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Tyler Durden

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Odaiba, At the Edge

Far away from the sword and the gate, another pair of eyes watched the summit, unknowing but still drawn to them.  They were very dark brown, the color, one Imperial Merchant had acidly remarked, of a freshly-manured rice paddy.  The warm darkness of potential.

The ancient Taajar, it was said, had no concept of Zataka.  They divided darkness into different kinds, positive and negative.  It was both death and life, creation and destruction.

There was a warm darkness at the beginning of time, and from it emerged The Sky and The Sea.  They were the only beings in existence, and such they loved each other with a great and terrible love.

Though their love had borne many children, so fierce was their embrace that they were kept inside the womb of the sea.

Wait, the sea is female?  Shouldn’t it be the other way arou--

Scattered hushes.  Not until the end.

For long the children of The Sky and the Sea were kept in the depths ever growing in number, until one child was conceived, one stronger and larger than all the others.  They were neither male nor female, but at the same time both, and They were called The Land.  So big They were that Their siblings complained about Them taking up too much room in the womb of The Sea.

So The Land decided They would make room for everyone.

They rose up from the womb of The Sea and pushed apart The Sea and The Sky, with such force that the two could never embrace again.  For many eons the space between raged with Her anger and His Loss.  But then they looked upon their children spread out before them and their anger quieted, at least for a time.

Kuychar Hatchi’s gaze flicked away from the mountain, and back to the three dashi walking along the beach, their laughter fighting against the sounds of the brisk autumn waves.   There was still enough summer warmth in the air that Hatchi felt comfortable on zir beach chair, nestled in light furs.  Myzru wrestled with an oyster nearby, his irritated squawking providing a counterpoint the rising and falling of tides and laughter.

Hatchi looked at Sedskar, Semraed and Falki, called out to them, watched their faces bloom into smiles as they turned toward zir.   Wondered how much of their smiles were for this meeting and not each other. Hatchi stopped zirself--when had this jealousy flared up, and why should it?  Hatchi should be happy for them, and it was hard not to be.  Falki took advantage of Sedskar’s momentary distraction to send him into the water with a yelp, and there was enough sunlight left warm in the water for him to sputter only momentarily from the shock before lunging up to pull her down with him. Semraed, ever the level headed one, resisted long enough before giving in with a woop and expertly dunking the two of them.

So tired was The Land after this that They fell into a deep sleep, and in that sleep They dreamed.  They dreamed of deep green forests and waving grassy plains and the wingbeats of birds, and these dreams took form, and rested on Their body.  And The Land smiled in Their sleep, for although these creatures had not the strength of Their siblings, they were beautiful.

The Sea, when She gazed upon these creations, felt her anger flare up again.  What right had this child, who had caused Her so much pain, to delight in Their creations?  The Sea found She still had enough of The Sky-- Muffled giggles, silenced by a hard glare.

--within her to create a last few children.  They were not as great as the children She had borne before, but they were made with purpose--fierce and proud, with a will to rule.  They were favored by both The Sky and The Sea, and so had complete mastery of these domains.  The Sea declared that these children would rule over the world The Land had dreamed, and the The Land despaired, for nothing They had dreamed was as powerful.

No, it was not these three koshi zrupgar--content in their youth and love and strength--that made Hatchi feel so frayed, so stretched and anxious.   It was the Astyzyar Jahagir talking to zir, it was Plangori Soraya and her curiosity--it was whispers of a land far away, where the people were the color of janu birds, like they had been in times long ago.

That traitorous hope against hope that beat around the inside of Hatchi’s skull like a crazed bird had shredded the contentment, the carefully built facade constructed of years of not allowing zirself to feel, to remember that zi was not a woman--nor really a zrupgar.   That crazed hope that something of the stories told to zir by the old grandfather had been right.

Then, looking at the last children of The Sea, The Land caught sight of their brilliant, textured scales...and They dreamed of a people with faces like those scales, of as many colors that there were in existence.  They were small, for The Land had not the power of Their parents, and so at first The Sea did not notice them.  But although The Land had not the power to give Their children the strength of the air and waters, They dreamed them minds that could think and reason--and even dream, as Theirs did.  And dream they did--and their hands brought their dreams to fruition.  The Children of the Land began to the bounty of the earth around them into gleaming tools and sturdy houses that would stand against the rain and wind.

