less of me, Crane-sama." Seidai responded, returning the bow. "If there is any other way I might be of assistance, I would be glad to grant you my aid."

"No, you have done quite enough for us already. We would not wish to detain you from your du-" He paused, noticing the empty scabbard his youngest daughter was carrying. "Tamiko! Where has the sword gone!? What have you done with it!?"

The teenage girl looked at the scabbard, her eyes growing wide at the sight of the empty sheath. "I-I must have lost it when those bakemono attacked us! Please, forgive me father!" The pretty Crane dropped to her knees, her head hung in shame.

"Tamiko, how could you? You have brought shame upon our family." Her father said, his eyes sad and scornful. "I am sorry for your transgression, but you know the price of such failiure." He drew out the wakizashi, holding it out to his daughter.

"Wait! Please stay your blade." Seidai said, holding up his hand.

"I am sorry, Lion-sama, but this is not something you can change." The Crane said, looking over at Seidai. "My daughter has committed a crime that shall stain our honor if it is not recompensed."

"Then let me be the one to recompense it." Seidai replied.

The Crane courtier looked surprised at the samurai. "How could you accomplish that?"

"I will retrieve the sword, and return it to you. In exchange, I would ask for the hand of your daughter, so that anything that should befall her shall be my burden to carry as well. She is not a samurai, and to blame her for failing in a samurai's duty would be a crime. If you will allow it, I shall do this, for her sake."

"Very well, I shall allow it. Please bring our ancestral sword back to us. You carry my daughter's life in your hands."

"I will not fail you!" As Seidai bowed, he let his eyes meet the hopeful stare of Tamiko. Yes, she is worth risking my life for. I will not fail you, not now, not ever.

With that, he drew his katana once again, making his way back into the city, in search of the lost sword.

***

"Keyyaargh!" The Oni shrieked whipping it's spine coated, sickle-like leg down at Seidai, narrowly missing the nimble samurai. Rolling on his hip, he brought himself up, slashing through the creature's leg with a sickening crack. Throwing himself forward, he dodged another attack that rent the stones he had knelt upon a moment before. Leaping up, he caught hold of the creature's leg, hefting himself up upon it.

Crack! Another blow landed on the creature's bulbous, ten eyed head, sending green pustules globbing down from the open wound. A writhing tentacle caught Seidai about the leg, dragging him free of the creature's grotesque body, dangling him in the air. It swung him about, slamming him into the side of a building.

As he crashed through the wood and paper walls, he thanked his ancestors it wasn't made of a much harder substance. Rising, winded from the blow, he drew up his sword again, waiting for the Oni's attack. The creature latched onto the wall with it's sickle legs, pulling it's bulbous body in and reaching for it's quarry with several long tentacles that extended from the maw in the middle of it's legs.

Seidai lunged straight into the gaping hole, slashing the tentacles aside as they tried to grip him, then hacking into the maw with his now nicked, pockmarked katana. The edge held true, cutting deep into the monstrosity's gullet, sending yet more ichor squirting from the rents in it's throat.

"Kwooghogh!" Thrashing with it's long legs, the creature suddenly found the walls giving way underneath it's movements, dropping it from the side of the building. Leaping after it, Seidai brought his katana slamming down into one of the bleeding orifices where it's eye had once been.

The heavy slash dug deep into the beast, cutting nearly halfway through it's mass. Finally unable to suffer any more injury, the demon died, it's body lying broken in the road. Seidai leaned wearily against it's carcass, regaining his breath so he could continue his search for the sword.

Raising his own katana, he looked at the damage it had suffered. Long scratches and deep nicks marred it's surface, the tip was broken off, and a large chip had been taken out of the battle weary blade. Thank you, Arigamori, this blade has served me well. Thank you, Bishamon, for giving me the strength to fight. Thank you, Kami, that my body has not failed me.

Having said a short prayer, Seidai rose again, making his way further into the ruins of the city. The sky was darkening, and water was beginning to flood through the streets. Trudging through the mud and water, he pressed on, determined to find the sword and save the life of Tamiko. He finally came to the area where the family had fled from, searching the water for some sign of the missing sword.

No longer in any condition to fight, he pushed on doggedly, fumbling through the shallows, his hands seeking anything solid. A rumbling gurgle behind him brought Seidai whirling around, drawing his blade. Another Oni, this one with armor like a crab with a human's face stretched over the front of it came floating through the air at him, large scythes protruding from it's back.

He brought his katana up to parry it's vicious attack, but the thing gripped his blade, yanking it free of his hands. With a terrible strength, it broke the blade, casting it aside. Stumbling back, he drew his wakizashi, hacking at the thing's head repeatedly, but to no effect.

"Such weak blows! Do you actually expect to harm me!?" The Oni laughed at his feeble attacks, battering him into the water with it's claws. He tried to rise, but it struck him across the back, taking hold of his armor. Some deeper sense warned him to get free, guiding his wakizashi into the large knot cluster at his side. The armor twisted and snapped just as he fell free of it, losing his wakizashi in the process. He scrambled away, leaving blood leaking from his back from the wound he suffered at the Oni's claws.