Suddenly, the sky above Hatchi lit up—lightening? A storm? Even the Kuychar, who kept a nervous truce with the unkind sea, had never seen something like this.  The shouts of confusion from the fisherwoman returning from their watch confirmed zir hunch.  The lightening, it arched back and toward the mountain, seeming coming forth from the roiling cloud of cloud of darkness at it’s peak. Hatchi had just enough time to consider the possibility of an eruption before the it struck.

The Sea saw this, and Her anger flared once again.  She lashed out with waves so high that they reached The Land’s heart and filled it’s spaces with poisonous water, so no more dreams would escape into the world.  The Sky whispered to His children and told them to guard the place where The Land’s heart lay waterlogged, so that His other child could never dream anything that could challenge the children that the Imperials call The Kanohi Dragons.

It is very hard to scare a well trained soko.  From the day they are foaled, their trainers and their heard teach them to remain steadfast in the face of danger, whether that danger be the clash of crystal or the smell of smoke.  And as Kuychar Ilykaed looked out on the smoking fields, she gave thanks the wisdom and good sense of generations of sokomasters for their guidance. Her contemplation was interrupted by the arrival of another zrupgar, concern written across the face of her mask.  She didn’t mince words.

“Something’s moving on the top of the mountain.  A great force, and fast.” The Taajar had used such techniques in the past—seasoned warriors on sure-footed horses, coursing down mountains to overwhelm a foe.  To the Imperials, it might seem crude and barbaric—a show of brute force more than tactics—but Ilykaed has studied, knew that there was always a plan.  Always. She met the other women’s eyes squarely.

“Tell them to bring out every last boat, even the canoes.  The dashi and the artisans, anyone who can’t swing a sword or shoot a bow, they must take the dried food they can and go as far out into the sea as the boats will carry them.  I will take care of the rest.”

As the trees on the mountaintop began to shake, she let Maki take her towards the other warriors.

But no matter what winds He sent, the sturdy homes of The Land’s Children did not falter.  He sent his children to kill them, but The Land’s children had grown too numerous for the dragons--and though they killed many The Land’s children were many more, and together they pushed back against the dragons--finally slaying some with the weapons they had forged.  The Sea and The Sky feared to see their children dying, so they called them back.

Hatchi was accustomed to the chaos of uprooting—the lowing of animals and the questions of children and scramble to put things away.  Never like this, though, never into the sea, on a moment’s notice.  Still, it was easy to pretend that this was just another camp change, especially with the familiar faces around zir.  Another woman flagged zir down, and zi guided Myzru in that direction—there was no time to greet her, only to catch the message and turn back towards the beach, firmly guiding Myrzru to the collection of boats that was being loaded. It was almost as if someone else was inquiring which boats were the surest, asking the fisherwoman where zi should direct the assorted people on the beach.  It was easy to float in this place between events, just before the wave crashed.  But Hatchi was practiced enough at sensing a situation that would soon erupt into violence, as were a great number of the people here.  Zi caught sight of Sedskar dodging similarly between the refugees, his gaze firm and focused, his earlier joy gone.  Semraed and Falki would be with the other warriors, preparing for whatever strange foe came down the mountain for them.  As the last of the sturdy fishing boats pushed off, leaving only the fastest canoes for the warriors if they had need of them.

When they had need of them.

Hatchi dismounted from Myzru, urging him to swim into the waiting waves, and stood leaning on zir cane, on the edge of the sand.


And that is why we do not worship The Sky or The Sea.  We plead for their favor, and acknowledge their might, but never do we give ourselves to them, for we know they do not love us, for we are not their children.  We are not born of Sea and Sky, of power and terror.  We are born of The Land and Their dreams, our hands and our minds.

“What are—“

“Focus.” The flat, firm voice of the Sokomaster cut off the murmurs of dismay from the younger warriors.  There were too many of them, Ilykaed thought.  Too many Zrupgar who hadn’t seen a true battle, and too many of those things steadily becoming more clear on the horizon.  They looked like some twisted take on a lizard, but they walked upright, and they gleamed impossibly.

Like metal. Ilykaed may have been a general, the rightful leader of the Kuychar clan, but when it came to archery, she was second to the steady hand of the Sokomaster, waiting for her signal as one of the creatures drew closer.

And then, suddenly it was not there.

The soko next to Maki screamed as the warrior next to Ilykaed frantically reached for her weapon, but Ilykaed had already let the bow fall to her side.  She had really hoped not to tap into the power of her mask so early, but this was no time.  Not enough save the soko.

The creature was made of metal, gleaming and resilient, but it splintered beneath the weight of Ilykaed’s great kris all the same.  She saw something soft and wriggling split beneath the blade before Maki drew back and the creature’s shell teetered.   Ilykaed spoke clearly, above the fears and whispers of her warriors. “They can die.” Then Maki dodged to the side as the ground next to her exploded.

As she seated herself, aware of every last position in her peripheral vision, Ilykaed turned to lock eyes with the Sokomaster, an understanding flashing between them.  The creature before had used a mask power, but these things had power beyond that, power they did not understand.

“Retreat!  Focus on the ones with range!”

One of the creatures, the brown one, ducked under the pepper of arrows that clanged off its carapace swinging around to cause another roaring explosion just in front of the retreating Soko.  In the next volley, however, the Sokomaster’s keen eye send a bolt punching through it’s eye, skewering the writhing worm inside.

Luknan, the warrior who had been unhorsed, ran alongside them, but she was falling behind, and she knew it.  Still, she kept in rhythm with them, facing the creatures that were now quickly advancing on them.

She had not been greener than any of the others, not less skilled, simply unlucky.  But there would be time to mourn later.

They settled into it—this rhythm, this tedium of war.  One creature tore up the battlefield with a raging wind, another seemed to direct a swarm of small, humming bees.  Their powers were strange, but they still had body language—still could be read.

One fell, then two.  The warriors knew where to aim now.  But there were too many.

Luknan felled one of the creatures as it approached her with a well-aimed throwing knife, but another drew close and Ilykaed watched as the warrior seemed to move in slow motion, her blocks too late as the staff pierced through her chest.

And then they hit the village, and broke into a full run for the canoes.  The creatures were almost as fast as Soko, and it was harder to hit them without the benefit of an open field.

Illykaed lost sight of some of the force, saw one of the creatures envelope a horse and riders in darkness, before staggering and falling as the koshi zrupgar punched a katar through its head.   The training against sighteyes had payed off, Ilykaed thought even as she noted the two others that were missing.  But there was no time.

Ilykaed dismounted from Maki, throwing herself into a canoe even as the other warriors slammed into them.  She saw Hatchi take Maki’s reigns before the question in her mind fully registered.  But there was no time.  She had to row, with fast, calix powered strokes as she watched Hatchi pull herself clumsily onto Maki’s back.

The couldn’t take the Soko—they were good swimmers, but not in the depths of the ocean.  And that looked like how far they were going to need to go.

Then even Ilykaed could not keep a gasp from her lips as one of the creatures began to float above the water, toward them.  For a moment, they hung on the precipice of despair.

And then the Sokomaster put an arrow through the thing’s eye once again.

No more of them came then, instead turning their anger on the village, tearing it apart with haunting screams that seemed just on the edge of speech.  Ilykaed watched Sednkuy burn, watched the village she worked to build vanish in the space of minutes.

But the people were still here, the hands that had built this place.  They had lost three warriors, and a caravan leader.  And that only maybe.

As Illykaed watched Maki lead the heard away, a streak of dappled brown with a dark blue splotch clinging onto it, she thanked whatever powers may have lived in the skies that these metal monsters were only almost as fast as Soko.

Then she picked up her rowing, back to the fickle sea.

For The Sea and The Sky still grow jealous sometimes, and they send nightmares deep into The Land’s dreams.   These nightmares have no trouble passing through the poisonous water, for they are made of poison.

But that is a story for another time.

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[BZPRPG Profiles]

Hatchi - Talli - Ranok - LuciraMorie - Akiyo - Yukie - Shuuan - Ilykaed

Clan Plangori - Clan Kuychar
I got that string theory--it doesn't work to push, you gotta pull.

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Posted (edited)

OOC | Masa courtesy of Alex

IC Yumiwa | Sado

I stepped up to the door to one of the wasureru michi apartments I’d been directed to but hesitated to knock. My hand hung close to the wooden door, held back in trepidation. This was surely the one but my anxiety made me question the information I’d been handed. I threw a glance back at my Hogo guard officer who nodded once in the affirmative—this was the place, she confirmed. This was where I’d meet the man who would have been my undoing.

I was already being undone.