"Hahahaha! Run little samurai, I enjoy a chase!" The creature bellowed as he rounded and pulled himself up against a wall, his hand fumbling for something to defend himself with. The Oni came lurching at him, it's mouth opened to reveal insect-like mandibles oozing human blood.

Suddenly, Seidai's hand found something in the water. Lifting the object, he found himself staring at the most beautiful sword he had ever seen. Without a second thought, he braced the katana against the wall, just as the huge Oni came plunging down on him with all it's weight.

"Aaaaaaagh!" The creature let out a wail that cut through the night as the blade punctured it's armored hide, splitting it in two. Shoving with all his might, Seidai pressed the blade further, slowly cutting the Oni in half.

With a defiant roar, he pushed up through the broken armored hide, pulling himself free of the terrible creature's dying carcass. He fumbled his hands about, finding purchase on the hard shell of the demon's broken body, hauling himself free of it's remains. Rolling down into the water, he stared up at the blade that was his salvation. I told you I would not fail, Tamiko. He rose slowly, trudging back to the city's wall once again, the blade still gripped in his bloodstained hands.

***

It would be many months before Seidai was able to find out where the crane family he rescued had gone. Receiving the blessings of his Daimyo, Toturi, Seidai made his way across the lands from Toshi Kaeru to Kyuden Doji to return the sword and claim Tamiko. Though his body was still terribly battered from the battle, he pressed on, determined to meet his bride. Just the thought of the beautiful Doji girl set a fire alight deep within him, and gave him the strength to press on.

Finally, he found himself walking through the gates of the Crane clan's palace, the ancestral home of the Doji family. As he and his few companions entered, his eyes caught the suspicious gaze of the Daidoji guardsmen. He very well knew that the Lion clan and the Crane clan had never been on good terms with each other, but he hardly cared. Honor demanded he save Tamiko and return their family's sword to them.

A man dressed in the light blue finery of the Crane approached them, bowing to Seidai. "Greetings, Akodo-san. To what do we owe this visit?" There was a hint of distrust in the man's voice, but Seidai chose to ignore it, bowing in return.

"I have come to return a sword rescued from Otosan Uchi, and to speak to the man who is to receive it." He replied, keeping his voice as polite as his rough upbringing would allow.

"Of course. Please come in, I will fetch Doji Niruka immediately." He said, gesturing them to follow him to a guest room.

***

Several hours passed before Doji Niruka joined them, leaving Seidai restless and irritated. As the man he rescued entered, Seidai rose, bowing to him stiffly, showing his annoyance at being kept waiting.

"I trust your journey went well?" Niruka asked with a feigned politeness.

"Well enough. The way stations were pleasant, but the cities were somewhat inhospitable." Seidai replied.

"I see, perhaps it is just as well. After all, I have heard the Akodo are none too fond of many of our frivolities. I thank you for returning my family's ancestral weapon to us. I shall see that your actions are duly rewarded." Niruka's tone sent a chill up Seidai's back.

"May I see Tamiko now?" Seidai asked, his gut twisting in a knot.

The Crane courtier sighed, meeting Seidai's eyes coldly. "You will not be receiving her hand. She has been absolved of responsibility for the sword's loss, and is happily married."

"What!?" Seidai rose from his seat, his eyes blazing. "You gave your word that she would be wed to me! A word of honor! How dare you!?"

"Now now." Niruka rose, holding out his hand as if to soothe the angry Lion's temper. "The matter is out of my hands, please do not make any hasty decisions. What is done is done. Anger will not avail you here."

As if to emphasize his point, the wall panels slid open to reveal a number of Daidoji yojimbo, hands upon their swords. Seeing that conflict would be wasted, Seidai picked up the cloth wrapped bundle of Niruka's ancestral sword. Drawing it slowly free, he placed the blade firmly against the floor. Putting his foot to it, he jerked with all the fury of his rage against the traitorous Crane.

The sword snapped, leaving it's fine blade upon the floor. Seidai dropped the hilt next to the broken blade. "Hear me, Crane! You have not only done a disservice and dishonor to me, but to yourself! May the kami curse this blade, and your line to bear no son until the day your vow is fulfilled!"

Filled with rage and sorrow, Seidai turned and left with his companions. Niruka watched as they walked out to the gates, leaving the palace behind. From a window half way up the elegant keep, a teary eyed girl watched her hero leave. He paused, looking up and meeting her eyes, as if drawn to them by some unknown force. No words were spoken, nor could they have been heard if they were, but the message was clear. Some day, I will come back for you.

***

Ever since that day, the ancestral sword of Doji Niruka has lain broken within their family shrine, no smith able to mend it. Niruka himself found that the curse would be worse than the loss of the sword, for his family was never again able to bear sons. They would vanish in name leaving Niruka's line dead and forgotten. But always, with each generation of daughters, one would look out the windows, waiting for something to come, or someone.