I was ready to meet see him for what he was.

I was driven by my conscience to be stabbed in the gut anyway. Better in the gut than the back, my mentor would have said.

The world was falling apart around me but certain knots deserved to be tied. To be a Dasaka meant understanding my emotions and moving by what they fed back to me, and my inner strength compelled me to confront what I feared the most: Betrayal.

I knocked. Another Clan Hogo guard, who bore the ribbons of the Justicar’s department, opened the door slightly. Her eyes widened in recognition and she promptly shut the door instantly thereafter. A moment passed—my presence was being felt from beyond the door, I could feel—and then finally the door opened wide to admit me into the yawning recess of the rderelict apartment.

My apologies, Your Majesty, I am under orders to be most cautious.

I gave my thanks for her vigilance and must have said something of applause for her diligence because she warbled in gratitude but I didn’t really hear her as she closed the door after me. I stepped into the room, a darkly-lit foyer to the long-abandoned apartment, and paused. I couldn’t feel him yet, a testament that even in defeat he was still a powerful Menti, but I knew he was around. 

What I could feel, however, was a different familiar psychic presence—not his but another, more honorable one. She was letting me recognize her, bask in her familiarity, and understand the gravity of her presence. The Hogo guard who’d opened the door lit a small oil lamp in the corner, illuminating with a haunting glow the slight, weathered, and battered visage of my uncle’s right-hand woman. She looked different that when I’d seen her at court, always separated from Lord Rayuke but distinctly connected to him regardless, serving as his hand where daren't reach an eye where he couldn’t see. Ironic, I thought, reflecting briefly on her proud warrior stance contrasted by the bloodied bandana tied over her eyes and the Kanohi Anthron she wore to make up for her handicap.

Menti Masayoshi,” I greeted and bowed slightly, regardless whether she could see me being besides the point; she was due every respect of the Inquisitor's hand. “You must know why I am here.

 

The lamp light tickled at the remnants of a sense long lost, casting my darkness into twilight gray. I don’t appreciate the change. I never have. My visor is- was- tinted to prevent even that intrusion into my acceptance. But once I clung to that faintest glimmer of light.

Your Majesty.

Just like I’m clinging now to rules of formality I’m no longer sure apply.

Still I bowed deeply, deep enough almost to put my forehead to the floor. I’ve been kneeling here for hours, since before the sun went down. My kneels on the floor, my heels providing my seat, and my weapons placed artfully about me… But all in reach. Another formality. But one I took comfort in. My posture is a statement and a promise. I have returned to the capital, the world is coming down around me, and there are Hogo posted as guards but I have not surrendered the Battlemaster from my custody. He is mine to guard against. And mine to guard. I gave my word to both effects. He will not be freed, but he will not be harmed until the Rora or her sister have given the order. An order I promised to guard against, as well, no matter what he deserves.

It’s an imperfect world.

Yes, I do.

I couldn’t find the instinctive, gut level disdain for her authority that I normally feel. The last time I saw her face my ward was dragging her to her room. It was hilarious then to see the mighty Rora humbled just a little. Her attitude grated. Her obliviousness to her own standing wore the nerves, and her pampered life I found personally offensive. I find none of it in her bearing now. Only the demeanor of the betrayed, as only someone who has been betrayed in turn can see.

Though we’ve shared a room many times, I don’t think she has ever had cause to speak to me directly. Not as an emissary of her uncle or a representative of the system he represents but to me. I looked at her directly when I straightened. There’s no point in playing the game that I have played since Rayuke brought me to Sado. No reason to pretend I need the cane, or look just slightly to their side. My gaze meets hers, or it would if my eyes were uncovered for her to see. I let my answer hang in the air, and I suppose that was less than polite of me. My Empress deserves my full cooperation in all things, even in conversation, and such a compliant answer in its own way deprives her of it. But beneath my fatigue is anger, and even if I cannot find my disdain I can still find that.

But she doesn’t need my anger added to her burden.

Your Majesty,” I began again after a pause. She has not requested access, yet, and even the Rora requires my permission to enter the room beyond. She can demand it and leave me no choice, though I doubt she will. Nor do I plan to deny it to her. But just this once the pace is mine to set. “Are you familiar with my accident?

 

I’ll admit, I know only a little,” I replied with a slight, imperceptible hesitation. It was told only in brief and in hushed tones among kata practitioners in the Yards, and a whispered cautionary tale against losing one’s focus and discipline. My tutor had mentioned it, once, but nothing more.

My ears ached to hear the story from the victim herself, now. To hear of her tragedy in her voice was to understand perspective, and I’d learned to listen a lot in my relatively brief reign. Learning was always part of my nature—Yumi the bookworm, Yumi the star pupil, Yumi the golden child, the Chisaii Ryuu—but despite all my lessons in class and out it had taken harsh experiences and tragedies to drill in me the need to really care and listen. “Tell it to me, please,” I said at last as I lowered myself to the floor, folded myself into a meditative repose, and invited Masayoshi to sit across from me.

The traitor would wait. I came to listen, after all. 

 

I recognized the invitation and rose to take my seat across from her. Cross-legged, this time. I would be more than mortal if I did not welcome the relief of changing position. To hold my vigil as long as necessary was within my power but that did not mean it was comfortable. Her request was polite and exactly what I wanted to hear. Opening this wound was agony, even after all this time. But there was a lesson that she needed to hear, and I am not old enough for my words to have their weight by tradition alone. In hearing my own lesson I hope she can learn her own.

I was gifted, your Majesty. It might be rude even now to say so. But I was. From the moment I was inducted into the Yards I was. I chose to be a Mindarm. If I could master so physically demanding a discipline, then surely my will would be trained enough to handle any of the others later.” I placed my hands on my knees, and this time I did look elsewhere. I didn’t notice at first that I was choosing to look down but when I did it was already too late. To look up then would be to recognize my moment of weakness. “And I intended to learn them. Two first. Then three. And deep down I wondered if maybe, just maybe, I was strong enough to learn them all.

I was already so strong. None of my peers could keep up with me. Best me? It was laughable. I was growing strong enough and skilled enough to spar with practitioners much older than me and stand a fair chance, even if I had not beaten them yet. If it vexed my instructors it frustrated my peers. I was an arrogant girl, your Majesty. I didn’t think so. But with distance comes perspective and I was infuriating. They couldn’t beat me. My instructors were winning by narrower and narrower margins. I was part of the most powerful clan in the Empire, able to count my Rora my clan-sister even if she was above such considerations. I was immortal and invincible, the only thing between me and history was time.

I paused a moment, finally meeting her gaze again to ensure that she listened. And understood. I’m sure my voice sounded little like she was used to, but my will can only go so far. There’s no defense against revisiting such memories. Something my Rora was beginning to understand, if she didn’t understand it already. She had experienced enough memories like that in the past few months.

 

How did it happen?” I asked in earnest, curious and eager to know Masa’s story in the full. Years ago the same attitude would have been out of a sense of morbid curiosity or an interest stemming from schadenfreude and I would have likely come away to whisper about the story with confidants and snicker in secret like the youth at The Yards. Now, though, things were different, as was I, and I sought out the wisdom in all things. Tragedy in my own life had softened my spurs but tempered my morals, and no longer was I the tempestuous princess Masa had heard so much about before recent history. Masayoshi had been hardened by her own trials and tribulations and was a justicar fully because she was still among the best there was. No mere blindness had tarnished the greatness inherent in her.

She’d grown, as I had, and each in ways neither of us could have predicted in our youth. We had become so much more than we had conceived as well. I leaned in closer, knowing that if I could not learn anything from Masayoshi now it would have been as if I had never learned anything before. “And—after you tell me—I would like to know how time has changed your self-assessment. If you please.

Edited by EmperorWhenua

 BZPRPG Profiles / BZPRPG Rules and Index / Rebirth Profiles

"... Even you, EmperorWhenua, you stupid beautiful contrarian, you." —Tyler Durden

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OOC: Yumiwa courtesy of EW

IC:

“It wasn’t an accident.”

I waved my hand slightly, brushing off the first initial protest I’d come to expect. There wasn’t time for it, Rora or not, not even to wait and see if it came. To get through it I can’t wait, or stop for questions, or allow her to interrupt. Time enough for all of that afterwards but right now… The day appeared before my eyes as though real. The way I felt, everything I heard, the way the bright sun illuminated the Yards that had become my personal demesne. No longer the Daikura’s but mine by right of undefeated conquest, earned through every hard day of work. Memory is a malleable thing if you don’t put it to record immediately, events revisited in the mind will be a little different every time. But not this one. This one will be fixed in my brain for all time, no matter what anyone might say. 

I saw again the dust kicked up from the dry, sun baked earth with every step. Heard again the instructor call for the match to begin.

“My opponent was a First Son. Closest to a rival I had, but he hadn’t won a bout with me since the first week of training. Despite his head start I blew right past him. And he’d been so abrasive I relished in it. The Daikura rotated our matchups, putting us up against each of our classmates for their benefit and against instructors for our own. And against each other, sometimes. Almost like an exhibition. To show our classmates what they were striving for.”

I felt an urge to get up and pace, to move about somehow. Give my agitation an outlet. The world was ending and I was revisiting old scars, between them I wanted to scream. It would almost have been worth letting her into my head to see for herself, but that was one thing I did not trust anyone to do.  It’s the last truly inviolable place I have, and over the past few days I’ve had enough of being whammied by Willhammers. 

“I don’t know what was getting to him that day, but he was coming at me like he meant it. Everything he could bring to the table and still stay within the rules. I wasn’t worried, but…” I paused and ran my hand over my face, letting out a sigh. “You’ve been trained a little as a Soulsword, your Majesty. Would your teachers ever let you use yours during a bout, let alone against someone of a different discipline?”

“No, not for a spar,” I said, although the truth of it was that I wasn’t sure what my tutor had wanted after all.

“Neither would mine. I never trained as a Soulsword, I can’t tell you exactly what they’re taught normally. But none of my peers were permitted to use their Soulsword in a spar against another discipline. Maybe at the higher levels, where true masters face one another. But at mine it simply was too great a risk.” I paused, bringing to the surface an even older memory. “They taught us rules at the Yards before anything else. And the first rule was that here there are no enemies. And we do not hone our Power to harm our friends.”

“That’s an unshakeable tenet for those that go through the Yards, your Majesty. I’m sure your private masters taught you something similar. Accidents happen, but a match in the Yards is never for real. It’s practice. That’s so ingrained that when it comes time to fight for real it can be hard to let go of. And it was why I never saw it coming when he raked his Soulsword across my face.”

I nodded once to show I was still  listening. My mind wandered slightly, wondering about the battlemaster I thought I knew who had taught in the very same schools as Masa had apprenticed in, but the thoughts were still nebulous and hadn’t coalesced to ideas. I refocused on Masa’s story.

“It started here,” I placed my finger on my right cheek, just below my cheek bone and drew it across my face, crossing my eyes and ending by my left temple. “And went across. If I hadn’t been wearing a Calix I believe it would have been worse. But those reflexes didn’t save my eyes. I can’t tell you what happened after that. I dropped on my back and I screamed, and I blacked out. I don’t remember anything else until I came to in a hospital that night.”

“I woke up, and I couldn’t see anything. Only a little gray where there was light and black where there wasn’t. I almost screamed again when the nurse spoke without telling me she was there. She told me the healers at the Yards and there at the hospital did everything they could,” My own tone said more about how much I believed those words than I ever could have. “But that I would probably never see again. And she told me how sorry she was that I had such a terrible accident.”

“And that was where I got confused. Because there was no accident, I told her. I was attacked. And she got quiet. And she told me that some people were here to see me. My instructor came in, as did my Toroshu, and they explained…”

I took a deep breath. More than the memory of my maiming itself, this is the part that stings. The dagger’s tip that broke off in my back and stayed there, agitating me when the weather is just right. 

“They explained, your Majesty, that what happened had been a terrible accident. One the First Son felt horrified over, and that his clan had already agreed to pay a weregild for my trouble. I was going back to Oki to recover and they would send me the best healers they could find to see if something could be done. But my Toroshu had heard of me, they said, and she hoped that I could provide that discipline for her groundskeepers during my stay.” I frowned a little, I could feel it. “And the more I tried to tell her it wasn’t an accident, that my instructor could vouch for the rules being broken, the more she reiterated that it was. Until she finally sent the Daikura instructor away and told me privately that she knew that. But prosecuting the First Son of another clan was no small step, especially with so much tension. And it just wouldn’t be possible. She reminded me to take comfort in the Order of the Empire, and in the compensation she would be sure I had.”

“I was betrayed three times in a day. First by the peer who was bound to cause me no harm. Then by our teacher who should have expelled the offender. And then by my Toroshu, who should have delivered me justice. I can show you my eyes, your Majesty, if you wish to see. I can answer any questions you have, too. But the purpose of this story is to show you I know what it is to be betrayed. To deserve justice, and desire vengeance.” I met her gaze again, settling once more into a more resolute posture. “And I assure you my Rora. I wanted revenge for the justice I was denied.”

“I still do. Not a week goes by I don’t think that I could use the power of my office, of Lord Rayuke’s trust in me, to start an investigation over again. And his honor would force him to see it through. With the world falling apart around us right now I can’t help but think to myself that I will never get a better chance to settle the score.”

“I deserved justice, your Majesty, but I do not deserve revenge.” My voice has gone calm, but there’s a hint of warning in it. Even for the Rora. “Nor do you.”

I let the story and its attached moral lesson linger in my mind. It would be so easy to fall to the easy lure of vengeance, made even more tantalizing because I possessed the power to do so with ease as well. At my behest, the traitor could be made to suffer to balance the scales of justice and recompense the damages inflicted upon me and my family. The traitor could be executed with the same ease and ruthlessness as when he murdered the unnamed saihoko in the Markets to so much as touched me; then, it had been to teach me a lesson, and this time it would be a lesson given in return. Death and punishment was a tool so quickly resorted to and even Masayoshi, a lifelong dedicated follower of justice, could still feel the temptation eat away at her as well. She was right to educate me against it and righter still to not wish for me to take a darker path. 

"My thanks to you for the story. You speak truly, Menti Masayoshi," I said slowly, respectfully, and thought on how to answer her unspoken question. Masa was as much a barrister as a detective, and despite being in close proximity to me she had never had the reason or opportunity to take a deposition from me before. Like my uncle, she needed to know what drove someone to do what they did, based on the legalistic philosophy that the answer to many crimes lay in the motives behind their execution. What are you here for? she asked of me—and, even more subtly, What are you made of? Masa, it seemed to me, justly wanted to know the real mettle of her empress.

"Would justice give your eyes back to you?" I asked rhetorically. My voice wilted in melancholy. "Of course it wouldn't because justice doesn't change the past or bring back what we have lost, no matter how much we want them to. We have to build our own fortitudes, recoup what we can, and grow stronger in other ways. Enacting vengeance for what we have lost would be like striking the sea for the lack of wind, it's an act of desperation wrought from an inability to effectively cope. That is my understanding of it." I thought of my beloved mom felled by an assassin at my own ball, of my doting dad murdered by pirates on his way back from seeing the people he cared about, and of the whole archipelago being ripped away from all of us by an enemy we had no hope to match, and I felt a tear coalesce under my spectacles and slither down my Miru. If there was ever a way to get them all back I would do it in a heartbeat, but it would never be that way.

"Am I correct?" I asked, genuinely this time, sitting there with humility in my heart as a supplicant asking a sage. There were few others who had license to judge my knowledge on the matter, and in that moment... I wanted to know if the path I was going to set myself on was right.

“I suppose that’s half true. Justice, real justice, isn’t a solution. It’s a promise.”


I tilted my head, and my voice became more gentle. In her own way she’s heard the lesson and the question, and now she needs to know if her solution is the right one. It’s not, not entirely; but her answer doesn’t have to be the same. It never would have been, and her job is different from mine. Her considerations are different. They have to be.

“Justice, your Majesty, is a promise to the powerless. That a wrong inflicted will be punished. That the wrong they suffered won’t happen again. No, justice wouldn’t have brought my eyes back. But it would have soothed my heart. It was our Toroshu’s chance to make good on the fealty she owed me as her clansister, just as I owed her as my Toroshu. It was her responsibility to redress the wrong.”

“And she declined it. Peace is not always strength. And what is right should never be at the mercy of what is convenient. Justice exists only because we have decided it is so, your Majesty, and it isn’t less important for that fact. It’s more important. Because every time we fail to uphold it we tarnish ourselves and our own sacred honor. An ideal is only worth what you’re willing to pay to uphold it.” My head tilted the other way, and I took a deep breath. “Which is why I can’t believe what I’m about to counsel.”

“If you decide the man in the room beyond me should die, I will swing the sword myself. He’s in my custody and Lord Rayuke is busy with other affairs. That is for me to do. But I don’t believe that’s the right decision. Not because he doesn’t deserve it, because he most assuredly does. But without him your sister would be dead, the Fursics would be preparing to strike, and I would not have been able to stop it. In exchange for his help I gave him my word that I would speak on his behalf.”

My hands tightened on my knees.

“Strip him of his title. Strip him of his clan name, his citizenship, banish him from our lands and society. What little of it we have left. It’s all but a death sentence now, anyway, but he can have the chance that he doesn’t deserve.”

“He will have his chance,” I said, a mellow fire rekindled behind my eyes suddenly. “If barely. I am not here to pass judgement, though I will accept a confession all the same. No... I don’t think I have come to extract justice to soothe my heart. I came to hear what happened, to understand the how and why.”

I let my words linger a moment and moved my jaw as if to speak, trying to urge the thoughts to manifest. I wanted justice, oh goddess how I wanted it, but I fought it back with effort, wrestling it down so that I could focus on the bigger picture. “For while I am the most singularly aggrieved party...” I reflected, “my own comfort and heartaches are not where my duty lies. I know there are systemic flaws in our society and I know we have reaped the harvest of our hubris. My priority as empress is to preserve the realm and prevent this treachery from happening again. And to do that, I must be wise, listen, and learn, most of all from those who wield their desperation as a weapon.”

“You’ve spoken time the traitor at length by now, I am sure. Tell me—and let no detail be too intimate—what have you learned of the man I once loved as blood-family?

“I hate him.” I said flatly, my very lack of inflection screaming my sincerity. It wouldn’t do to call him the names I can think of in front of my Rora, even if she has asked my opinion. “I always have, long before I knew him to be a traitor. He is sanctimonious and arrogant. Not more than I’ve ever seen, but more infuriating from a man who should be skilled enough to have learned humility. Confident. Ruthless.”

I paused, almost unwilling to say what I had to. For the sake of honesty.

“But I’ve met few more dedicated to their principles. The lie was what those principles were. The pursuit of power, of martial prowess, is his reason for existence. The chance to rebuild the Empire of his ideals, paid with the chance to become the only man to know all four disciplines? It doesn’t shock me at all that he took the deal.”

I made myself meet her eyes without apology or remorse, because the next truth could be… Problematic, if taken the wrong way.

“I can’t blame him for his motives. We had long enough to talk, and Zuto Nui knows I don’t think he’s wrong about the state of the Empire. But justice is the mistress I chose to serve, and his crimes are unforgivable. Even with that said… I feel a grudging respect for the man. He’s not unlike who I might have been, in some respects. He could have stabbed me in the back on that island, and I’m sure he considered it. I’m sure he did not stay his hand out of any loyalty. But he could have held back, tried to play both sides of the issue. He didn’t. When he committed to my aid, he gave it everything he gave his own cause.”

My frown deepened, and I shook my head.

“It’s not the respect I give my ward. Your Uncle, rather. Or that I give to you, or to your sister, or that I once gave to my Toroshu. I respect him as another warrior, one without a moral compass but possessing a purity of motive reserved only for the zealot. Not that I can speak of zealotry.”

"Thank you for your deliberation and candor, Menti Masayoshi," I said and ceremonially bowed my head in gratitude. A small tear fell to my folded lap. I wondered if the justicar could hear it's patter but also hoped she hadn't.

I breathed deeply as the complexity and gravity of the matter fell on my mind more with each passing second, but I steeled myself knowing the puzzles of yesterday and today will be no more meaningful than a vase turned to dust in the tomorrows we are headed towards. I exhaled sharply, realizing as I did that I'd been holding my breath, and my eye twitched uncontrollably for a second. I had to do this, though—we needed weapons if we were to survive, and I'd learned that there were few weapons greater than our demons. "I would like to see Battlemaster Inokio now."

"Of course, your Majesty." I inclined my head to the door beyond, tone returning to a more formal measure. A distinction drawn between the conversation then and the professionalism now. With a thought I turn the lock inside the door, not bothering to do so with a key. To find the key hole would have taken more time than was reasonable, or necessary. The lock itself was a formality; Inokio could have done what I just did as easily. No, I was the real deterrent. As were the Hogo posted further outside. But there was no need to make a point of that. "Through there. We will be outside, if you require anything."

"I hope you find your answers."

 

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On this eve, the thirtieth anniversary of that first colony, many are left to wonder; is the world fast approaching a breaking point?

 

 

  Breaking Point: An OTC Mecha RPG

 

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